First Steps

West Virginia's first basketball game as a member of the Big 12 is still almost six months away, but preparations for the inaugural season in the league are about to hit a milestone with the start-up of summer workouts.

West Virginia's first basketball game as a member of the Big 12 is still almost six months away, but preparations for the inaugural season in the league are about to hit a milestone with the start-up of summer workouts.

Just a couple of weeks from now, Division I coaches will be allowed to begin working with those players that are on campus and enrolled in summer school, albeit only in groups of four at a time. West Virginia expects freshmen Terry Henderson and Eron Harris to be on hand for the start of those drills, but is still waiting to learn the fate of Elijah Macon, who is still working to earn a qualifying test score. Getting the newcomers into the swing of things, however, is just one goal of the workouts, which were allowed in previous years, but are now allowable once summer school has started and team members are enrolled.

It might seem difficult, with just four players on the court at a time, to work with players on team concepts, but that's just what West Virginia plans to do, according to assistant coach Erik Martin.

"This will be our first year doing this so I think it will be team things," the sixth-year Mountaineer assistant said. "We are looking to play a lot faster than we have in the past, so having the freshmen, and even the sophomores, will get a chance to pick up on what we want to do. It's going to be different than we have done in the past."

While it might seem counter-intuitive to think that team concepts can be taught to small groups, Martin explains that it actually can help the teaching process. The lessons the coaching staff wants to impart can be reinforced many times, and specific moves or positioning instructions can be broken down to their simplest elements, to be later folded in when full-squad practices begin.

"You can go two on two, and for defensive purposes, that's perfect," Martin explained. "You can work the pick and roll, and you can do some things that are tougher to do in scrimmage or in games. Although it won't be five on a side, you can teach guys the ideas of what we want to do. And if they can get those ideas in their heads, everything else will come. {For example, we can say] this is what we want to do, this is where we want to drive the ball. This is why we want to keep the ball out of the middle. This is where we want to double when we defend the pick and roll. We're trying to get these concepts in their heads so when the season comes we can hit the ground running."

While the coaches will take time to correct individual flaws in games, there isn't much time allotted to work on individual skills. Those are things that players at the college level must do on their own – a lesson that some of West Virginia's freshmen last year didn't fully assimilate. Martin hopes that the incoming class this year picks up that idea more quickly.

"If you are a player you should be working on your game," he said simply "A coach shouldn't have to be telling you to get in the gym and shoot 200 or 300 shots per day. I did that, Joe Alexander did that Kevin Jones – I can run down the list of great players here that did that. If you don't get in the gym, someone else is going to come in and take your minutes."

As the summer workouts begin, Martin and his fellow coaches will be looking for ways to bring the incoming freshmen class into the lineup, as well as incorporate Murray and Staten into the system. Given head coach Bob Huggins' experience, Martin thinks that is an achievable goal.

"I think it's easy to adapt," he said of West Virginia's offense. "We run a five out motion, and whether you are a big or a guard you have to be able to pass and move the ball. If you have a 6-7 guy guarding Aaric Murray, when he comes off one of those backdoor cuts we are going to tell him to post up. If they rotate and they end up with a bigger guy on Wanny Staten, we're going to run it until we get down to 10 seconds and clear it out and let him go one on one. Huggs has been doing this long enough to know what wrinkles he wants to put in to get us a good shot with the players that we have."

As the coaches work to teach those initial lessons, they will employ several different methods of doing so. Like any good teacher, Martin realizes that players are different, and assimilate information in various ways.

"Some kids learn by watching, Some kids learn by playing. Some learn by what you write down on a piece of paper, Martin enumerated. "We have all of our plays on a DVD and all of our plays in a playbook. So there's no reason you shouldn't know what we are running. You should know how to get shots and how to get your teammates shots."

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