Jerry West, who inspired the NBA logo, is one of the most accomplished and famous players in the history of basketball. Today, an award is given annually to the best shooting guard in the country, it's called the Jerry West Award. That's the kind of impact West had on the game.
Here's everything you need to know about Jerry West's playing career at West Virginia.
Jerry West college stats and vitals
School: West Virginia
Weight: 175 pounds
Years active: 1957-60
NCAA tournament record: 6-3
Career averages: 24.8 points per game, 13.3 rebounds per game, 50.8% shooting
How many points did Jerry West average in college?
West averaged 24.8 points per game in three seasons at West Virginia. His scoring average climbed from 17.8 points per game as a freshman to 26.6 as a sophomore, peaking at 29.3 points per game in the 1959-60 season.
What was Jerry West's record in college?
West Virginia posted an 81-12 record during the three seasons that West played varsity. The Mountaineers never lost more than five games in a season and they won at least 26 games every year.
West Virginia went 26-2 in 1958, 29-5 in 1959 and 26-5 in 1960.
What kind of high school prospect was Jerry West?
Here's what the Associated Press' Tom Stimmel wrote about West after his East Bank High School won the state championship in 1956: "Long-armed Jerry West, keen in his shooting and cool in the clutches, directed East Bank to its first state Class A high school basketball championship ... West, a modest 6-2 senior, fouled out with 5:27 to play in the last period. But before departing he pumped in 30 points to his overall tournament mark 114. He set a new record with 56 rebounds for the tournament and fattened his new season scoring mark."
West was the first high school player in West Virginia to ever crack the 900-point mark. The high-schooler was so highly regarded that East Bank was renamed West Bank as part of a one-day celebration after West led the school to the 1956 state title. There was reportedly a half-serious movement to make the name change permanent.
West broke the state scoring record by 29 points with a 43-point performance in the state semifinals, giving him 887 for the season heading into the state championship. His 30 points in the state final pushed him past 900 for the season — a season in which he averaged 30-plus, according to the Beckley Post Herald and Register.
West Virginia All-American Hot Rod Hundley said West was the best high school prospect he'd ever seen.
A story published in the Beckley Post Herald and Register in January 1956 after a 56-54 loss by East Bank High School noted that even though West was the leading scorer in the game with 24 points — almost half of his team's total — his scoring output was still well below his season average. He was such a talented player that he was judged against his own lofty standard.
"Jerry West, the scoring phenom at East Bank, is said to have played sub-par ball during the tournaments," wrote the AP's Tom Stimmel. "That's easy to see, he got a mere (?) 155 points in five games, only (?) 32 in the area final against Huntington East.
"'Looks as though he's gotten tougher on defense than anything else,' mused Coach Roy West."
The 6-2 guard was an impressive scorer but there was more to his game.
"West may be everything they say he is," wrote the Beckley Post Herald and Register's Bob Wills after East Bank won the West Virginia Class A state title. "Though he plays it strictly straight, he has the ability to catch the crowd's eye as much as Hundley and may be a more versatile player. He's very capable on defense, a good floor man and despite his scoring feats is not a shot hog. The college that gets him him will be lucky and the report is that West Virginia has the inside track."
The Cumberland Evening Times noted that West "was sought by many of the nation's outstanding collegiate basketball powers."
What was Jerry West's game like?
Jerry West was a terrific offensive force who was a one-man wrecking crew at West Virginia. He could shoot from deep and get to the rim. He was quick and deceptive, which earned him many trips to the free-throw line. In fact, he still holds the record for most free throw attempts in a single NCAA tournament — 71.
Despite being just 6-2 when he entered college, West was an incredible leaper, which allowed him to average double-digit rebounds and block shots in a manner that was compared by some to Bill Russell. It was noted by journalists at the time that West had a determination and motivation that matched his impressive physical tools.
A story published in the Beckley Post Herald and Register in West's senior year noted that the 6-2 guard had pulled down roughly as many rebounds as West Virginia's other four starters combined. He led all players in rebounding in 21 of West Virginia's first 25 games during the 1959-60 season and won 80 percent of his tips while jumping center at the start of games.
With West, the Mountaineers' freshmen were so impressive that they challenged the school's varsity team before falling 86-83 in a preseason exhibition. The varsity went on to be a top-10 team that season, while West helped West Virginia's freshman team to its first-ever undefeated season during the 1956-57 campaign.
West averaged 19.5 points per game for a Mountaineers freshman team that put up 91 points per game.
