This was the mid-1940s and Army’s Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis were terrorizing collegiate defenses the way the Allies were terrorizing the Nazis overseas.
Sportswriters dubbed Coach Earl “Red” Blaik’s stars as Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside.
Flash forward a few wars and many decades, switch your attention from football to basketball and from West Point, N.Y., to right here in Morgantown, where Bob Huggins is putting together his 2021-22 team.
Huggins has his own Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, but he is not using up two roster spots for them because they come packed in the one very large body belonging to redshirt freshman Isaiah Cottrell.
Cottrell stands 6-10 and weighs 242 pounds, although Huggins notes that, with his blown-out afro, he’s every bit of 7-2.
But there’s a whole lot of little man moves in that big man’s body.
He can be powerful in the post, but is equally at home outside the 3-point line pumping up shots from long range, which seems to be a requirement to play on this Mountaineers team.
“All around, I’m trying to show I’m a mismatch,” he said. “I can play really anywhere on the floor.”
If that sounds boastful, Huggins and Cottrell’s teammates assure you it is not.
Fairmont Senior High product Jalen Bridges attests to that.
“He can really post up,” Bridges said. “He’s got a great post game. He has great footwork. He’s more agile than a lot of the bigs that we’ll play against, so he can really face up, face the basket, maybe jab this way and go the other way and beat the big to the basket and go shoot a post-up or a layup or maybe dunk on somebody.”
But what makes him special is the ability to move outside and score, bringing a big man out with him to take him away from the boards and give the guards open lanes in which to drive to the basket or pull up and hit mid-range jump shots.
“He’s shot the ball so well from the perimeter,” Huggins said. “He shot a couple yesterday that didn’t move the net from three. He has to rebound it better and do some other things, but offensively, he’s really shot the ball well.”
“I was always good inside,” Cottrell said. “I think the way I naturally play is more outside, finding the open space and trying to make plays from there. I can pretty much do anything on the floor in any spot that I’m at. I’ve definitely been trying to get a lot better in the post and strength-wise and making plays down there.”
What takes this beyond just your ordinary college basketball saga of the big man who can shoot 3s is what Cottrell has gone through the past year to reach this point.
Highly regarded as a freshman last season as 2020 was turning into 2021, Cottrell blew out his Achilles tendon just as Oscar Tshiebwe blew out of town through the transfer portal, ending up at Kentucky.
This, of course, is a serious injury, one that once ended careers or, at best, restricted what a player could do athletically throughout his career.
You have this injury and you expect to lose a year, but Cottrell hit the comeback trail immediately.
“It surprisingly only took seven months,” Cottrell said. “I haven’t had any hiccups since. They said it was going to take about eight to 12[months], but I made it back and I’m here.”
“I thought he’d be really ginger with it, but he was out there running up and down and jumping,” Huggins said. “He hasn’t shown any sign of maybe favoring the other leg or whatever. From the beginning, he’s been ready to go.”
It wasn’t an easy road back. Rehab never is easy, and he approached it with determination, even as it worked on his mind.
“The uncertainty of coming back and if I’m ever going to be the same or if I’m ever going to play again,” Cottrell said when asked his concerns. “As rehab went through, I started to get a lot better and my mind started getting better.”
And so did his game.
While he couldn’t do basketball things, he’d sit out behind the 3-point line and work on that 3-point shot.
It certainly helped.
“I think it helped my basketball IQ,” he said. “Watching the game from the bench, hearing what the coaches were saying was important.
Now, he begins picking up where he left off last year when his career was so rudely interrupted.
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