Jigsawed

West Virginia starts its season with an exhibition game against Wheeling-Jesuit Monday at the Coliseum. Here's how newcomers and just-eligible players might fit into WVU's styles and schemes.

Robert Summers (7-0 Junior Center, 240 pounds. Penn State/Columbus, Ohio)

Some have pegged Summers into merely a workmanlike role. That could hold true in Summers' relationship to Kevin Pittsnogle. The latter established himself as the starter in the two West Virginia wins over rival Pitt. But Summers is quick and his agility will surprise many fans.

His 240 pounds seem more svelte than Pittsnogle's 250, though Summers runs the floor well and will be the physical presence inside the Mountaineers badly need. Pittsnogle will likely play 32-35 minutes per game, and the sharpshooter can't take the pounding he'll receive defensively from marquee Big East players.

Thus, the onus will be on Summers to elevate his play and utilize his so-far understated shot-blocking ability to bring much-needed tenacity to WVU's defensive play. Summers' stats weren't eye-popping in 41 career starts at Penn State (3.9 points, 4.2 rebounds per game), but consider that he was a younger player that had yet to be schooled in solid fundamentals and techniques and footwork needed in college basketball.

Summers' reserve role could be huge for West Virginia. If he can provide eight quality minutes per game (and, hopefully, 10-12), then Pittsnogle stays well-rested. If not, the fatigue and weariness of physical play against a loaded schedule will mentally and emotionally hurt Pittsnogle. His shooting will be affected by tiredness as well.

Frank Young (6-5 Junior Forward, 220 pounds, Florida High/Tallahassee, Fla.)

Young was on fire last season in the Big East Tournament when forced into action. This year he will be used as a base replacement for Tyrone Sally. Young doesn't have Sally's slashing ability or his scoring mentality. He is John Beilein's prototypical forward -- a solid-bodied player that can execute schemes and shoot well.

West Virginia could also slide Young to shooting guard, though that's a role best suited for Patrick Beilein or newcomer Alex Ruoff. Beilein also loves Jo Herber in any role, and he will again be featured at shooting guard as well.

Young started in three of 32 games played last season, but didn't hit stride until dropping 14 and 12 points, respectively, on befuddled Boston College and Villanova when Sally was sick for the first games at the Garden.

That surprise element is gone -- and it doesn't matter. With WVU's play, anybody can be set up for a shot. Something pops open; the lone variable is who takes the shot. But it's Young's ability to jell well with the four returning starters that could key this season's squad.

Look for Young to perhaps double his 128 career points and move inside more than he did last season.

Alex Ruoff (6-6 Freshman Guard, 200 pounds, Central High/Spring Hill, Fla.)

The early-signing period pickup was a key addition for West Virginia. Ruoff is a great shooter with incredible range. His understanding of Beilein's style will be key in his playing time.

The scorer has a confidence not seen in many frosh players, and the ball handling and shooting skills to back it. If he latches on to the terminology and logistics of WVU's complex offense, he could get some time.

Ruoff won the Adidas 3-Point Shootout Championship at the Senior Showcase All-Star Weekend in Orlando last April and was ranked as one of the Top 50 seniors, according to Hoopmasters.com. Perhaps most importantly, for those who state Beilein can't recruit, he was nominated as a McDonald's All-American.

So look for Ruoff to see some time early in an attempt to view how he fits with teammates. This player could be special, but must be content with a partial role this season. His biggest worry might be the West Virginia winters -- Ruoff was complaining when temperatures fell into the 50s.

Joe Alexander (6-8 Freshman Guard, 200 pounds, Hargrave Military Academy/Mt. Airy, Md.)

Alexander is another early signee. The most-athletic new player, Alexander has already impressed with his leaping ability and above-the-rim antics. That's fine for fans to love, and it's a handy tool when driving the lane at the Carrier Dome. But the big freshman must continue to develop his game as he did at Hargrave.

The athlete became a basketball player; now the nuances of forward play will make or break Alexander. He need not shoulder the entire load this season, which is why his addition might be the brightest of all eventually.

Alexander has time to further hone a still-raw game. He wasn't even considered a mid-level prospect out of Liganore High. But his skill set separates him from other, more-seasoned players.

Alexander, born in Taiwan, grew up playing against foreign competition, and so never had the solid coaching available now. Under Beilein, expect Alexander to thrive. This prospect's development will be arguably the most intriguing ever at West Virginia. He could help early on the boards with his leaping ability.

Jamie Smalligan (7-0 Junior Center, 265 pounds, Butler/East Grand Rapids, Mich.)

Smalligan transferred from Butler this summer and must sit out this season. He has not redshirted, and thus will have two seasons of eligibility left. Smalligan should eventually be a bigger force inside than what Beilein has had in the past. He can bang better than D'or Fischer, though he does not possess his shot-blocking ability.

Smalligan made 30 career starts for Butler and averaged 5.2 points and 3.1 rebounds in 16 minutes per game his sophomore season.

Ted Talkington (6-2 Freshman Guard, 180 pounds, Magnolia High/New Martinsville, W.Va.

Talkington redshirted last season and could see action at either of the guard slots. His offensive skills make the shooter a great set player, but Talkington will have trouble creating his own shot against more-athletic players.

He will be a reserve player that could see as much as three minutes per game later in the year when West Virginia has cemented its rotation. Talkington might have to bide time early while Beilein gets Ruoff and Alexander needed development and experience.

There's no questioning Talkington's scoring ability (2,024 career prep points, 16th-best in WV history), but his role, like many others, will be as a back-up this season.

Josh Sowards (6-7 Freshman Forward, 200 pounds, Fork Union Military/Scott Depot, W.Va.

Sowards is an invited walk-on who averaged 10 points per game at Fork Union last year. He will not see much action, but could get on the floor in late-game situations. More likely, however, is a redshirt for the instate product who is living his dream as a member of the state's flagship institution of higher learning.


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