Final Hurdle

West Virginia basketball signee Devan Bawinkel hopes his team can climb the final step that has proved too tall during his sophomore and junior seasons.

Bawinkel, whose Winnebago High School team lost in the state championship finals the last two years, is again on a championship run.

"We are playing really well," Bawinkel told "We are 23-2 overall right now, and 9-0 in the conference. We play our last regular season game on Tuesday, then we go on to the regional playoffs."

Although Winnebago has already clinched the conference championship, Bawinkel doesn't view Tuesday's game as any sort of practice run.

"We want to go undefeated in the league," he said forcefully. "We went 9-1 the last two years in the conference, and we don't want to do it again. We want that 10-0 record, even though we do already have the number one seed locked up."

Standing in Winnebago's way is number one ranked Seneca High School, which will be in the same super-regional as Bawinkel's team. Both teams are keeping an eye on each other in anticipation of what could be the best matchup of the playoffs.

"They have already been to watch us play twice, and we just got back from watching them play in a tournament," Bawinkel noted. "They are good, but I don't think they are any better than the teams we played the last two years."

On a personal level, Bawinkel has met all expectations this year. He has averaged 24.5 points, 11 rebounds and five assists as the featured performer for Winnebago.

"I play point guard on offense, and on defense I usually guard the other team's post player," the versatile senior said. "I crash the boards pretty hard on offense, so that is why I am averaging 11 rebounds. I'm still pretty tall for a high school player, though, so that's why I'm usually inside on defense."

In addition to his rebounding, Bawinkel believes he has improved shooting ability, even though his three-point percentage is hovering around 38% -- the same mark that he recorded as a junior.

"Defenses are really gearing up to shut me down, and my shots are being defended more closely," he said. "It's been tougher to get shots off at times. But, I think I have been able to get my teammates more involved, too. We have some new guys on the team, some sophomores, and they have proved they can play on our level. We have meshed really well and gotten better every game. It will be fun to see how we end up this year."

Although Bawinkel is looking forward to his collegiate career, he notes that his last semester of high school is so filled that he hasn't had time to talk with his fellow incoming freshmen teammates.

"After the basketball season is over, I will play baseball this spring (he's a centerfielder), but I will also be working out for basketball," he explained. "My AAU team has a gym, so I will go down to Chicago and work out wherever I can. I know I need to get stronger and quicker to play in the Big East. I've seen what it's like there watching the games."

Bawinkel catches as many West Virginia games as he can, and watches the contest with two different mindsets.

"I watch as a fan, but I like to watch and see where I fit in and what I would do, and try get a feel for what they are doing," he explained. "I will definitely go down during the summer and take some classes. The way I understand it, I will be there for four weeks and then home for four weeks, and then go back for good [when the fall semester begins]. I have thought about playing this year, because I know they are losing a lot of people. There will be opportunities, for playing time, but I know I will have to work hard to earn it."

With his varied skills, Bawinkel certainly has a good chance to avoid a redshirt next year. Playing on both the perimeter and inside will only help as he makes the transition to the college game, and should give him a slight advantage as he competes for time over players that appear to be set at one position. However, the Mountaineers do have other multi-positional players, such as Cam Thoroughman, coming into the program as well, so there won't be a red (or gold and blue) carpet rolled out into the rotation for anyone.

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