Under the Microscope

With trips to New York City, runs to the finals of tournaments, the Sweet 16, and the Elite 8, the spotlight has never shone brighter on the Mountaineer basketball team. With that attention, however, comes a good bit of wear and tear, not to mention demands on the time of the student athletes. Where WVU players and coaches might spend 15-20 minutes every third day answering questions during the regular season, that time has increased by a factor of ten during the past few weeks.

To their credit, however, West Virginia's players have been handling all the increased attention well. It would be easy for the Mountaineers to be distracted by the sudden onslaught of attention, which is several orders of magnitude greater than what they typically experience at home, but they seem to be keeping things under control as representatives from every major media outlet in the country besiege them with questions.

"It's a little different, but we have a group of level-headed guys that don't let it get to them," said point guard J.D. Collins, himself a player that never seems to get rattled. "We know our job and what we have to do, so we go out there and do it."

Collins admits that the attention can be wearing, but actually thinks the repetitive nature of the questions can help get through the interview process.

"It's not really a problem, because five or six of you guys will ask the same question, so you kind of get used to it."

Mountaineer jack-of-all-trades Joe Herber, who might be more worldly than some of his teammates, looks at it a bit differently. He believes the Mountaineers are doing a bit of basking in the sunlight, though not enough to cause any problems with the team.

"I think we enjoy it a little bit, said the Darmstadt, Germany native. "You don't know how long it is going to last, so you just take it and enjoy it. I don't think we'll miss it when the season is over. We know how it is to be unnoticed, so we'll probably go right back to the way it was [next year]."

Sights such as backup center Luke Bonner trying to crack up guard Patrick Beilein during a Big East tournament interview a couple of weeks ago seem to confirm this. There's lots of good natured kidding and smiling during open interview sessions, which seems to confirm the thought if the Mountaineers lose, it isn't going to be due to any internal strife.

Perhaps the best person to put the media attention into perspective is senior forward Tyrone Sally. The willowy frontcourter came to West Virginia as a shy, quiet player who rarely had more than a few words for the media, and transformed himself into one of the spokesmen of the team. Sally has attended as many post game interview sessions as anyone this year, and thus has a good angle on how the increased attention has played out.

"It's been a different world," said Sally, who has grown into an excellent representative during interview sessions. "You have to take it for what it's worth. Back in Morgantown we don't get this much attention, but here it seems like everywhere you turn around there's a camera in your face. We just have to keep our focus and keep our mind on what the goal is.

"I don't think it's tough," he continued, speaking of the almost constant onslaught. "It comes along with the success [we are having], so we have to keep on pushing."

Sally worked on overcoming his shyness on his own, but also had some help from speech classes and other sessions provided by the school.

"Those classes helped us tremendously," said Sally, as he recalled those long-ago freshman classes. It helped us learn how to respond to questions and say the right things. I think experience helped a lot too. At first, I had a lot of hesitation and didn't know what to say. But doing it over and over, having that repetition, makes it easier."

Now there is a new crop of freshmen on the team, and some of those are facing the same challenges as Sally did five years ago. Point guard Darris Nichols, who has earned some media time this year, is also still a bit reticent when talking with the media, which has resulted in some attention from his teammates.

"I will mess with Darris a little bit," Sally said with a grin. "I'll come up to him and ask him questions just to see how he does. I think he'll be fine in the future. He just needs experience with it, just like we got."

While the pain of dealing with reporters asking repetitive (at best) or inane (at worst) questions, West Virginia's players would gladly put up with that problem for another week or so.


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