CHICAGO — Soon after Tyrone Hughes thought his basketball career was finished, he received the phone call that changed his hoop dreams.
Hughes grew up in Lincoln Park and graduated from Whitney Young in 2011. The 6-foot guard was a Dolphins varsity player for two seasons but didn't see much floor time because the team was loaded with star backcourt players.
Later that year, he enrolled at West Virginia as a student and tried out for the basketball team as a walk-on. Coaches at the time told him they were potentially interested, but he should wait for a callback.
Two years later, in the summer between his sophomore and junior years in Morgantown, Hughes had all but given up when associate coach Larry Harrison said the Mountaineers wanted him to work out with the team.
Hughes would make the squad as a walk-on, and in the past two seasons, he's played in 15 total games heading into Thursday's NCAA tournament regional semifinal against No. 1 overall seed Kentucky.
"As soon as I had come to terms with not playing, they called me," the 22-year-old Hughes said. "I just wanted to be a part of this program, so to be in the Sweet 16 is amazing. Everyone who knows me knows I don't quit; I just keep pushing."
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That statement was backed up by Hughes' former coaches at Whitney Young, varsity coach Tyrone Slaughter and sophomore coach Kevin Snider.
"He's a very motivated young man, and he has a tremendous passion for the game," Slaughter said. "He's getting everything he wants out of basketball, to the extent of playing and enjoying it at a high level."
Snider said he still uses Hughes' example of never quitting as an illustration to younger players during his clinics.
"He's one of my biggest praises, and I talk about him all the time," Snider said. "He could have easily given up, and now he's on one of the greatest teams in the nation."
Hughes had never been to the state of West Virginia before making his college decision. He chose West Virginia University over St. John's and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy because it had the cheapest tuition and he wanted to "do something different."
"Tyrone brings great enthusiasm to practice," Huggins said. "He's given us a really good look on the scout team because of his shooting ability."
Hughes played in eight games last season and seven this campaign, mostly in the closing minutes. His lack of playing time doesn't bother him in the least.
"This is something I'll remember for the rest of my life," Hughes said.
Hughes said his parents, Tyrone Sr. and JeLaine, and his former Whitney Young teammate, Ohio State star Sam Thompson, likely are making the trip to Cleveland to see West Virginia (25-9) face Kentucky (36-0) in the Sweet 16.
Hughes said the Mountaineers, known for their stingy defense and aggressive press, won't be intimidated by the undefeated Wildcats.
"We've got to hit them first," Hughes said. "If we draw first blood, we'll be all right."
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