Born In Cheylan, West Virginia
He was born Jerome Alan West in Cheylan, West Virginia, on May 28, 1938. One of six children of Howard Stewart (a coal mine electrician) and Cecil Sue West (a homemaker), he was kept out of sports as a boy because of his small stature. He spent much of his free time shooting basketballs at a hoop nailed to a neighbor's storage shed, gradually perfecting his shooting style. So preoccupied was the young West with his home-based basketball practice that he often forgot to eat. He dropped so much weight that he eventually was forced to take vitamin injections to preserve his health. Although he finally managed to win a spot on East Bank High School's varsity basketball team, he spent most of his junior year on the bench. The summer between his junior and senior years in high school, West experienced a much welcomed growth spurt, shooting up six inches. During his senior year, West became the first high school player in West Virginia history to score 900 points in a single season. He also led his high school team to a state championship, prompting a thankful East Bank High School to rename itself West Bank High School (for one week) in his honor.
Recruited by a number of colleges, West decided upon West Virginia University in Morgantown. The transition from a small high school to a large college full of strangers was a difficult one for West. He had drawn inward six years earlier after learning of the death of his older brother, David, in the Korean War. Although he found it difficult to handle his academic workload, he seemed to have no such difficulty on the basketball court. During his years as a West Virginia Mountaineer, West twice was named an All-American, and in 1959 he led his team to the championship game of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament. Although the Mountaineers lost the NCAA championship to the University of California, West was named the tournament's most valuable player. The following summer, he joined with another dynamic guard, Oscar Robertson, to lead the U.S. Olympic basketball team to gold at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.