Column: Why I’ll miss covering Steffphon Pettigrew

24 02 2011

By Nick Baumgardner

The Daily News

783-3239 / nbaumgardner@bgdailynews.com

Let me first preface this thought with a couple facts.

I’m not an alumnus of Western Kentucky University, I didn’t grow up in Bowling Green rooting for Hilltopper basketball and I don’t own any red towels.

My job at the Daily News requires me to stay impartial to WKU athletics – including men’s basketball. That means I’m not a fan. I’m not a hater. I’m indifferent.

I’m not paid to cheer. I’m not paid to boo. I’m paid to observe and report.

All that said, though, I’m still a college basketball fan – and that’ll never change.

Meaning that when Steffphon Pettigrew walks out of E.A. Diddle Arena for the final time tonight, the college basketball fan who will forever reside within my body will be standing in tribute to a player who doesn’t come along very often.

This guy’s a rare bird, no question about it.

A throwback in the truest sense – in more ways than one, in more ways than 10.

He’s only 6-feet-5-inches (and that might be generous), but he commands a double-team in the post.

He’s listed as a power forward, but can be deadly from 17 to 23 feet.

He can pass, rebound, block shots and finish at the rim, and he does it all as hard as he can.

To put it bluntly – if Pettigrew stood a legitimate three or four inches taller, he might have already earned his first professional basketball paycheck.

But his unique skill set isn’t what makes him rare in my book.

His unwavering desire to earn the respect and approval of every red-clad fan entering Diddle Arena over the past four years seems to exist only in fictional chasms of modern-day college basketball.

In an age where the four-year college basketball senior seems to be going the way of the dinosaur – due to money, ego, academics, discipline or simply lacking the will to compete that long – Pettigrew can boast about how he’s stuck through all the ups, downs and in-betweens of WKU basketball over the past four seasons.

Only he likely never will.

When Pettigrew signed a letter of intent to play college basketball at Western Kentucky University four years ago at Elizabethtown High School, he made a promise.

Not a partial promise or a pact laden with stipulations or what-ifs, but a pledge of his intentions to pour every ounce of effort his 220-pound body could give to a basketball program that was in turn offering him the opportunity of a free college education and a head start into adulthood.

There’s a reason why players like Pettigrew earn rousing applause every time their name is called in home gymnasiums. He’s never been benched for being selfish or careless, never been suspended for violating any team rules and has done all that’s been asked of him in the classroom.

When Ken McDonald pulled the last names off the back of the Hilltopper jerseys earlier this season, it was just fine by Pettigrew. When I asked him about that later in the day, he felt it was the right move. Not just because the team wasn’t playing up to the expectations of the letters on the front of their uniform, but because players like Pettigrew would likely play in a T-shirt and jeans if it meant he could compete in a college basketball game.

Western Kentucky will never replace Steffphon Pettigrew.

His jersey may never hang from the Diddle rafters, and the Hilltoppers will eventually replace his production on the stat sheet. But as a person, a competitor and an ambassador for the WKU basketball program, Pettigrew should always be remembered as another player in the long line of Hilltopper all-time greats.

Senior night is always a special time for college basketball programs, and don’t get me wrong, fellow WKU seniors Sergio Kerusch and Juan Pattillo also deserve plenty of recognition for the time and sacrifice they’ve put into the Hilltopper program.

But whether you’re a lifelong Hilltopper supporter, a fan who’s upset with the current state of WKU hoops or just someone who enjoys watching the game of basketball played properly (like me), I urge you to come watch Steffphon Pettigrew play one final time tonight.

Because whether he scores two or 40, I promise his effort won’t let you down.

And that seems to be the rarest thing of all.

— Nick Baumgardner covers Western Kentucky basketball for the Daily News. He can be reached at 783-3239 or nbaumgardner@bgdailynews.com.

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