Of course you know by now that I'm talking about Mountaineer jack-of-all trades Joe Herber. In their first two seasons under John Beilein, the Mountaineers were learning the system and getting familiar with each other. Heading into his junior season for the Blue and Gold, Joe is ready to pick up the pace.
"There's a big difference, we all know what to expect," says Herber comparing his first two seasons to his upcoming third. "I think we know what we're in for and that will make a huge difference." Mountaineer fans really got to know Joe Herber on a special night inside the Charleston Civic Center. December 3, 2002 capped off a great few weeks for Mountaineer sports. Rich Rodriguez's football team had just beaten Pitt to finish second in the Big East, that coming on the heels of a thrilling win at Virginia Tech. But John Beilein, in just his fourth game as head coach, was looking up at a basketball Goliath.
The Florida Gators were in Charleston in what was supposed to be a homecoming for senior guard Brett Nelson, who grew up just down the road in St. Albans. Beilein's team was given next to no chance to win the game. However, a couple of plays by a freshman guard from Germany ended up sealing the Gators' fate that night.
First, Herber picked off a lazy pass from a Florida guard, raced down the court, and threw the ball down with no regard for the rim. Then, with less than a minute on the clock, he found himself wide open for a three on the left wing in front of the West Virginia bench. The result was nothing but net, and then nothing but chaos as the Mountaineers completed the improbable upset.
Fast forward to December 2003, and it was Herber who took Patrick Beilein's inbound pass and hoisted a prayer towards the bucket from half-court. Again, the shot fell and the Mountaineers won. It didn't matter that the opponent was IUPUI. West Virginia basketball usually doesn't win close games like this, and for the second time Herber did his part to buck the trend.
Last season, Joe was marred in somewhat of a shooting slump. Herber contends that he's worked hard since the end of last year to correct whatever was wrong with his stroke.
"I changed a little bit of the technique, moved it a little over to the side to get a little more arc on it. I wanted to get more arc on the ball. It just comes down to making shots though."
While some of that practice was under the tutelage of Beilein, Herber says he worked hard individually to improve his shot.
"To change a habit, you have to shoot on your own."
On the defensive end of the court, he knows both guard positions and both forward positions. In college basketball, knowing one position is enough hard work, let alone knowing four. Herber brushes it off as just another thing that comes with playing basketball.
"Well, to be honest, there's a lot of talk about me playing four positions but it's actually really two because the one and two guards are essentially the same position and the three and the four men are essentially the same. I think it has a lot to do with my unusual height for a guard that probably enables me to play on the wing and up front."
The Mountaineers like to play in their extended 1-3-1 zone, but a lot of attention this preseason has been paid to playing more man to man defense. That's just fine with Joe.
"Hopefully, our man to man defense will be better because we've been working on it a lot. That's going to be very important to our success because we've relied a lot on a zone defense so hopefully we'll play a little more man to man."
Among other things to look for this season, Herber says the Mountaineers want to get up and down the court more. While the offense is still mostly a half court game, getting easy baskets will be essential for WVU to avoid long scoring droughts that plagued the cagers last season.
"I think we improved as far as getting the ball up the court and trying to get more fast breaks."
Herber does it all on the court and off. He doesn't have a particular favorite part of his game but…
"I think every person who plays basketball likes to score, so I wouldn't mind doing a little more of that, but I'm content with everything else too."
By content, he means filling out every column on the stat sheet. With the potential for the Mountaineers to go to the NCAA tournament come season's end, Herber's contributions will continue to pay big dividends for the Mountaineers.