Ironton hoops star Dennis Gagai decides to walk on at WVU

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 17, 2006

Dennis Gagai believes if you do a good job, you’ll be justly compensated.

Gagai is hoping that his hard work on the basketball floor will pay huge dividends after agreeing to walk-on and play for the West Virginia Mountaineers.

“I’ve got to work for my money,” Gagai said. “I’m going up to camp on the 28. They’ll treat me like any other freshman.”

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West Virginia had already used all its available scholarships when head coach John Beilein was watching possible recruit Patrick Patterson of Huntington High against Ironton. Gagai caught Beilein’s eye when he lit up the scoreboard for 39 points and led the Fighting Tigers to a 65-63 upset of the top-ranked Highlanders.

“He said it was one of the best shooting performances he’d ever seen. He said if he had a scholarship he would come back,” Gagai said.

Ironton head coach Mark LaFon said Gagai has the talent and character to play at the college level.

“I’ve never been around a kid who could step up when the game was on the line like him, and not just by scoring. He’d get a steal or a rebound. He finished things with a big play or a big shot.”

Gagai had scholarship offers from Shawnee State, Walsh,

VMI, Gannon, Notre Dame College of Cleveland among others. But Gagai said the challenge and dream of playing at a high-profile Division I school was just too strong.

“I wanted to play at a high level and they’re at the top right now. They’re losing a lot. I have th chance to have an impact,” Gagai said.

Still, he knows that getting a chance and succeeding are two different things.

“I’m going to have to work my butt off. I have to work my way up and show them what I can do,” Gagai said. “Coach Beilein was real honest. He told me all the things I have to do.”

Gagai was a four-year starter at Ironton and set the school’s all-time scoring record with 1,542 points.

A two-time first team all-district selection by the Associated Press and coaches association, Gagai was the Southeast District Player of the Year for both the AP and coaches. He was first team All-Ohio this past season and selected to play in the Ohio-Kentucky All-Star Game and the Ohio-West Virginia All-Star Series.