Erik Stevenson has played for four different teams over five seasons in his college career, but he will make his solo appearance in the NCAA Tournament today when his team takes on Maryland.
Stephenson began his professional career at Wichita State for two seasons before moving to Washington and then South Carolina. He then chose to use his senior year at West Virginia.
The senior guard was on his way to the Big Dance during his sophomore season at Wichita State but unfortunately the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That alone hurt, but it hurt even more after moving home to Washington the following year and not coming close to qualifying for the event as one of the worst teams in college basketball.
“I was exciting because we won 5 games when I was in Washington. We went from 23 wins to 5 wins and you know how competitive it is to win. It was driving me crazy,” he said.
Last season at South Carolina, Stephenson had more success at 18-13, but his team wasn’t able to do enough to be included on the field. That made this year a do-or-die situation when it comes to being able to experience the rush of emotion that the NCAA tournament brings.
This was the whole season who chose to come to Morgantown in the first place and why he didn’t look at options outside of college basketball. Now, it’s time.
“Looks like I played a thousand college games. So, I mean, I had that feeling last year and that might be my last. But I’m back this year and I’m glad I’m going to finish my career where I want to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Stephenson said.
He was a big 12-conference third-team selection and a mix of ups and downs during his only year at West Virginia, but he’s playing his best basketball at the right time.
Stephenson stretched to score 23 or more points in five straight games to finish the regular season making him one of only five players to do so in the history of the basketball program. It’s a list that includes Jerry West, Rod Thorne, Hot Rod Hundley, and Will Robinson for perspective.
Now, Stephenson is hoping that translates into a big dance. Of course there will be a bit of a nerve wrack but that is where his experience comes into play.
“It’s hard to believe he played for the coaches he played for and the programs he played in and he didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament,” said Bob Huggins, head coach of the team.
At 15.5 points per game and shooting 38 percent from three, both career highs, Stevenson is hoping he can play his part in expanding his aim beyond just the first round. But the tough Terrapins are waiting on the other side in the 8/9 game and then probably #1 seed Alabama.
But his teammates have no doubt that Stevenson will be ready. As a standout guard, Keidrian Johnson said his backcourt teammate would hit the ball well inside Legacy Arena.
In large part because that’s exactly what he’s asked for since donning a West Virginia jersey.
“It’s the bright lights, it’s the NCAA tournament. Eric’s going to make a lot of putts,” Johnson said.
Time will tell if it will be enough for the mountaineers to continue dancing another day.