Given the wear and tear of a long season, coupled with one of the toughest travel itineraries in the country, it might be expected that a team like West Virginia would scale back significantly on its strength and conditioning work as the season winds down. After all, lifting weights, while beneficial, puts more stress on the body, so it would seem to make more sense to pay more attention to rest, as well as perhaps stretching and flexibility, during the latter stages of the year. While those aspects of conditioning are important, basic strength work is still the core belief and practice of WVU's Andy Kettler, who is his ninth season as the Mountaineers' basketball strength coach.
It's not that Kettler believes in wearing down his charges, or lifting them to the point of exhaustion. It just that the program, proven over time, is one that keeps players prepared for the challenges of games that seem to pile up quickly at season's end. Much like Huggins' challenging practices, which are designed to make games seem easier, so too are Kettler's combinations of lifting, flexibility, rest and hydration.
One only has to look at the big minutes compiled by players such as Nathan Adrian and Jevon Carter to see the results. Were they not on the floor as much as they are, WVU might not still be standing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, nor have recorded 27 wins and runner-up finished in the Big 12 regular season and tournament.
"The program doesn't change per se as the season wears on," Kettler said in describing the routine. "It can be a little tough. There's a lot of travelling obviously, but we get in what we can. We make sure guys stay hydrated, get good meals in, and make sure they get rest.
"As the season wears on I am very conscious of their legs, but from the waist up nothing changes. Nothing changes drastically, but we might cut back a little [on the legs] to make sure there is enough tread on the tire left. I would have full confidence to lift these guys [the day before a game] if I had to. They are used to that -- they are used to the routine. It's something we have always done here and we will continue to do."
It's not just Kettler that is involved in the process. He is quick to credit the team's medical and athletic training staffs in figuring out the best approach for each player, taking injuries and personal needs into account. He also listens to the players themselves, and mentions another aspect to the program that might not be apparent at first glance.
"I think the most important thing is developing relationships," said Kettler, who has a drill-instructor appearance but clearly has underlying care for the players he is responsible for. "I love these guys, and we just want to make sure we do things the right way."
With the quick turnaround between games in tournament play, Kettler's work becomes even more important. Just a bit more bounce, a bit stronger play, can be the difference between surviving or packing for home, and he wants to make sure that the Mountaineers are as prepared as possible.