As a soon as West was allowed to play varsity, West Virginia rolled to a near-perfect season while West quickly established himself as the team's leading scorer at 18.3 points per game. He immediately started alongside four seniors, making him the only underclassman in the starting lineup. The Mountaineers entered the Southern Conference tournament with a 23-1 record with the only loss coming to Duke in Durham. They spent much of the spring ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the country.
"Offense isn't even his better half," reported the Beckley Post Herald and Register in March 1960. "The difference between his scoring output and what he allows the player he's guarding certainly must be the widest of all time."
In his two matchups against potential All-Americans as a senior, prior to that story being written, West had scored 30 points against Villanova's Hubie White (15 points) and he held Kentucky's Billy Lickert to just four points while scoring 33 himself.
What were some of Jerry West's best games?
As a sophomore, West Virginia athletics publicist Edgar Barrett made sure the media knew that in the six games in which the Mountaineers trailed in the second half but came back to win, Jerry West averaged 26.4 points per game in those games. "But that 26.4-point average in those six games tells only half the story," Barrett told The Times Dispatch. "We were 10 points down at the half against Villanova, 30 to 40, and West scored 25 points in the second half. In the Penn State game, we were also down 10 points at the half, and West scored 21 points in the second half."
West finished the game in which West Virginia rallied against Villanova with 37 points — the first 30-point performance for a Mountaineer that season and the most nationally.
In December of 1957, his first semester playing varsity, he helped No. 8 West Virginia improve to 6-0 by scoring a game-high 28 points against Richmond, no basket more important than a layup with three seconds left in overtime to give the Mountaineers a 76-74 win. He also forced overtime with a game-tying basket in the final seconds of regulation. West scored seven of the team's nine points in OT.
A few weeks later, the AP's Don Weiss wrote that West Virginia could be "THE TEAM of the 1957-58 college basketball season." The Mountaineers had recently ended North Carolina's 37-game winning streak and had earned the No. 1 spot in the rankings.
In the 1959 national championship game, West scored a game-high 28 points — eight more than any other player —on 10-for-21 shooting, along with 11 rebounds, which were also a game-high. Somehow, that was West's worst game in the NCAA tournament that year — the second-fewest points, the lowest field-goal percentage and the fewest rebounds.
West had a double-double in all five of West Virginia's games in the 1959 NCAA Tournament, most notably a 38-point, 15-rebound game with 57 percent shooting against Louisville in the Final Four. He also had 36 and 15 against St. Joseph's and 33 and 17 against Boston University.
In three games in the 1960 NCAA Tournament as a senior, West had 34 points, 15 rebounds and five assists against Navy, 34 points and 16 rebounds against NYU, and 37 points 16 rebounds against St. Joseph's.
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What awards did Jerry West win in college?
Here are some of the awards Jerry West won in college:
- 1958 Third Team All-American
- 1959 East Regional Team
- 1959 All-Tournament Team
- 1959 Final Four Most Outstanding Player
- 1960 East Regional Team
- 1950s All-Decade Team
- Named a top-15 player in NCAA tournament history in the 75 Years of March Madness Celebration
What records did Jerry West set in college and where does he rank among historical greats?
Here are some of the records Jerry West set in college and where he ranks on all-time statistical lists:
- A member of the 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound club: 2,309 points, 1,240 rebounds
- First in free-throw attempts in a single NCAA tournament: 71 free-throw attempts
- Most points in the 1959 NCAA Tournament: 160 points
- Most rebounds in the 1959 NCAA Tournament: 73 rebounds
- Highest scoring average in the 1959 NCAA Tournament: 32.0 points per game
- Highest scoring average in the 1960 NCAA Tournament: 35.0 points per game
- Tied for first in Final Four history in most free throws attempted in a game: 20 free-throw attempts
- Tied for the second all-time in most double-doubles in a season: 30 double-doubles
- Fourth nationally in scoring in 1960: 29.3 points per game
- Fourth in career NCAA tournament scoring average: 30.6 points per game
- Fifth nationally in scoring in 1959: 26.6 points per game
- Fifth in NCAA tournament history in free throws made in an NCAA tournament: 46 free throws
- Tied for fifth in most points in a single NCAA tournament: 160 points
- Tied for fifth in Final Four history in two-game point total: 66 points
- Tied for fifth in Final Four history in free throws made in a game: 14 free throws
- Tied for seventh in highest scoring average in a single NCAA tournament: 35.0 points per game
- Tied for ninth in Final Four history for most points in a game: 38 points
- Tied for 11th all-time in consecutive double-doubles in a season: 20 double-doubles
- Tied for 13th, tied for 18th all-time in consecutive double-doubles: 20, 17 double-doubles
- 14th in NCAA tournament history in career points: 275 points
- 38th all-time on the NCAA scoring list: 2,309 points
What did people say about Jerry West?
