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West Mifflin grad Hester among the nation's best on the boards

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 12:41 a.m.

West Mifflin native C.J. Hester is one of NCAA Division II's top rebounders, and he ranks among the top 15 nationally in field-goal percentage. He's one of the key members of one of the country's best Division II teams.

Only a sophomore, Hester has found his niche quickly in excelling on the court at West Liberty University.

He's stood out in the classroom even more.

Hester, a 6-foot-4 guard/forward and biology major, was selected as a 2012-13 Capital One NCAA Division II Academic All-American by the College Sports Information Directors of America last month.

“He's the kind of guy who's easy for people here at West Liberty to cheer for,” Hilltoppers coach Jim Crutchfield said. “He's a very popular student — definitely not just an athlete. He's part of our student body and well-liked by everybody here.”

Hester, the 2011 McKeesport Daily News Player of the Year and a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Terrific 10 selection, averaged 12.1 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 61.8 percent from the field during the regular season for a West Liberty team that went 27-1 overall and 21-1 in conference play.

The nationally ranked Hilltoppers won the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament for the third straight year Sunday with a 92-78 victory over Fairmont State.

“We're definitely taking every game one at a time like we have all season,” said Hester, who was named to the all-tournament team after scoring 21 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in the title game, “but the ultimate goal is to finish strong and win the national title.”

West Liberty has come close each of the past two seasons, advancing to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight. Last year, Hester earned conference Freshman of the Year honors and a berth on the Atlantic Region all-tournament team. He ranked in the top 10 nationally in double-doubles (14) and field-goal percentage (.613).

It's been more of the same this season, including a game in which Hester just missed tying a national NCAA Division II record of 22 rebounds in a game. Hester had 21 in a 113-103 defeat of Shepherd on Feb. 18.

“I've always enjoyed rebounding,” Hester said. “I like being physical, going in there banging it around with the big guys.”

Hester enjoys getting rough-and-tumble on the court — off it, he's much more refined. Hester has been able to maintain a 3.76 grade-point average, and has career aspirations to follow in the footsteps of his father and become an oral surgeon.

“I've always looked up to him,” Hester said. “I've always shadowed him on take-your-kid-to-work day, and I found it interesting.”

Dental school, though, is still a couple of years away. He has two seasons left playing for the Hilltoppers, plus an ongoing postseason in which he and his team have some lofty goals.

Hester set the school record for rebounds by a freshman last season (285) and ended the regular season holding the West Liberty record for rebounds by a sophomore. It should come as no surprise he is well on pace to shatter the 41-year-old career school record for rebounds, should he stay healthy.

Hester also is on track to be a four-year starter for a West Liberty program that has won four straight conference regular-season titles and has led the nation in scoring in seven of the past eight seasons.

“There's not a whole lot more I can say about C.J.,” Crutchfield said. “He's a hard worker and a fun guy to be around.

“Obviously, he's a quality young man and a quality basketball player. He's been an absolute joy for me the two years I've had him — and we look forward to the next two years we have him, too.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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