NATCHITOCHES — Results from an MRI Tuesday confirmed initial fears that Northwestern State’s sensational senior point guard Jalan West, drawing attention from national media and NBA scouts, will need season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, said Demons coach Mike McConathy.
“It’s very disheartening, especially in the case of a great young man who has given everything to our program,” said McConathy. “We’re saddened by it, but we have to trust and believe there’s a reason for this. God has something down the road he’s planning, and we just have to hold to that.
“His impact is immeasurable. He’s done so many things in this program, not simply from a basketball perspective. He’s won a lot of games here, been to an NCAA Tournament, and we were trying to get a bookend, one in his senior year to go with the one in his freshman year. That won’t happen now, for him as a player, but he will continue to make impact but in a different way,” said McConathy.
West was injured in a collision at the end of a drive to the basket in the final minute of Friday evening’s season opener at Ole Miss, won by the Rebels 90-76. He scored 25 points, 24 after halftime while sinking 8 of 10 shots. The NCAA assist leader last year, West had six assists in Friday’s game, slightly below his 6.4 career average that ranks third among all college players this year.
The 5-10 Bossier City native, who led Bossier High to a state championship as a senior, is the NCAA’s career assists leader among active players with 614. Last year he led the country at 7.7 assists per game and was 16th in scoring at 20.0 per game.
He is the fifth-ranked career scorer in NSU history with 1,592 points and was on pace to break the school record. He was also on track to become the Demons’ career steals leader, and last year set the single-season and career assists records.
West’s career 2.6-1 assists-to-turnovers ratio ranks him in the top 15 in NCAA basketball history. The Demons led the nation in scoring last year after ranking second in his first two seasons on the court. NSU is 59-37 in his 96-game career, 45-16 in Southland Conference regular-season and tournament games, and reached two national postseason tournaments, the 2013 NCAA and last year’s CollegeInsider.com event.
West will have surgery in 2-3 weeks, said head athletic trainer Jason Drury. The typical recovery for an “isolated” ACL injury like West has is about six months for a full return, he said.
His new perspective did not lessen West’s optimism about the season.
“I’m still feeling confident in my team. I just have to take a different role, handle the adversity and complete the task that God has planned for me,” he said. “I still think we’re going to win conference.”
NSU will pursue all avenues in efforts to appeal for West to be granted a sixth year of eligibility after the 2015-16 season. West sat out his true freshman year due to an NCAA Clearinghouse issue, but is on track to graduate in May and said he will consider all options available to him next year.
“Graduation is the most important thing, just being a student-athlete. Since I’m not able to play, I’ll just try to coach up the guys and do rehab and get better,” said West. “Whenever I get back (healthy), I’ll just try to go to the NBA or take a medical redshirt, whichever God has planned.”
DraftExpress.com recently ranked West 50th among all NCAA basketball seniors. CBS Sports rated him 69th on its preseason list of the top 100 players in college basketball, while College Basketball Talk (NBC Sports) rated him 93rd.
West was ranked among the “20 Most Exciting Players in College Basketball” this summer by Brian Pederson of BleacherReport.com. For the third straight season, he is on the preseason watch list for the Lou Henson Award given to the top player at the mid-major level of the college game.
The respected statistical analytic website KenPom.com listed him as one of the five members of this year’s “Shooters Club,” the top five 3-point shooters in major college basketball based exclusively on their performances in all aspects of shooting against Division I opponents.
At Ole Miss, West erupted after halftime, hitting seven consecutive shots at one stretch as he made 8 of 10 overall, including 6 of 7 from 3-point range, several of those well behind the 19-foot, 9-inch 3-point arc.
“He went Steph Curry on us,” said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, referring to the explosive star guard for the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
“He put on a performance that was second to none,” said McConathy. “He’s special. A scout there was amazed at how talented he is. Every time he played, he certainly amazed me. I knew he would be a great player, but I never knew he would be as great as he is, just phenomenal.
“His future is bright. He’ll stay the course, graduate, working very hard to rehab his knee and get himself in position to continue his career as a basketball player,” said McConathy.
West emerged last season as one of the nation’s top players. He is ranked No. 50 among DraftExpress.com’s NCAA seniors, and was 69th on CBS Sports’ preseason list of top 100 players in college basketball, along with 93rd on the College Basketball Talk (NBC Sports) preseason top 100 list.
He was also recently cited as one of the top five 3-point shooters in college basketball by KenPom.com, a website that features detailed statistical analysis of the game.
West is one of 40 players, including teammate Zeek Woodley, on the Lou Henson Award watchlist for the mid-major player of the year.
He leads all active NCAA players with 614 career assists early in his senior year, is second with 219 steals, third in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.60), steals per game (2.31) and assists per game (6.4) while ranking fourth in points scored (1,592).
West is the Demons’ career assists leader, and also holds school records for 3-pointers made in a career (210). He ranks fifth all time at NSU in scoring and is 417 shy of the school record of 2,009 points by Billy Reynolds from 1973-77.
He won Southland Conference player of the week honors Monday for his performance at Ole Miss.
Sophomore point guard Devonte Hall, who was a Bossier High School freshman starter when West led the Bearkats to the 2011 state title, stepped into the starting five Monday night in NSU’s first game without West. Hall had career highs of 16 points and 11 assists, and made no turnovers, in the Demons’ 99-97 loss to LSU Alexandria.
“Devonte has followed Jalan at Bossier High School and we envisioned that taking place here, just not this early,” said McConathy. “Devonte played wonderfully Monday. He has his own style, but they do share some characteristics such as toughness and intelligence, leadership, and he already made game-winning plays for us as a freshman last year, so he’s got poise under pressure proven at this level.”
Hall drove the length of the court for a buzzer-beating, spinning six-foot game-winning basket in a 103-101 victory over Incarnate Word last season, and blocked a shot in the closing seconds to clinch a victory over McNeese State.
Tuesday afternoon, McConathy reflected on the remarkable unselfishness of his senior point guard.
“Sunday, I got a text from his pastor, and he said, ‘be encouraged, Coach. Jalan was in church today and came up to me after the service, and said, please pray for Coach Mike, he’s not handling this very well.’ Now think about that, a person who’s lost his opportunity to play this season, and he’s worried about his old coach.”