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Summer league no sweat for ex-West Mifflin star Hester

| Tuesday, July 8, 2014, 9:44 p.m.

Don't expect C.J. Hester to be in awe of the lineups at the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am summer league.

Should he?

“It's my third year in the league,” said one of West Mifflin's favorite sons and a former high school star who helped West Liberty reach the 2014 NCAA Division II championship game in March.

Hester, entering his senior season at West Liberty, where he majors in biology with the hope of entering the dentistry field, notched his eighth double-double of his junior season in a 84-77 loss to Central Missouri in the Division II title game in Evansville, Ind.

Overall, he led West Liberty in rebounding with 8.4 per game while scoring an average of 14.2 points.

At the PBC Pro-Am, where Hester has played just two games this summer after missing his team's first two while out of town, the rosters are dominated by current and former Division I players.

“I play with a chip on my shoulder,” Hester said. “Supposedly, these guys are better than me.”

In the two games playing for a team known as Shale Attorneys, the 6-foot-4 Hester is averaging 20.5 points and 8 rebounds. He's also shooting a sizzling 72 percent (18 for 25) from the field, including 4 for 8 from 3-point range.

“I like to showcase that we are good basketball players down there (in Division II),” Hester said. “I feel like I can hold my own.

“There's a lot that goes into basketball, a lot of strategy. I'd like to think I know the game pretty well. I'm not the biggest, tallest or strongest guy, but I play as hard as anyone. I go all-out. It's not worth it if you don't.”

The league serves as a prep for Hester's senior season at West Liberty, which led Division II with a scoring average of 99.9 points, but it's not his only means. He's also committed several times a week to working out at his alma mater with current West Mifflin boys coaches Lance Maha and Dale Chapman.

Hester enjoys teaching the finer points of the game to young players attending open gym periods. He nearly always finds time, too, even though he's working part-time this summer as a tutor for young people incarcerated at Allegheny County Jail and taking a physics course twice a week at CCAC-South.

And, of course, occasionally traveling to Montour to play in the PBC Pro-Am.

“Anyone who knows me will certainly understand that I'm a very competitive person,” said Hester, who came out of West Mifflin with attention from Division I schools such as Duquesne, Robert Morris, St. Francis (Pa.) and Florida Gulf Coast.

He opted for West Liberty, not knowing quite what to expect from the West Virginia school, based near Wheeling.

“I was like everyone else around here,” he said. “I was like, ‘OK, so where exactly is West Liberty?' ”

And, furthermore, what is it's basketball program like?

Hester found out pretty quickly that the Hilltoppers, under longtime coach Jim Crutchfield, employ a system that relies on nearly all of the team's players for contributions.

“We made a statement to get to the national championship game,” Hester said a day after the loss to Central Missouri on March 29. “We lost three 1,000-point scorers ... including the national player of the year (Alex Falk), and we made it farther this year.”

On Monday, Hester echoed those sentiments in reference to another year.

“We've got six freshmen coming in, along with a couple of transfers,” he said. “I'm going to be the only senior on the team. But you have to look past that. With Coach Crutchfield, he's going to expect us to come in in tip-top shape, ready to go. With us, it's a system. We'll put it in place again, and then, we'll be ready to go.”

Playing in the PBC Pro-Am is one way to stay sharp.

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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