The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

March 19, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Bryant gets his chance against UK

TAMPA, Fla. — Some guys just aren’t very appreciative.

Let me tell you about this guy who is very close to the West Virginia University basketball program. His name is Darryl.

A year ago, when West Virginia upset Kentucky to go to the Final Four, he had was seated in the front row … right there by the players. It was a seat an alumni would pay maybe $5,000 to have, yet he was complaining about it.

He wanted to be closer to the action.

Why not? His last name is Bryant, nicknamed Truck, and he was supposed to be starting at guard for the Mountaineers, but he was out with a boot on his broken foot.

“I just wanted to play,” Bryant said. “You work your whole life, and you grow up watching the Final Four every year. That’s what I wanted. That’s what I had been looking forward to my whole life.”

Think about that for a minute. How many players dedicate themselves to the game of basketball, spend late nights in empty gyms shooting and chasing down their own shots? How many are in camps and play on high school teams and college teams with their sights set on reaching the Final Four, of having a chance to win a national championship?

And then you get there and you can’t play.

It’s like being a gourmand at 12-course with your mouth wired shut, like a tenor getting laryngitis the day he has a chance to play Carnegie Hall, like a jockey who gets that first Kentucky Derby mount and weighs in at 130 pounds.

Now, he gets his shot at John Calipari’s Kentucky basketball tam, and if it isn’t to go to the Final Four, it is just as important because you can’t reach the Final Four until you get to the Sweet 16, and that’s what’s at stake in this game.

OK, it isn’t really a rematch, considering that Calipari has virtually an entirely new team from the one that was stunned last year despite having four NBA players, including two first-round picks, and Bob Huggins is here without Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith.

“It’s like they have a completely different team,” WVU guard Joe Mazzulla, who was one of the heroes of last year’s game, said when asked if it felt like a rematch. “I’m not sure they have that inside presence what they had from (DeMarcus) Cousins, even though (Josh) Harrellson does a pretty good job.

“On our end we’re a much different team. We kind of spread the load out as far as what we’re going to do offensively, and we really have to rely on defense and rebounding. So I don’t really think it’s too much of a rematch.”

And then there’s the case of Bryant, who has become something of an enigma.

Some days he is a spectacular player, having scored 20, 22, 25 and 24 points in games this season and stepping up to score 19 in the first-round victory over Clemson that put the Mountaineers in this game.

And some days, well, there are problems, times he tries to do too much, times he penetrates into areas marked “No Penetrating Allowed,” getting tied up and tossing the ball away.

When the Mountaineers lost in their first game of the Big East Tournament to Marquette, Bryant was made out to be the goat after making a steal and driving the lane but not scoring. He thought he was fouled. The officials disagreed.

With the team at the airport or on the team bus – Bryant isn’t sure – a teammate told him that he was being skewered on line.

This is not an uncommon occurrence for people on message boards often have more courage than sense in the anonymity, saying things they would say to no one’s face.

Usually the statements are either terribly nasty or simply false, but Bryant was hurt.

Here he was, giving his all, on the verge of becoming both a 1,000-point scorer and 300-assist man for WVU, and people were saying he had cost them this important game.

He made the mistake an athlete cannot afford to make.

He took it personally.

“It really hurt me,” he said. “At the end of the day, who cares? People talk. They don’t know what they’re talking about, so who cares?”

He then did the next worst thing he could do – he reacted.

He went to his Twitter account and posted a response.

His response was as out of line as were the posts.%

  “I don’t really think it was our fans or our true fans,” Bryant said. “But some people had posted some things about me, so I responded. I probably shouldn’t have done it that way. That’s just the way it came out at that time. It’s over with, and I wasn’t directing anything toward our fans. I was directing it to whoever was being disrespectful toward me.”

That, he says, is in the past. He’s learned his lesson and is ready to move forward, which is important with Kentucky awaiting.

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

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