A look at: Joe Mazzulla

BlueGoldNews.com watched the games of the Red Oxen at West Virginia's basketball camp. Here's a look at an individual player and what he might bring to the Mountaineers this season. Up now, point guard Joe Mazzulla.

The Rhode Island native will hearken thoughts of newly-graduated point guard J.D. Collins. Mazzulla is a classic pass-first point player who shows natural leadership and floor vision. He can read defenses and find open teammates through creases unseen by many other players at the one spot. He is not head coach John Beilein's typical outside shooter. He is, however, the sixth-year head coach's prototypical point player.

Mazzulla has a natural feel for the game and gives West Virginia two left-handers in as many point players (returning guard Darris Nichols is also a southpaw). He can drive and dish with both hands and snuck three one-handed passes in to cutting forwards for lay-ups in just two games. He also shows the no-look aspect of his passing game, and seldom turns the ball over. The 6-2, 185-pounder has a solid body already, and his non-ranking and two-star status by Scout.com is a product of his lack of scoring more than his ability to run a team.

Bishop Hendricken High (Warwick, R.I.) won two consecutive state titles under Mazzulla, who averaged 16 points, eight rebounds, six assists and 2.5 steals a game as a junior – when he won MVP honors at the state tournament. His balance, both physically and in the stat column, are key traits for point guards under Beilein. Mazzulla won't absolutely bird dog an opposing player like Collins did, but he is quick enough that he will be able to move on the baseline in West Virginia's 1-3-1 sets. He can also handle opposing guards when Beilein goes to a man defense, and he shows enough toughness not to shy from Big East play. He also proved hard to drive around, but that was difficult to judge because Mazzulla and his teammates were so superior to most other players they faced at WVU's team basketball camp.

The quickness partially stems from Mazzulla's overall speed. He won three prep state titles as a junior in the 4x100, 4x400 and 400-meter dashes. Mazzulla took home three golds in the Rhode Island Class A championships, winning the 400 in 51.2 seconds and anchoring the 4x100 (44.7) and the 4x400 (3:38.7) relay teams. He also played youth soccer, and his overall athletic ability trumps that of Collins, who was a solid player in his own right.

Mazzulla also does plyometrics, and has done them since before he signed with West Virginia. He continues to work out with all the incoming Mountaineers, now in town, and he is also taking three summer school classes, the maximum load for one session. He also continues to work on his outside jumper, the lone Achilles heel to his game.

"I worked a lot more on my shooting, and it became more consistent," Mazzulla told BlueGoldNews.com. "I did feel like I needed to help my team and put them on my shoulders a little more, because we lost eight players from last year. That was my biggest weakness and I knew I had to work on that. I feel much more comfortable from the three-point line now."

He has also, he noted, showed no long-term effects from a car accident he was in this spring. He missed one game in the state playoffs due to bruising in his knee, but appeared fully recovered at WVU's camp. He handled all physical matchups and was able to run the team. Fellow Mountaineers also seemed to sense that the ball should go to him for distribution in key situations and on most inbounds plays away from the hoop. Mazzulla routinely broke pressure, and when he caught inbounds passes, he did it with one motion, taking the ball to the floor for the dribble as he started up court.

That's not worth anything more than a show, but it does indicate Mazzulla's comfort with the dribble and perhaps getting points off it, something Collins struggled with until his senior season. Also, Mazzulla has watched many West Virginia games, and is already breaking down some film and learning the offense and its structure and style. That says much about his persona and what he is willing to put into becoming a leader, which is a natural evolution and development at his position.

"I've never been more excited," Mazzulla said in January. "(West Virginia is) exactly what a basketball team should be. They're very well-coached and experienced. I think the media throws that aside because they aren't too athletic. Every time I watch them play there's a smile on my face because I'm excited to go to an up and coming program.

"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. They don't hog the ball, and no one is selfish. It was good, fundamental basketball."

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