WVU rolled up impressive wins of 91-39 and 98-57 over Naval Air Station Sigonella this week, but the margin of victory and WVU's scoring total were of secondary importance. What mattered, according to assistant coach Larry Harrison, was the fact that this year's Mountaineers were exposed to a higher level of intensity.
Speaking before West Virginia departed on the trip, Harrison noted that after ten practices, the team needed game action.
"Pracitce is good, and going up against each other is good, but there's no substitution," Harrison said. "We're telling them how how hard to play, but I don't think they really understand until they go up against other players. Then they see how we react to different situations. That intensity level with five on the floor at one time has to be more than the ten to 15 in practice."
Harrison and the coaching staff probably found some things to like in WVU's performance, no matter what the level of competition. However, he also hoped that the games provided an object lesson in the level of intensity needed to compete against West Virginia's schedule. Evaluation of the progress of his players was also high on his wish list.
"Playing games gives us a better idea of what we are watching, and it gives them a better idea of what we want," Harrison said. "It gives us a good measuring stick for how much progress they have made and how far they need to go. It is good to get bumped around a little bit. We get to see them in a differnt environment and a different situation, playing against different people, and that helps."
While none of the newcomers are near the level that the coaches want in terms of consistent effort, Harrison did mention a pair that might be catching on a bit more quickly than the rest of the newcomers.
"Keaton Miles has caught on a little bit ahead of some of the other freshmen, and Gary Browne is probably a little bit ahead too. But they are all working hard and getting an idea of what they can do. Miles and Clarke have caught on a little more quickly as to what intensity level they needed to be, but they all still have a lot of work to do. It's always a learning process. Even though Keaton and Gary might be a little bit ahead, once we get five guys on the floor, they will see the level of effort and intensity they will have to bring."
Harrison laughed when asked if he went through a similar process when he first came to college.
"I was scared to death," he said amusement. "I didn't want to make a mistake and then have to say, 'You're taking me out?' So it's something everyone goes through. I think they will get it a lot more with the different competition on this trip."
The coaches have followed a different schedule with the extra practices afforded to them on this trip. In addition to the ten pre-trip practices, the Mountaineers have the games and at least two more practice sessions while in Europe.
"There has been a lot of learning, and we have thrown a lot of things at them and not done a lot of breakdown in these practices," Harrison said. "When we come back from the trip and get into preseason, we will teach a lot more and coach a lot more. We are coaching them on the fly on this trip and seeing what they can do, and then when we come back we will start breaking things down and really teaching."