The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

March 15, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU hopes for fun March run

MORGANTOWN — The way the West Virginia players see it, there’s been a bunch of imposters out there for much of the season, especially in the second half of their Big East Tournament game with Marquette.

Oh, these imposters looked like the Mountaineers you had grown to know and love. They looked like John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla, Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant, even Cam Thoroughman, Deniz Kilicli, Casey Mitchell, Dalton Pepper and Jonnie West.

But if you looked closely, you could tell it was imposters.

They weren’t smiling.

That’s what gave them away.

No laughing, no dancing … no fun.

That, they say, is going to end.

See, a new season is upon us, the post-post season. The regular season, the conference tournament is history, etched into the record books, never to change.

There were good memories and bad memories, but what is going to stay with everyone about this team is the way they entertained us all, whether it be in rollicking fun videos on the scoreboard screen, videos of doing “The Dougie” or sitting in the stands at the women’s game.

This is a team that, at its best, is smiling and laughing and dancing and pounding itself on the chest, be that Casey Mitchell after a crazy basket or Kevin Jones after grabbing off an offensive rebound and putting it back in.

In some ways, that first round loss to Marquette may have been a blessing, for it got this team away from the court for a few days, gave it time to depressurize itself.

It didn’t have to deal with Bob Huggins pushing them, with preparing for an opponent, with reading in the newspaper or watching on television commentaries on how they just weren’t quite up to last year’s Final Four team.

“Last year is last year,” senior forward John Flowers said. “It’s two totally different teams. We don’t need to focus on last year. We have to focus on playing hard and together as a team and anything can happen.”

Joe Mazzulla probably put it best, as he usually does, in summing up what the time away did.

“We were able to clear our minds and get back into having fun and togetherness. We need to have fun as a team. We needed to energize the basketball,” he said.

For whatever reason, the Mountaineers could not capture the spirit they played with a year ago.

Maybe it was because Da’Sean Butler wasn’t a part of it now, offering an infectious smile and one last minute heroic moment after another. Who could not have fun in that atmosphere?

But this team hasn’t been able to shoot like that team, and shooting baskets is fun, when they go in, and it hasn’t been able to get as many breakaway slam dunks from long and lean Devin Ebanks or Wellington Smith.

Basketball this year has been more work, harder to get the same success … but now the end is in sight.

If you can’t have fun in the NCAA Tournament, when can you have fun?

It had to help the other day when Bob Huggins was out of town and Billy Hahn, his veteran assistant, ran practice.

Flowers explained what Hahn did.

“He basically broke it down and said there’s 240 minutes left, six games, four hours … that’s all we got to play. Just 240 minutes of basketball to get to the national championship.”

Put that way it doesn’t sound like so big a deal. Six games, four hours of basketball.

Not much. They practice three hours a day, so what’s the big deal?

It’s enough time to do what you have to do, to wear a smile, the kind we used to see all the time on Truck Bryant’s face, to dance a little and bang home a thunderous slam dunk.

Can West Virginia win the national championship?

Probably not, but that isn’t the only measure of success, as they learned last year when they captured the nation’s imagination by reaching the Final Four.

They did it with a flair, with a smile on their face.

Four hours are all that’s left of this season. Think about it and you understand.

It’s gives new meaning to the term Final Four.

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

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