MORGANTOWN — Right or wrong, and only time will be able to tell whether or not Devin Ebanks made the correct decision to leave West Virginia University for the National Basketball Association with a healthy helping of college basketball still on his plate, and even that will be cloudy in that we don’t know what fate would have had in store for him here.
What we do know is that the Final Four team that gave West Virginia such an injection of pride and happiness at a time, as it would come to happen, when it needed it most, considering the tragic mine explosion in Raleigh County, must redefine itself next season.
Such is this game of Russian roulette that is high-powered college basketball, which is nothing more than the college stars declaring their own form of professional free agency, just as they do in the big leagues.
You live in the moment, for tomorrow is as fragile a thing as the whims of a 19-year-old kid who can’t see past the bling and the bright lights of Broadway.
But that is not to be judgmental, for surely most of us with the opportunity would make similar decisions.
It is why we were given the ability to turn our palm up.
That, however, doesn’t lessen the job coach Bob Huggins has ahead of him, for the next edition of the West Virginia Mountaineers figures to be far different than the one you came to love so dearly over the past six months.
Let us begin with how difficult it will be for Huggins to run that 1-3-1 zone that he adopted to fit the talents of this year’s team. Indeed, Ebanks was perfect on the point, long and lean and athletic. That he averaged 8 rebounds a game playing out there so often on defense tells you something about his skills.
Certainly, John Flowers becomes one of two key players on the spot in this coming year, for if WVU is to run that defense, he most likely would inherit that spot and will almost certainly have to pick up his scoring and his rebounding.
With Butler, Wellington Smith and Ebanks gone, WVU gets hit hardest where it often was the best — on the boards.
That is not to say that this next Huggins team will lack in rebounding. In fact, if you take a look at what might be out on the floor, it might be able to bang the boards even harder and present a tougher image than the one this year’s team presented.
Let us try to figure out what next year’s Mountaineers will look like and how they play the game.
While it is somewhat early to be naming a starting five one suspects that Huggins will go with Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla at the point with Casey Mitchell or Dalton Pepper as his shooting guard and Kevin Jones and Flowers at the forwards while Deniz Kilicli becomes a true center, with a lot of backup help from returning big man Danny Jennings and newcomer David Nyarsuk, who at 7-1 is a long and lean center who is both athletic and able to run the floor.
There is no Da’Sean Butler to the rescue when times get tough, no Wellington Smith to fly out of nowhere to block a shot or hit a 3, and now no Ebanks.
But, to be honest, this becomes more a typical Huggins team, the kind of team he had at Cincinnati.
It is big and powerful and defensive minded, with the likes of Cam Thoroughman and Jonnie West and newcomer Noah Cottrill to come off the bench to provide every aspect of the game.
The cupboard certainly is not bare; it simply has been redecorated.
The options Huggins has are many, but the staple will probably be a big man in the middle, be it Kilicli, Jennings or Nyarsuk. That’s 15 fouls he has at center as he tries to dominate the boards with size.
Jones, of course, becomes the go-to guy, a player who can score inside or out, ready to fill the role that Butler and Joe Alexander before him filled. Less athletic than those two, Jones gets his points in a different manner, but you would look for him to average close to 20 points a game next season.
Look for more scoring out of the shooting guard position, too.
With a year under his belt, Casey Mitchell now looks more comfortable and showed signs of coming on after a disappointing first season as the former Junior College Player of the Year, and you know that Dalton Pepper can light things up, as can Cottrill, an electric freshman.
The key remains Flowers, however, as he will be a senior who well may see his minutes double and his value increase proportionately, especially on the defensive end and on the boards.
If Flowers can blossom next year, WVU may find that it doesn’t miss a beat as a national contender.
If Flowers and Kilicli improve as Huggins would expect them to, you might want to be looking around Houston, Texas, for a reservation for another Final Four.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.