As a whole, the Mountaineer team began the process of restructuring, if not rebuilding, after the loss of three key players from last year's Final Four squad. Players worked in the weight room to get stronger and on the floor to refine and improve their games in preparation for a season that will at least begin with them as a marked opponent.
For Truck Bryant, the rebuilding was initially focused on his broken foot, which knocked him out of West Virginia's final three games of the season.
"I did a lot of rehab to get back to where I was," the ever-cheerful Bryant related. "It was a lot of hard work. It was probably 2 ½ months to where I got really comfortable with it [the foot], but it was something that I had to get through to better myself."
While Bryant was the focus of a great deal of attention at the time of the injury (amid some speculation that he might be able to return for an appearance in the Final Four), that spotlight turned off during the spring and summer while he worked to get better. In addition to the rehabilitation work, he continued to go through full workout regimens on his upper body, where he, along with the rest of the team, put in grinding work to prepare for the upcoming season. That's a process that is often dismissed without thought, but it's a difficult challenge, both mental and physical, for any player, not to mention one that is trying to come back from an injury.
Bryant appears to be have weathered that period as well as could be expected, and proclaimed himself 100% ready for the upcoming season. Despite those personnel losses, he believes this year's team has the ability to achieve great things as well.
"I feel like we are ahead of where we were at the same time last year," he said of practice sessions to date. "We know what we have to do. Everybody has been working hard. I think we have picked it up big time. We're trying not to waste days. It's a good feeling to have a lot of veterans that know what they are doing. We have a couple of groups that can get right out there and run through it. The freshman and some of the walk-ons are still learning the drills, but we can help them and we know what to do out there."
A team that lost Da'Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith might be viewed as having some depth issues, but Bryant isn't ready to concede that point just year. Head coach Bob Huggins has put the team in a number of different situations in preseason practices so far, and Bryant believes that the Mountaineers might end up being just as versatile as they were a season ago.
"I honestly don't know about how deep we can go," he said. "We have played a lot of different lineups and a lot of people are playing in practice. Joe Mazzulla and I have been on different teams in practice, going at each other and making each other better. That's how it is at every position. Deniz Kilicli and Dan Jennings, Kevin Jones and John Flowers. We have different combinations every day. We can do a lot of different things. We can go zone with two bigs, or go small with three guards. We can play a variety of defenses. It's early, but we have worked with a lot of different defenses already on practice."
West Virginia hopes to have a stronger inside presence this season, and much of that rests on the big shoulders of Kilicli and Jennings. The pair provided limited contributions last year, but if they can improve defensively and provide a scoring threat in the lane to counterbalance that provided by Kevin Jones, West Virginia might be able to make up for the production that departed with Butler, Ebanks and Smith.
"Everybody knows we need Danny and Deniz to step up," Bryant explained. "They've been doing a good job so far. They've been running the floor like guards. They make our jobs a lot easier when they do that. It's been good to see [Deniz] getting up and down the floor like that. We had a scrimmage recently and I think Deniz had nine rebounds."
Despite going head-to-head in practice at times, Bryant is looking forward to playing alongside Joe Mazzulla at times this year.
"Playing together makes both of our jobs easier," he said enthusiastically. "I'm going to get him open for shots and he's going to get me open for shots. I think we will be a great combination together."
West Virginia opens its season with an exhibition game Friday night at the WVU Coliseum against UNC-Pembroke.