Reasons Aplenty

Rhode Island point guard Joe Mazzulla had several reasons for picking WVU as his college destination, and he detailed them in an exclusive interview with

"There were a lot of factors," Mazzulla said of his decision to commit to West Virginia prior to his senior season, and five months in advance of the early signing period. "The first was Coach Beilein. He's a great coach and a great person, and he is a family guy. I got to meet and see his family, and it was just great.

"The second was the family environment of the team. I met and played with most of the guys there, and it was just like Coach Beilein's family. They hung out together and played together. And finally, going to the Elite Eight last year didn't hurt either."

Mazzulla made that last statement with a laugh, but it was obvious that the Mountaineers' recent success in the NCAA tournament had an impact on his decision. So too, however, did Mazzulla's time with the current members of the WVU squad.

"We played some pickup games, and I played with Mike Gansey, Robert Summers and Frank Young," Mazzulla said. "We had a good time, and I got to know them some. One of the things that impressed me about playing with these guys was the way they played. They set screens, passed the ball, and played with a lot of fundamentals, just like their offense. They don't set up plays, but they do a lot of things that make up their offense.

"It's not like typical pickup ball," Mazzulla continued. "They don't hog the ball, and no one is selfish. It was good, fundamental basketball."

As a classic setup point guard, Mazzulla knows how the game is supposed to be played. He has directed his high school to two consecutive state championships, and also plays for an AAU team, the Rhode Island Breakers, that defies the typical AAU stereotype.

"We just play, but it's a disciplined, quick offense," Mazzulla said of his AAU team. "We try to get into our attack quickly, but we move the ball around too."

Mazzulla has had a busy week leading up to his big decision. After participating in an AAU tournament in the Bronx last weekend, he flew to Pittsburgh, and then traveled down to West Virginia for a visit from Sunday through Tuesday. At the end of that trip, Mazzulla had seen enough of WVU and its program to make the decision to commit, and it's a decision that he won't change.

"It doesn't matter who offers me from this point on – my decision is final," Mazzulla declared.

The decisive rising senior is equally as blunt regarding his strengths and weaknesses on the court. Despite being just 16 years of age (he turns 17 on June 30), the Rhode Islander has a solid grasp of what he wants to achieve during his senior season.

"My leadership is my biggest strength," Mazzulla said. "I know how to run the game, and I can make others better. I think a lot of college coaches see that in me. I need to work on my maturity and my strength, because I'm only 16, but I believe that will come. I also want to continue to improve my ballhandling."

Mazzulla will be coming into a good situation at West Virginia – one that will somewhat parallel the one that point guard Darris Nichols entered this year. Nichols will be a junior during Mazzulla's freshman year, just as Jarmon Durisseau-Collins was during Nichols' freshman campaign this past season.

"Coach Beilein told me he would throw me right in there with the sharks during my freshman year," Mazzulla said. "I know his word is etched in stone, because that's the kind of man he is. He will do his part, and I will have to do mine. I know I can't sit back and relax – I have to keep working and improve."

Another situation Mazzulla will be familiar with when he arrives in Morgantown will be working with a team that has lost a lot of experience. WVU will be saying goodbye to Joe Herber, Mike Gansey, Collins and Kevin Pittsnogle as Mazzulla enters in 2006-07, but that won't be new territory for the heady guard. Mazzulla's high school team graduated nine seniors this year, leaving him as one of the few remaining members of the two-time defending state champions. That doesn't faze him, however, as he lists winning another state championship as his goal for his senior season.

"West Virginia will be losing a lot of players, but there will still be guys there that have experience," Mazzulla observed. "Darris will have experience, and Frank Young will have experience, so it's not like we'll be rebuilding from scratch."

Mazzulla is a talented cross-sport athlete, excelling at track, soccer and football as well as roundball. In fact, soccer was his sport of choice as a youngster.

"I never was much of a basketball player when I was younger," he explained. "As a kid, I chose soccer over basketball. It wasn't until I got into AAU two years ago that my basketball started to take off. I came to a school that I think is the best sports school in the state, and that helped too. We win about 8-10 state championships every year.

"I will still play football this year (he's a wide receiver), but my soccer days are over," Mazzulla said of his senior plans. "I do want to try to break the state 400-meter record, though – I think I'm about a second off of that."

Mazzulla, who is interested in sports management, (his father, Dan, is the Director of Parks and Recreation for neighboring Johnston, R.I.) will have no trouble qualifying. He received offers from Rhode Island, George Mason and Monmouth in addition to WVU, and was getting major interest from a number of other schools, including Providence, Cincinnati and Vanderbilt.

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