Morgantown High School coach Jack Roberts after losing to West and East Bank High School: "About Jerry West, only one word — 'Terrific.' He is without question one of the best shots I've ever seen — and he can hit from outside or drive in — there is no way to stop him from any point on the court. He is one of the best high school ball players I've ever seen ever."
The Greenville News' Jim Anderson: "Assistant Coach Roy Lester of Maryland, who is from West Virginia and was a three-sport letterman with the Mountaineers in the early '40s, told your correspondent this fall there is a freshman at Morgantown who 'will be even better than (West Virginia All-American Hot Rod) Hundley.' The freshman is Jerry West, 6-3, from East Bank, W. Va."
West Virginia athletics publicist Edgar Barrett on West as a sophomore: "We think West will develop into the greatest of all West Virginia basketball players."
Knoxville Journal's Ben Byrd: "The old basketball maxim that one man can't beat you holds up 99 times out of 100. Last night was the hundredth time. Make no mistake about it, Jerry West IS West Virginia. Playing as he was last night, he is unstoppable ... Impressive as they are, the statistics still do not tell the full story. You have to see this boy to appreciate him."
Houston Press' Bob Rule: "The West Virginia star is an absolute court magician. Marty Blake (pro scout) in appraising West said he couldn't be defensed — and it sounded like a strong statement. Now I believe him. West's movements are so deceptive, and he has such great speed, jumping and shooting ability that he forces his guard into numerous fouls."
Oklahoma City Times' Jay Simon: "An all-time All-American...West can get up as high on the boards as any 6-3 player in the game...remarkable...spectacular...sparkling. He plays the game to the hilt all the way, whether or not he has the ball in his hands. Can score just about every way possible."
Worcester Telegram's Paul Johnson: "West isn't just a scorer. He is prolific, no question. However, he is also a great feeder, both from the bucket and from outside. He rebounds as if he were leaping off an invisible trampoline. He defends superbly. And he has tremendous drive and determination that infuses his mates to his type of performance."
Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph's George Kiseda: "Among the 5,349 fans who packed the Pitt Field House beyond capacity last night, there may have been a couple thousand skeptics who didn't believe all they had read about Jerry West. There can be no non-believers today. On a bad shooting night, West scored 27 points, but it isn't his scoring total that makes him an All-American. He'd be an All-American if he didn't score a point...On defense West isn't content just to bat shots away in the Bill Russell manner. He goes up with the shooter and in one spectacular motion not only blocks the shot but steals the ball — all this with one hand. Then he races downcourt on a fast break, leaving a frustrated shooter behind with jaw agape."
Newport News Daily Press' Charles Karmosky: "Of West, not enough can be said — adjectives flow and stumble over each other but finally blend into something that comes out 'nothing short of magnificent.'"
Sports Illustrated's Mervin Hyman: "Jerry West — a splendid player with the eye of marksman and the agile hands of a pickpocket."
Louisville Courier Journal's Early Ruby: "Jerry West was at his most dazzling best. He ran rings around our beloved Cardinals. But when he was taken out with about a minute left in the game, the 18,500 fans gave him an ovation that lasted long after play on the floor has resumed...Most concede they've never seen a smarter all-around performance than West displayed. He was all of Kentucky's Fabulous Five (mid-1940s) rolled into one tireless body."
St. Joseph's Joe Spratt: "I give a somewhat hesitant edge to Jerry West over Oscar Robertson. I think West is the smoother player and the stronger defensively. He must have blocked at least a half dozen shots. But Robertson is the quicker player. I had more trouble staying with him because he was always running me into picks. Both are strong off the boards."
Louisville's John Turner: "West has all the moves. He's quick, he's deceptive. He's the best I've ever played against."
Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson: "He's tough, man. Everybody knows that."
Robertson on if Jerry West is the second-best player in the country, after Robertson: "He might be the first, baby."
Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics: "He's got good hands, and he doesn't look like a hungry player. He's got good basketball sense. He rebounds well, looks like a big 6-3. He's good without trying to be spectacular...just a sound ballplayer."
UCLA's John Wooden: "There just aren't any better basketball players than West. He's one of the greatest of this or any other era."