Professional Instruction

The scores came down like thunderbolts from Mount Olympus: Italy 95, USA 78. USA 80, Germany 77. Then, in the ultimate ignominy, Puerto Rico 92, USA 73. In addition to the wonderment I felt upon seeing those scores, however, I also observed that there's an object lesson to be taken from them that relates to WVU.

The idea of an underdog upsetting a highly-ranked foe isn't a new one, and it's not the direction I'm going in here. Of course, WVU has often been cast in that underdog role, so it could be applied to the Mountaineers in that manner. However, my thinking was along somewhat different lines.

As I read accounts of the Italy debacle, then watched Puerto Rico crush the US in the opening round of the Olympics, I looked for reasons to explain the loss. Hotdogging by the Americans? Not really. Just a superior performance of team basketball by the Italians and Puerto Ricans, supported by the rock-solid pillars of good shooting and solid fundamentals.

In the first game, Italy shot the ball well. And it wasn't a bunch of lucky shots or acrobatic moves - the Italians simply got the ball to open shooters who made (gasp) jump shots, many of them (mouth agape) of the medium range variety.

Of course, the victors also hit their share of bombs, nailing 15 three-pointers as they ran the U.S. defense ragged with good passing. That was the second tine of their two-pronged attack - solid fundamentals. The Italian squad passed the ball, dribbled with a purpose, and played with a great sense of teamwork. Not that the Americans were hogging the ball or playing for just themselves - for the most part, the not-so-Dream Team does look to be trying hard. It's simply apparent that many European players and teams are able to execute classic basketball strategy. Couple that with the Americans' inability to do those things (hit midrange jumpers, understand when to pass and when to dribble, etc.) and you have the makings of losses or close wins, despite a huge gap in natural ability.

The Puerto Rican loss was more of the same, as the US couldn't make anything other than the occasional layup.

Where does the WVU angle come into all this? Well, if you haven't guessd it by now, you need a few trips to the WVU Coliseum, because this is exactly how John Beilein and his supposed talent-short Mountaineers are going to compete in the Big East. WVU's win over Florida two seasons ago was a prime example.

First and foremost, Beilein recruits players who can shoot. If you can't make the 10-15 foot jumper, you're not going to be on his list, no matter how many windmill dunks you threw down in AAU competition. While Beilein will certainly recruit topflight players, and won't shy away from wooing the five-star guy, he's going to build his team with guys who can make shots, and who can execute the fundamentals of the game. Sound familiar?

We all know about the predictions of the pundits and many local media members, who are already shoveling dirt on the West Virginia basketball program in light of the new programs, including Louisville and Cincinnati, that will be joining the Big East next season. I'm here to tell you, though, that the WVU program will be good enough to compete. Anytime you have players that can shoot and defend, you're going to be in the ball game.

Will West Virginia contend for the Big East title? Probably not, at least early on. However, the Mountaineers will contend for NCAA spots, and as the program continues to grow, Beilein and WVU may become something of a magnet for the thinking man's basketball player. Get enough of those, and the wins will come. Just like they did for the Italian and Puerto Rican squads.

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