By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
There can be little argument that Kevin Jones is the focal point of the 2011-12 West Virginia basketball team that just began practicing last week, but it is possible he is not the most important player on the team.
True, Jones figures to be both the high scorer and rebounder, which cannot be underestimated. As a senior, he also is a leader.
But the truth is it is highly possible that as Truck Bryant goes, so will go the Mountaineers.
Bryant is a senior who has been a perplexing player throughout his career. His talent was never doubted, only the way he applied it, for it would run in spurts. When he was on his game the Mountaineers seemed to soar, and when he was off his game the Mountaineers were just sore.
Most of the time he was cast as a point guard, which is still how he sees himself, but the team seemed to work best when Joe Mazzulla was running the point in the past and Bryant was the shooting guard.
Mazzulla is gone now, coaching at Glenville State, but Huggins has brought in a pair of promising freshman point guards in Jabarie Hinds out of Mount Vernon, N.Y., and Gary Browne out of Puerto Rico.
Doing so he envisions using Bryant more as a 2 guard than a 1.
“I won’t say I am a 2 guard,” Bryant said, “but I will be playing that position.”
Perhaps, someone suggested, Bryant is a 1.5 guard, which brought that 1,000-watt smile of his to his face, liking that suggestion.
“Honestly, I’m going to do whatever my team needs me to do. That’s what I need to do. Sometimes I’ll go to the point, but most of the time I’ll be playing 2,” he said, wanting to emphasize that this season is all about team with him.
“I feel more comfortable at the point, but if I’m going to get some shots and help my team win some games, I will play the 2.”
That is what Coach Bob Huggins has up the sleeve of his pullover for this season.
“We don’t really have positions, but I would like him to have the ball less,” Huggins said. “I would like him to be a receiver. I would rather him be a catcher than a pitcher. He is our best perimeter shooter.”
There were times last year when you might wonder what Huggins has been smoking to make him think that Bryant is the best perimeter shooter. Last year Bryant had his worst shooting season, hitting only a third of his shots from the floor.
At one point in midseason he hit only 18 of 83 shots over 10 games, which figures out to 21.6 percent.
Huggins is aware of the problems he encountered.
“He was miserable from the field to start the Big East,” the coach admitted. “He was shooting around 19 percent somewhere in there. When we got him off the ball and gave it to Joe more, he started to make his shots.
“He just has less things to worry and think about it (when not at point). He and KJ still have to get people where they need to be. He is going to be a more productive force offensively without having all the responsibilities of a point guard.”
The suggestion was that the other duties of playing the point distracted Bryant. He dismisses that theory.
“I wouldn’t say that. Honestly, you are in a shooting slump that long, it’s just confidence. I wouldn’t say it was because I was playing the point. As soon as I started making some shots my confidence went right back up where it needed to be,” he said.
“I don’t have time to be in a shooting slump this year. It’s my last year. I’m trying to go out with a bang, just like everyone else did — Da’Sean, Ruoff, everybody.”
Bryant is approaching this year with what seems to be a more mature approach to everything. He knows he has a lot of work to do as a teacher with a pair of freshmen at the point and with as many as seven or eight newcomers on the team.
He is taking on the responsibility of being a shooting guard seriously.
“I’m the best defender on the team,” he said, the pride showing through in his voice. “I went from being the worst defensive player my freshman year to now where I’ll be guarding everyone’s best player. It changed a lot. I have to be on point on every play.
“I got the green light, I’m scoring and I’m guarding the other team’s best player. That’s key. That’s something the young guys will know. In order to play, you have to play defense.”
NOTES: West Virginia University has announced the Oct. 29 Big East Conference football contest at Rutgers will be aired on ABC regional at 3:30 p.m. … Tickets for WVU men’s basketball non-conference home games will go on sale Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 9 a.m. To order tickets, fans can visit WVUGAME.com, call 1-800-WVU GAME or stop by the Mountaineer Ticket Office in the WVU Coliseum ... Also on sale Wednesday will be Family Day packages against Akron and Miami. Four tickets, four drinks, four hot dogs and one bucket of popcorn can be purchased for $60 by calling 1-800-WVU GAME. Family Day packages must be ordered in advance and cannot be purchased on game day ... A special $10 ticket will be available online only at WVUGAME.com for the Dec. 19 game against Tennessee Tech ... Group ticket discounts are available for groups of 20 or more for non-conference games. Groups should contact the Mountaineer Ticket Office or the WVU Sports Marketing Office at 304-293-3086 for more information on group ticket discounts.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.