Where Are They Now?
BY MARK SCHRAF
For The Dominion Post
(Used by permission)
You could call him Ted.
Or “Talk,” or even Mr. Talkington, although that would probably feel a little strange to him. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to address him as Dr. Talkington, possibly Dr. T.
Just don’t call him Rudy. As in Rudy, the Notre Dame football walk-on, Hollywood’s based-on-the-real-life-story Rudy, the movie that reduces grown former high school jocks to blubbering fools. Now the real Rudy’s story resembles real life about as much as reality TV resembles reality (just ask former “teammate” and Fighting Irish legend Joe Montana about him), but we’re talking about former WVU walk-on and Mountaineers fan favorite Ted Talkington. No matter what his career statistics show, he insists he was no Rudy.
“I heard that a lot when I was playing,” the gregarious former all-state star from Magnolia High, [in New Martinsville], said, “and I can see where people might think that, but I never considered myself as a glorified mascot. I could play.”
Anyone capable of leading the entire state in scoring during consecutive seasons in high school can indeed play, but the torturous question Talkington struggled with as a high school senior was, “Where?”
“I wasn’t recruited very heavily, despite those scoring titles,” the 6-foot-2, 200-pound guard admitted, “mostly because I was pretty much a ‘tweener.’ You know, I was a little too slow to play the point, and a little too small to play at the 2-guard spot, so it was difficult to get much attention at the Division I level. I had lots of interest from DII and DIII schools, especially from the West Virginia Conference, so it was tough.
“In the end,” he continued, “I figured I could always transfer down after a year or two if I still wanted to play, and I was focused on wanting the academics to fit (Talkington entered WVU as an engineering major), so in the end, I accepted WVU’s offer to walk on.”
After seeing no action in 2005, Talkington battled hard during practices while on the scout team to draw the attention of then-head coach John Beilein, but with little success. “Coach Beilein was a very intelligent coach, and very, very meticulous, plus he had a very small rotation,” he recalled. “He wanted to work on very specific things, and the scout team was expected to mimic our upcoming opponents to a T. As a result, it didn’t matter if you hit 10 3-pointers in a row in practice, because his focus was completely on the starters and key reserves, all of whom were really great players. I understood the situation, but it was still pretty tough.”
Still, it was hard to argue with the team’s success, as the 22-11 Mountaineers made a Sweet 16 run in the NCAA tournament before falling to Texas, 74-71. However, just six games and 17 minutes played gave Talkington pause to consider whether continuing was worth it. Academically, he’d switched from engineering to chemistry, but excelled well enough to begin a three-year streak as a Big East Conference Academic All-Star Team member.
In the end, based on the close relationships he’d developed with his teammates and with Mountaineers Nation, he decided to stick it out.
“I just couldn’t leave the guys. We were uniquely close-knit, good friends on and off the court,” he explained. “I knew I was contributing to our success, even though I wasn’t on the floor at game time too often. And then, when I did get in, the fans would go nuts with their support, which was awesome. I knew it was probably because I was the short white kid from West Virginia, but it was still cool to get cheered.”
During his junior season, in 2007, Talkington had his most exciting moment on the court, against No. 2-ranked UCLA, at home. With WVU up big as halftime approached, guard Alex Ruoff committed his third foul, and suddenly Talkington was thrown into the limelight. He spotted up for a long 3, hit it, then followed with another jumper as the crowd nearly blew the roof off the Coliseum. After the upset victory, Talkington was the media darling of the moment, and he relished every question.
“It was my moment in the sun,” he beamed, “and it really sort of justified all that I had done in the past. I got my chance, and I made the best of it on a pretty big stage. It made it all worthwhile.”
When Bob Huggins made his triumphant return to the WVU sidelines, in 2008, Talkington’s playing time rose a bit, and he felt that he might’ve contributed even more had Huggins been his coach from the beginning.
“I think I fit the system a little better,” he mused, “plus, he really valued guys who would play hard and who could shoot. I was definitely able to do both of those things pretty well, and I really enjoyed playing for him.”
The highlight of Talkington’s final season, beyond earning a one-semester athletic scholarship, was being named the Big East Men’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year, an honor that came as a complete shock.
“I thought you had to play a lot more to be considered, so when I heard I was being nominated, I figured I didn’t have a shot,” he admitted. “I couldn’t believe it when I won. You know, changing to chemistry was a great move for me, because it really gave me a lot of options for different directions to go, and the chemistry department always treated me well, never as a jock who wanted special favors. They cared about me and seemed to appreciate the difficulty of what I was doing.
“Funny story about receiving the award,” he laughed. “It was presented at the Big East tournament banquet in New York City, a big deal, and I had to give a speech. When I was up there, nervous as all get-out, I couldn’t seem to say ‘West Virginia University’ right, so I finally gave up after about four tries and used ‘WVU’ instead. When I finished, I sat down next to Huggins, who was just staring at me. ‘Seriously?’ he said, ‘The academic player of the year, and you can’t even say West Virginia University?… It was vintage Huggins sarcasm, but I deserved every bit of it.”
Talkington opted to forgo his final year of eligibility after he was accepted to WVU’s School of Medicine, in 2008. He is working at the school’s Charleston satellite location, completing his rotations and beginning to choose an area of specialization.
“I have zero regrets. None,” he insisted, considering his college basketball choice. “I know I could’ve been a big fish in a small pond at a smaller school, but where would I have ended up academically? At WVU, I learned how to deal with high-pressure situations, how teamwork and hard work can make a real difference, and – at least one time – I found that I could get it done at the high levels. I might not have shown up real big on the scoresheet or the career record books, but I think I had an impact, and those cheers I heard early on went from a place of pity to a place of respect. I think I earned that.”