The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

November 17, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN: Flowers blossoms under Huggins

MORGANTOWN — When Joe Alexander bounced out the door of the Coliseum and took his mind-boggling athletic skills to the National Basketball Association three years ago, most people thought it would be another generation before we saw another athlete quite like that again.

Little did anyone know he was already at West Virginia, a member of the basketball team.

John Flowers had just not blossomed yet.

Oh, we saw the athleticism, to be sure, but his fundamentals were so suspect that it was difficult to believe that he’d ever harness it the way Alexander had. After all, that takes a lot of work and even with Bob Huggins driving you, a college kid is still a college kid and sometimes they just don’t get what it takes.

Flowers did and now, as a senior, he looks as if he may be ready to become something beyond the role player he has been for his entire career.

You know one thing, Huggins just loves him and that’s endorsement enough of his work ethic.

“I don’t think he’s athletic as Joe but he understands how to make rotations better,” Huggins said, when asked about the comparison. “John has gotten really, really good at the defensive end. He’s really improved his shooting and decision making at the offensive end. He’s been far and away our most improved guy.”

He showed in WVU’s first game, a victory over Oakland, Mich., that sets the Mountaineers up for the Puerto Rican Invitational in which they participate this week, starting Thursday with a game against Davidson and hoping to wind up in a Sunday final against North Carolina.

In that game Flowers led the Mountaineers in scoring with 16 points including a pair of 3-point baskets, hit 6 of 9 free throws with a rebuilt stroke, grabbed five rebounds, had three assists, a steal and — get this — blocked seven shots.

“I could have had a dozen,” a disappointed Flowers would say after the game.

What has happened to make this transformation?

“John has put a lot of time in. He puts as much time in the gym as much as anyone we have, him and Casey Mitchell,” Huggins said.

There is putting in time, however, and putting in quality time. Flowers really bangs at it.

“John has gotten more and more coachable as he’s gone along. He does the best of anyone we have of getting to the ball. You don’t block seven shots without getting to the ball. And he made two big-time blocks from off the ball [in the first game],” Huggins said.

But he could always block shots and the jumping ability he has comes with a long, lean athletic body that stretches to 6-feet, 7-inches.

He’s proven it by winning the slam dunk contest in Mountaineer Madness twice, soaring high over the head of full-grown men to dunk.

What he couldn’t do was score or shoot free throws or from the outside.

He had to go to sleep hearing clanks in the night.

As a freshman he averaged 4.6 points a game, as a sophomore 4.3 and last year just 2.1. His percentage free throw percentage was a microscopic 43.8 percent.

You will not see that this year.

“The hardest thing was to change his mechanics some,” Huggins explained. “That’s the same with anyone who comes in with subpar mechanics. You are so used to shooting a certain way, to change it, particularly during the season, is very difficult.”

This is especially true when you must have been a star in high school to become a Division I scholarship player at a Big East school.

 As a senior at St. Mary’s Ryken High in Waldorf, Md., he averaged 18 points, 13.2 rebounds and 6.4 blocks a game. That would make you reluctant to change until you come in and see what others are doing with less athletic ability.%

Flowers took advantage of the coaching skills around him.

“I think he’s going to continue to get better and better,” Huggins said. “He really wants to learn. He really wants to be a good player.”

“He’s the new, improved John Flowers,” said guard Truck Bryant. “He’s getting after it defensively, scoring offensively. He’s doing everything we need from him. And the thing I like most is he plays every possession hard.”

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

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