Patty Colebank, the doyenne of the Thinkin' Ink tattoo parlor in Morgantown, W.Va., might be called the Picasso of the Appalachians if she didn't have a first-rate handle already, right there on her business card: the Mistress of Pain. In 16 years the Mistress has tattooed all manner of luminaries (future NFL players, Olympians, porn stars) and all manner of body parts ("eyelids, penises, bottoms of feet"), yet she has never had a regular customer quite like West Virginia's resident folk hero, Mountaineers senior center Kevin Pittsnogle. ¬∂ "He's the most laid-back popular person I've met," says Colebank, who has created three of Pittsnogle's half-dozen tats and (at his urging) two for his mother, Tammy. Last week Pittsnogle and his wife, Heather, paid the Mistress a visit to go over plans for her next masterwork: a baby boy surrounded by angel wings sitting on a cloud bearing the name Kwynsie James Pittsnogle. Lil' Pitts is due to show up any day now, first in the hospital and then on Dad's right forearm. "We can't wait to be parents," Kevin says, and after three baby showers their two-bedroom apartment is ready. "The best gift we've gotten is the Diaper Genie--you put the diapers in it so they don't stink up the whole house." ¬∂ A year after Pittsnogle saw his name turned into a verb and came within a game of the Final Four, the Mountaineers are in no danger of stinking up their house, to say nothing of hostile arenas. Last Saturday's 60-56 win at No. 17 UCLA gave No. 9 West Virginia (14-3) its 12th straight victory, a streak that includes road takedowns of No. 6 Villanova and No. 24 Oklahoma. Through Sunday the Mountaineers were second in the nation in three-pointers per game (11.2), not least because their goateed marksman is dropping 2.2 treys a game--a remarkable number for a big man.
"We have never played anybody like him," Sooners coach Kelvin Sampson says of Pittsnogle, who is averaging 19.8 points and 6.4 rebounds. "He's a two guard who grew to 6'11". They hardly ever post him up, and he's always open because it's foreign for big guys to go out and cover him."
"What separates him is his quick release," says West Virginia coach John Beilein. "I want to get a stopwatch and measure the time from when the passer releases the ball to when his shot hits the goal."
After removing his distinctive name from last year's NBA draft--he would have been a second-round pick at best--Pittsnogle has shed 27 pounds since October and now weighs a svelte 248. His draft stock has risen as his weight has dropped, with one NBA Western Conference scout projecting him as a late first-round or early second-round pick. "He shoots like a 6-footer," says the scout. "He'll never be an explosive inside player, but that's O.K. because he's so highly skilled at what he does."
And to think that back at Martinsburg (W.Va.) High, Pittsnogle got teased so much that he asked his mother if he could use her maiden name (Shepherd). "Now I say, 'See what Pittsnogle got you!'" roars Tammy, who wears a momma pitts jersey to games and is so loud that she was once reproached by a Big East referee.
As the team's only West Virginia native on scholarship, Pittsnogle has spawned a cottage industry cashing in on his appeal. The phrase You've Been Pittsnogled! has appeared on T-shirts, socks and underwear, and no jersey has been more popular at the Mountaineers team store than his number 34 (which was sold out again last week). "It's even outsold the Jerry West jersey," says shop manager Chuck Phares, referring to the school's greatest player. "People ask, 'Do you have any fake Kevin Pittsnogle tattoos?'"
Pittsnogle's appeal is rooted in his hardscrabble mining-country background. He grew up in a trailer park, where the gravel basketball court forced him to abandon dribbling in favor of shooting all the time. His mom, Tammy, dropped out of high school and married his father, Kevin Sr., when she was 18. And Junior (as Kevin's mother calls him) can be a one-man Dukes of Hazzard episode--he's had his license suspended twice for speeding in his 1995 light-blue Oldsmobile Aurora with 20-inch rims.
But, as is usually the case, this story doesn't fit all the stereotypes. The Pheasant Ridge Trailer Park? "It wasn't high class, but it was nice," says Pittsnogle, who moved with his family into a three-bedroom house at age 10. His dropout parents? Tammy got her GED and works as a home-care coordinator at a senior center, while Kevin Sr. is a supervising mechanic at a waste-management company where he's been employed for the past 26 years. "They've worked so hard," says their only son. "I always looked to my dad and said, If he can do that, I should be able to run down the court hard every time."
Those aren't the only surprising facts about Pittsnogle. He graduated in December--a semester ahead of schedule, thanks to summer school--becoming the first member of his family to earn a four-year degree. (He had a 3.1 GPA with a major in athletic-coaching education and a minor in history and has entered the master's program in athletic coaching education this semester.) He's also a fantastic bowler who once rolled a 296. After he's done with basketball, he wants to become a history teacher and satisfy his longtime curiosity about the Holocaust by visiting Auschwitz. "I've been to the Holocaust Museum in D.C.," he says, "and I figure it would be powerful to see [Auschwitz] too."
As for his driving, well, consider him guilty as charged. Pittsnogle's older sister, Erika Blaylock, remembers the time in high school when Kevin, then 15, jumped into the driver's seat of her future husband's car. "Kevin floored it in reverse and backed straight into our mom's van!" Blaylock says. "He jumped out of the car and said, 'Man, when I screw up, I really screw up.'" Then there was the time last summer when teammates Mike Gansey and Patrick Beilein took Pittsnogle to play golf for the first time. "My ball was on the green, so I drove my cart right up next to it," says Pittsnogle. "Everyone starts yelling, 'You can't do that!'" Pittsnogle shrugged, sank his putt and only then moved his cart.
While Pittsnogle is proud of his West Virginia heritage, he has a delightful sense of humor about his homespun tastes. Take his October 2004 wedding, which was held in the Martinsburg High auditorium. "You know how some receptions have fancy hors d'oeuvres?" says Pittsnogle. "Well, we had corn dogs and pizza. We wanted stuff that people would really eat. Then we had some dancing and karaoke. It was a lot of fun."
Not every day has been corn dogs and pizzas, however. A month before their wedding, Heather had a miscarriage. "The doctors tell you not to worry about it, that women have them all the time, but I took it hard," she says. "Kevin did what he could trying to make me feel better." Soon afterward, he got a tattoo on his right calf honoring their lost child. "It was real hard to deal with, but Coach Beilein was like a father figure for us," says Kevin. "Now he wants to know every day what's going on with Heather's pregnancy. He seems as excited as we are."
The team has already secured NCAA approval to fly Kevin back from a road trip if he's away when Heather goes into labor, which could happen any time now: She started having contractions in early January.
Instead of handing out cigars, Kevin plans on celebrating at the Thinkin' Ink. For one day, at least, the Mistress of Pain will be the Mistress of Joy too.
Read more about Pittsnogle and West Virginia in Grant Wahl's Mailbag at SI.com/collegebasketball.
At the Pittsnogle wedding reception, "We had CORN DOGS AND PIZZA. Then we had some dancing and karaoke."
Photograph by Peter Gregoire
TATS MY BABY As the Pittsnogles await the birth of their first child, they're preparing to honor him with some new ink on Kevin's right forearm.
ROBERT BECK (INSET)
HIGH AND LOW The constant threat of a three has drawn defenders out and opened the way for Pittsnogle to barrel inside.