In the dressing room after Sunday’s game, Scott Nagy made a New Year’s resolution for everybody on the Wright State team.
“I told them we all need to grow a heart like Al, he’s got the biggest heart on the team,” the WSU coach said. “We all need to join Al. If we do, we’ll be pretty good.”
Nagy was talking about senior guard Alan Vest and in a late afternoon game at the Nutter Center, Sunday, the Raiders were good enough to top IUPUI, 72-64, thanks especially to the defense Vest played most of the game on Jaguars’ star Camron Justice and the two, knocked-to-the-floor charging fouls he took in the final minute to seal the victory.
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Justice came into the game as IUPUI’s top scorer, No. 3 in the Horizon League and No. 39 nationally. The former Kentucky Mr. Basketball, who played two seasons at Vanderbilt before transferring to IUPUI, was averaging 20.4 points per game and had 29 in a victory at Boston College, 28 against Ball State and 27 in a win over Bradley.
With Raiders defensive specialist Mark Hughes dealing with foul trouble and injury, Vest took over the Justice detail and helped stifle him into 0-for-7 shooting from three-point range and five for 15 accuracy overall.
Although Justice finished with 17 points, he “had to work for everything he got,” Nagy said.
Vest blocked one of his three-point attempts in the first half and with 43 seconds left took a charge from him. Just 17 seconds earlier he forced IUPUI guard Nick Rogers to run over him, too.
After the game, WSU point guard Cole Gentry gushed about Vest:
“If he’s not the best teammate I’ve ever had, he’s one of them. I’m talking in terms of how he hadn’t really played significant minutes until this year.
“Every other teammate I’ve had in his positon would kind of just go through the motions. Alan’s never done that. Even in practice.”
While everyone appreciates what Vest is now doing on the court – he’s started the last six games – they most applaud how he handled what he went through to get to this moment.
“This is a dream come true now,” Laura Vest, Alan’s mom, said after the game. “But I’m more proud of the fact that he stuck it out – and the way he did it – than how he’s playing now.”
Vest played a career-high 35 minutes Sunday. That’s half of the total minutes he played all of last season when he got into just 14 of 35 games.
In his first three seasons he never got off the bench in 48 games.
“For him it was torture as a player,” hos dad, Mark, who had an All-America career at WSU in the mid-1980s and now is in the school’s Hall of Fame. “Sure everybody wants to be on the team, but at the end of the day guys want to be in the floor.”
What made it tougher for Vest was that last name. At WSU, it’s been synonymous with success. After transferring in, Mark scored 1,559 points in three seasons and then worked as the color commentator on Raiders radio broadcasts.
Older brother Matt – who’s now playing professionally in Germany - was a two-year starter at Wright State and made the Horizon League All Defensive Team as a senior.
Sister, Sara – who played at Western Michigan – spent two years at WSU as the director of basketball operations under former women’s coach, Mike Bradbury.
“I’m sure the pressure of that didn’t help,” Mark said. “Whether you want to call it, embarrassment or whatever, I’d be naive to think there wasn’t a little of that in there. That’s why I’m so proud of him now. I’ve got nothing but admiration for the way he maintained his attitude
Nagy feels the same:
“Just about everybody I’ve coached – and I’ve coached a lot of people over the years – would have turned sour with what was happening. But not Al. What he’s done is special. I know I couldn’t have done it myself. That’s why I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
‘I bleed green and gold’
The Vests have gone to Raiders games as a family for years and Mark remember how they handled the kids on those past-your-bedtime night games:
“We’d put them in their pajamas right here in the gym afterward and then toss them in the car and go home.
“When I was doing games on the radio or TV, I’d come over here early and he always wanted to come. He’d been in here at least two hours ahead of time and he’d be shooting around with the opposing players. He just loved being here.”
As Alan put it: “I bleed green and gold. My whole life I’ve been a Raider.
“One of the first things I remember is coming here early before games with my dad and shooting around with Vernard Hollins (the WSU guard who scored 1,700 points between 2000-2004.)”
Later – when he was playing for Chaminade-Julienne High – Alan would be in the stands watching Matt play.
When it was time for his college choice, Alan bypassed some Mid-American Conference and Division II offers and committed early to then-Raiders head coach Billy Donlon.
“I kind of knew all along I wanted to go to Wright State,” he said with a pause…then a laugh. “I wanted my mom to do my laundry for another four years.”
Filling a void for Raiders
Although he played little his first three years at WSU – last season a hip injury further limited him – Vest was able endure the situation, he said, because he made a vow to himself:
“I had to had to be the best teammate I could be. It’s not easy, but I think anybody can do it. It’s a mental thing. You make a decision, ‘I’m going to get through this and whatever happens, I’ll be okay with it.’ And so I’d cheer when I could. And I’d just try to be happy and energetic.”
Although his minutes shrank last season from the 214 he played as a freshman, one thing that did grow was his hair, which, like a few other players, he wore in a man bun.
“I just wanted him to cut that damned hair, he looked like a freakin’ homeless guy,” Mark said with a bit of smile.
This year Vest is sporting a stylish haircut, athough he does still wear a neatly-trimmed beard.
“All the girls like my beard,” he grinned.
On the top of that list are his mom and his longtime girlfriend, Francesca Weizman, also a CJ grad and WSU student.
And the haircut has seemed to have the reverse Samson effect.
“After three years, the basketball gods are paying him back,” Mark said.
Although he still got limited minutes early in the season, he’s filled some of the void left when guard Jaylon Hall was lost for the season with an injury
The last six games he’s averaged 31.3 minutes a game. He had 16 points against Kent State and 11 against both SMU and UIC last Friday night.
When the season ends, Vest – who hopes to use his finance degree to become a financial planner – said his basketball career will be over:
“I’ll miss it, but I’ve given basketball all I can. I think it’s time to move on. This season is awesome. It’s all I needed.”
But his dad thinks he won’t be leaving everything from the game behind:
“Yeah, basketball is going to be over for him, but he’s going to live 50 more years. God-willing, maybe 60, and the way he’s dealt with things here in his career, those kind of things travel.
“Those are qualities that can carry you forever.”
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