MORGANTOWN — March, they say, comes in like a lion.
So, too, does Joe Mazzulla.
If baseball had its “Mr. October” in Reggie Jackson, Joe Mazzulla is college basketball’s Mr. March.
He roars into tournament time, and it’s a good thing, because it seems West Virginia needs him.
You might recall the game back on March 22, 2008, Bob Huggins first year as WVU coach. The Mountaineers were in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, playing no less an opponent than Duke, which is college basketball royalty and not used to a commoner like Joe Mazzulla slapping them around.
Yet that is just what he did. His body flying all over the court, he nearly put together a triple-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists as WVU pulled off the upset.
But since then that very style of reckless play that he displayed against Duke came back to haunt him. Early the next season, on Dec. 9, diving against Davidson he suffered a serious shoulder injury, one that would put him out of action for a year, one that cause him to worry whether or not his career was over.
A lesser player would have given up, but Mazzulla, instead, went after it as if it were a loose ball.
He couldn’t use his left arm. Fine. He used his right. He taught himself to shoot free throws that way. Not well, but enough so that he could play.
In game played above the rim, he tried playing without being able to raise his left arm above his shoulder.
Truck Bryant became the starting point guard, Mazzulla the backup. He played sparingly at first, then more and more.
The better the shoulder got, the more he played. A year passed, then a year and a month and two months and three months.