"I'm cautious about getting people too excited, because we are not all the way there yet," warned Beilein. "We don't have a senior on the team. Last year, there was a big difference between us and the top teams in the Big East. We have a long way to go, but I do like the direction that we are going and I am very confident that we will reach our goals."
The biggest challenge for the Mountaineers will be narrowing the gap between themselves and some of the top teams in the Big East. Games with the upper echelon teams of the conference such as Syracuse and Pitt looked more like an exhibition between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals, as the visitors put on entertaining displays for the home fans.
"We had three 40 point losses last year where the game was over at halftime," remembered Beilein. "Those were disappointing to me. Our teams have usually been able to stay in there with almost anybody. I would like to avoid those this year and keep everything within reach."
If the roundballers in gold and blue can avoid those spreads and keep the games close, the attention will quickly shift to the performance down the stretch. The cardiology unit at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown was on high alert during Mountaineer basketball games last season, as a youthful squad broke the hearts of the WVU faithful with last second losses on more than one occasion.
"I would like to get better in the last three or four minutes," admitted Beilein. "We just need to improve on executing what we need to do down the stretch. We will definitely work on that, but you cannot get to the point where those last few minutes mean anything if you cannot pass, catch, and dribble. I want to make sure we don't move too fast."
Despite the many worries that any coach experiences as he heads into the season, Beilein carries with him a great deal of excitement about the challenge ahead. The season opener at James Madison will be here before you can say, "Beat Pitt!" and Beilein is ready to let this team loose and find out what they can do.
"We have pretty good chemistry, and we have good people who are really working hard," explained Beilein. "We have some guys who have the potential to be very good in their roles. That is what excites me as we move along. I am really excited about what we have and even more excited about our future."
The future that Beilein speaks of may still be a few years away. As happy as Mountaineer fans were about the job that this team did last year, Beilein and the Mountaineer staff hope that the turnaround was only a trailer for things to come. The script has been written, but the blockbuster hit has yet to be released.
"If it was a three step process to get there, with three being the final step, we are on step 1B," explained the Wheeling Jesuit alum. "We are not even half way there yet. I know that everybody is wanting to speed this along, and I am too, but we have to face the facts. We lost a lot of games last year, the Big East is very talented, and to play in this league, we have to be tremendous. We have a lot of things to sure up, but we like the challenge. This is why we are all here. We all want to build this program to where it should be."
The construction will continue, but if there is any carpenter who can get the Mountaineer Basketball Mansion up and ready for visitors it is John Beilein. The former Richmond floor general may not have been the first choice to replace Gale Catlett, but he was clearly the best.
Sometimes fate can be cruel, and other times it can be kind, and in this case the Mountaineers got the upper hand. The hammers will continue to pound, and there will be blisters on the hands of the workers as well as the foreman, but Beilein and his staff will build a program that will withstand the increasing challenges of a new era of college basketball and continue the proud tradition of Gold and Blue basketball.
Step 1B, as Beilein labeled the 2003-2004 season, gets underway this Saturday as the Mountaineers host the Sports Tours traveling squad for a 3:00 p.m. battle. Whether you want to escape the cold or simply need a break from tailgating, make your way to the Coliseum to give your support to the Mountaineers and catch your first glimpse of what promises to be an exciting, hard working squad.