The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

November 27, 2010

Mitchell evolves into WVU’s top scorer

Mountaineers face VMI in Charleston

PITTSBURGH — They tourism ads will tell you that a weekend in Puerto Rico, with its white sand beaches and warm Caribbean breezes, will refresh the soul.

If they ever need a spokesperson, they might think of Casey Mitchell, a West Virginia University basketball player who went there as something of an afterthought and came out a completely changed player, one capable of taking over a game.

Mitchell came into West Virginia last year after being named the National Junior College Player of the Year at Chipola Junior College in Mariana, Fla., averaging 20 points a game. He came to West Virginia for his instant offense, but he was something of a first-year flop.

He injured a knee, put himself squarely into Bob Huggins’ dog house, which is not a very pleasant place to be, sulking and in a 3.7-point-a-game funk.

To his credit, he shook that off, and to Huggins’ credit, he stayed with him, gave him a chance and as the Mountaineers prepare to host Virginia Military Institute in Charleston at 7 p.m. today, Mitchell is the team’s leading scorer at 20.5 points a game.

And, if he is on in Charleston, he may score a whole lot more than that as VMI loves to run and gun, having scored 120, 106 and 94 twice while running to a 5-0 record.

In the semifinal of the Puerto Rico Tipoff Classic, Mitchell scored 31 against Vanderbilt and added 27 in the final loss to Minnesota.

“I hadn’t had a good game since I had been here,” Mitchell admitted.

What changed?

“I had problems with the coach and had an injury,” he explained, saying it almost so matter-of-factly that you almost could pass over the idea of having troubles with the coach.

What kind of troubles?

“He expects more out of me,” Mitchell answered. “I didn’t tell him last year that because of my injury I couldn’t slide or play defense like I wanted to. He’d yell at me and that would kind of frustrate me, so I said some things back sometimes.”

You might rather face a pride of hungry lions than say some things back to Bob Huggins.

“He’s tough man, but he wants the best out of you and I respect that. That’s why I just listen now,” Mitchell said. “This year I am 100 percent and I take whatever he says as motivation.”

It is easy to understand how a player, a player who has been pampered as a star his whole career, could go through the recruitment process, being told all that is right with the school and being told how good he is and how he can help, could be shocked when he comes in and plays for the hard-driving Huggins.

Even Huggins understands it.

“You know, we hold them accountable,” he said. “A lot of times guys that have his ability sometimes aren’t held as accountable. I think he probably went through that more than others. It’s all personalities. Devin (Ebanks) came in and was highly rated but he played two years for Jerry Quinn and he holds people accountable.”%

It is, Huggins said, “a matter of accountability.”

And, Huggins maintains, that goes far beyond the basketball court.

“I’m a firm believer you have to do things right off the floor, too. You have to be on time for class; you can’t miss class. You can’t do those things. I think our guys know when they are not really into practice that the shoe is going to fall some time.

“You’re always looking over your shoulder. I think Casey has learned to be more accountable in all areas of his life. That’s a positive thing.”

It certainly has made the basketball part of college life easier.

“Casey is capable of making shots. We were hoping he could do it last year. He just didn’t understand how to play. With the guys we had it was hard because he was almost in their way. Then defensively he wasn’t very good,” Huggins said.

Mitchell said much of it had to do with the injured knee that he tried to keep from Huggins.

“It was frustrating,” he said. “Unfortunately, I had the knee injury and that set me back a lot. I never could get into the game. Sometimes I’d go in and get taken right out because of a defensive assignment I missed. This year I’m 100 percent.”

The injury was a torn meniscus.

“I couldn’t slide laterally, which you need to do to play defense, and I couldn’t do it as well as I would like,” he explained. “The way we play it’s never going to heal unless I get to the off season. It’s not a bad injury but it’s an aggravating injury.”

He stayed in Morgantown this summer, his mother coming to town to help through his rehab. His knee is now fine and he has made a shooting adjustment after watching film and he may just change the entire complexion of a Mountaineer team that came into the season thinking it would operate around Kevin Jones’ skills.

Now, things are better between Huggins and Mitchell.

“I just listen to him. I ask him what I’m doing wrong now and he tells me and I try to fix it. He sees that I care more and I’m not injured. I’m really into it and I want to win. He’s a tough coach and wants the best out of you.”

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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