Men's Basketball Practice Opens

West Virginia opened basketball practice on a cold and gray Saturday morning in Morgantown, but the chilly weather certainly didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the Mountaineers as they began preparations for the 2004-05 basketball season.

Head coach John Beilein will be attempting to meld transfer Mike Gansey, redshirt freshman B. J. Byerson and true freshmen Darris Nichols and Luke Bonner into a veteran group of returnees. That presents something of a challenge to Beilein, who typically likes to play no more than eight players in his rotation, with possible limited roles for a ninth and tenth man in certain situations.

Although there was no scrimmaging during the first practice, last year's primary starting lineup of Jarmon Durisseau-Collins, Joe Herber, Tyrone Sally, Kevin Pittsnogle and D'or Fischer ran through several of the five-man drills and practice sessions as a unit. However, the addition of the newcomers to that group, plus returnees Frank Young, Patrick Beilein and Nick Patella figures to make for some spirited battles during the five weeks of practice leading up to the exhibition opener on November 15.

"We're a long way from that, so we're certainly not under a time crunch to get everything in," Beilein said at the conclusion of the first practice. "It is good to practice, but in about two weeks, we'll be ready to play someone, so those can't come soon enough. We have to take care of these first three week. We have to learn not to beat ourselves and be a disciplined team."

Practice began with station work, as players alternated between loosening up exercises, stretching, and work on shooting release and the arc of the ball. Players also worked on offensive rebounding and brining the ball back up without putting it on the floor or lowering it within range of opposing defenders.

While Beilein practices often feature lengthy shooting drills, today's first session concentrated more on defensive skills and ball movement. On the defensive side, individual players worked on "closing out" (moving out on shooters while cutting down possible driving lanes) as well as on recovering from help defense situations to block out and get rebounds. Those drills go in lockstep with Beilein's desire to be a better man-to-man defensive squad.

"I don't know if we'll do a whole lot different, but we do need to be better at what we do. We're gong to stress areas where we need to be better, and one of those is individual man-to-man defense. We've had players that [have problems] playing man-to-man defense. We've done well at helping, but when you do that, you give up offensive rebounds and three point shots. We're trying to shore up those two areas by working a lot defensively on staying in front of people.

"We knew that in the first two years we couldn't make some of our players great one on one defenders. There's a process to learning how to stay in front of people. Now we think we are in a position where we can play more man-to-man and not have to help so much. And if we do have to help as much, then someone else may need to play."

Offense wasn't totally ignored, as a couple of short practice periods were devoted to running through some of the Mountaineers' base offensive sets. Continuous fast break drills with two, three and five players were run late in the session, which is also in line with another of Beilein's desires for the coming season – increased productivity in the transition game.

Practice concluded with free throw shooting drills. Among those standing out during this session were Sally and Durisseau-Collins, who both showed excellent touch from the line.


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