MORGANTOWN — There are two faces of Joe Mazzulla.
One was visible at the Coliseum Saturday night as No. 6 West Virginia’s shut-down defensive specialist, a high-energy, sometimes snarling, sometimes taunting, always daunting force that changed the course of the game with Coppin State.
The other will be visible at the Coliseum today, but it will be a calmer, more tranquil smiling Joe Mazzulla, one whose accomplishments will far exceed what he did to help West Virginia earn a 69-43 victory before 10,121 fans.
Today, three and a half years after enrolling at WVU, Mazzulla will trade his old gold and blue uniform in for a cap and gown as he receives a degree in multidisciplinary studies with as diverse a set of minors as you can put together, business, Spanish and exercise philosophy.
Mazzulla, with a year of eligibility in basketball still ahead of him after being granted a medical redshirt last year when he fractured the growth plate in his left shoulder, will begin work on a master’s degree in athletic coaching.
Certainly, it was a weekend for Mazzulla to remember, his father, David, and mother, LaTresa, in attendance at both the basketball game and the graduation.
“My relationship with my dad comes out when I play,” Mazzulla said, noting that his father coached him “a little in middle school” and implanted in him the fiery style that characterizes his basketball.
While most fans left the Coliseum marveling at the play of forward Kevin Jones, who each game seems to add a new dimension to an already multidimensional game, this time scoring a team-leading 22 points and grabbing off 11 rebounds, eight on the offensive end, for his second career double-double, it was Mazzulla who lit the Mountaineers’ wick.
You must go back to the moment Mazzulla came off the bench. The Mountaineers trailed, 11-9, with 12:24 left in a slow-motion half, one in which Coppin State was trying to hold the ball and where their guard, Lenny Young, was abusing West Virginia and amusing his teammates.
One person who was unamused was Mazzulla as he sat on the bench, waiting for Bob Huggins to beckon him into the game.
While Truck Bryant is a solid player, especially on the offensive end, Mazzulla is a defensive stick of dynamite ready to explode and that is just what he did.
He came in and before you knew it he and Young were exchanging bumps and words at a rapid fire pace.
“We don’t want the other team to dictate the tempo,” Mazzulla said. “That’s our job. The team didn’t like it and I personally took it on me to change the game.”
If Coppin wanted to play at a walk, Mazzulla would turn it into a sprint. He moved like a rodeo cutting horse, always a half step ahead of Young, forcing him into situations he didn’t want to be in and he didn’t like it.
It was obvious immediately that this had come down to a game of one-on-one and four-on-four, as Young tried to work Mazzulla and Mazzulla overwhelmed him.
Words were flying, and you knew that the conversation was not:
“I think you look dapper tonight in that blue and gold uniform, Mr. Mazzulla.”
“And you smell quite nice. What type of aftershave are you wearing?”
Let’s just say it was more like, “Bleep you and your bleeping bleep-bleep.”
Mazzulla won’t say exactly what was said, but it is safe to say that Mazzulla did not say it in Spanish.
“Only he and I need to know that,” he said.
The frustration reached such a level that Young was bounced to the floor, called for a foul, said something to the official and was hit with a technical that soon was followed by another technical on Coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell.
Da’Sean Butler took advantage of the situation to a T, making all the technicals for four of his 16 points.
Whatever, when Mazzulla came in the Mountaineers wound up scoring 12 straight to take charge of the game. Later, Huggins would unveil his 1-2-2 press to force the action and Coppin could not deal with it.
Late in the game, after the winner had been decided, Mazzulla was back in the game and as a free throw was being taken, he stood there with Young and draped his arm around his shoulder, as if he were his best friend.
“Ah, I was just messing with him,” Mazzulla said.
And so it went as WVU made it seven straight in this still young season with a tough trip to Cleveland State next Saturday following finals week.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.
MORGANTOWN — There are two faces of Joe Mazzulla.
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