The Times West Virginian

December 14, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - This Truck traveled a bumpy road

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — What images come to mind when you hear the term Brooklyn, N.Y.?

Brooklyn … the Brooklyn Bridge? Ebbets Field? Coney Island? The Cyclone? Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs?

Mostly it is the Dodgers, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Boys of Summer … Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella.

 Joe Torre is from Brooklyn. So is Mike Tyson. Little-known fact, Michael Jordan was born in Brooklyn.

So was Darryl “Truck” Bryant.

He left the city for Morgantown, giving up New York’s subway system for Morgantown’s PRT, leaving behind Nathan’s hot dog for a pepperoni roll.

He doesn’t look at it as an escape from New York, for Brooklyn is home and he still loves it, but as a period of his life where he was allowed to see something different, a freer, less hectic way of life, a place where he could grow not only as a basketball player but as a person.

He broke the stereotype we all have of Brooklyn and the city. He came wearing a smile as wide as the Ohio River itself and a disposition that spread more sunshine across the state than did old man sun himself.

He could make a joke or laugh at himself, and there were moments when he needed to do that for his career with as up and down as the original Cyclone in Coney Island.

He was consumed by basketball. It was a passion with him, right from the day he arrived out of St. Raymond’s in Brooklyn. Not extraordinarily tall, he was blessed with big hands that looked almost out of place at the end of his arms.

There were days when he could do no wrong, days when he could do no right.

In the early days he played a New York style of ball, the kind you might play on the blacktop in the city, the kind you might play in the AAU.

He could pop outside, drive to the hoop, too often far out of control.

It was all he knew.

“They play so much,” WVU coach Bob Huggins once said of New York kids. “I think by and large they have to compete more because there are so many kids there who want to play. In a metropolitan area like that you have to earn more. In some places you get a kid who plays just because he’s big. You don’t get that as much in the city, maybe in suburban areas.”

It is an aggressive city, an aggressive way of life, and on the basketball court you need to be aggressive to survive.

Oh, there were wonderful moments, 25 points at Marquette, 20 in a second half against Notre Dame, 20 at Pitt, but there were just as many 6- or 8-points games, times when Huggins had to go with Joe Mazzulla over him.

He still smiled. And he was out earlier the next day, practicing harder, working on his game.

His freshman, sophomore and junior years flashed by, and at the one moment he really wanted to be there, he wasn’t, a broken bone in his foot keeping him out of the Final Four.

Mazzulla took up the slack and Da’Sean Butler became a WVU basketball legend, and all he could do was watch from the bench, his foot in a protective boot.

Now his senior year has been thrust upon him, and he has enveloped himself in the role of leader. He has taken it seriously.

He has worked the young kids, seven freshmen are on the roster, all of them still wet behind the ears, but more importantly he has worked with himself. He wants to leave a lasting impression, wants to help mold and carry this team higher and further than anyone believes he can.

While most veterans are set in their ways, he has changed his, right down to the shoes he wears, going with a flashy golden footwear.

And his practice time has changed, increased, for a gym rat who used to have to break into the gym after hours to work on his game.

Now he comes early on game day, a couple of hours early, and he heads to the court and works with assistant Jarod Calhoun taking shot after shot from every possible angle, simulating every possible situation.

He does it until he has made 100 shots, hoping to hit two or three or four extra ones during a game.

It has worked for this week, as he earned Big East Player of the Week honors after a career-high 27 points in a victory over Miami and 24 in a double-overtime victory over Kansas State.

If he has his way, he will leave West Virginia with a very fine impression of Brooklyn, N.Y., and the player they call Truck.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.