Less Attention - More Building

There's certainly not as much fanfare and hoopla surrounding the opening of West Virginia's 2006-07 men's basketball practice as there was a year ago, but that doesn't diminish the anticipation held by the players and coaches as full team workouts begin on Friday.

A year ago, the Mountaineers were coming off an Elite Eight appearance. The return of the Fab Five (Kevin Pittsnogle, Mike Gansey, Joe Herber, J.D. Collins and Patrick Beilein) had keyboards humming and video screens burning with highlights and predictions of things to come. Following another very successful season, which included another trip to the Sweet 16, WVU will begin a rebuilding process as it tries to work its way back to those heights. Summer workouts and small group practices made up phase one; with phase two (the beginning of full squad practice) getting underway this Friday at approximately 9:00 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum.

"This is always an exciting time of the year," head coach John Beilein said. "NCAA rules don't allow us to practice until 7:00 p.m., but we already had a volleyball game set for that time. So, we will go about 9:00 p.m. and practice about an hour and half. We don't have anything special planned. We'll probably just announce the players and move right into practice. Then Saturday, we'll have an early practice since my favorite football team is playing at noon, and then we'll go twice on Sunday."

WVU obviously isn't wasting any time getting started, mostly due to the fact that the Mountaineers have so much work to do. While Beilein said he has been pleased with his team's attitude during summer and fall workouts, there's still much to be learned in the different atmosphere of full workouts conducted several days per week.

"I think I have to see where we are again," said Beilein as he considered the pace at which he can teach his team, which features seven new faces. "Each week, if not each day, we will have to make adjustments. Are we going too fast, or are we going too slowly? We tried to take care of that as much as we could during the preseason, but it can be difficult to see where the team is in those short workouts. We might work with them the entire two hours [during a preseason session], but by the next week they might have forgotten most of it. We need to see how much they can learn in 20 hours per week.

"We also need to emphasize film study and see how much they can learn from that," Beilein continued. "We haven't been able to do any film work due to time restrictions, but that's going to change now."

It's far too early to think about a starting lineup, or even a rotation, but Beilein does have a few combinations in mind that he wants to look at in practice. Obviously, veterans such as Frank Young and Darris Nichols have an inside track for playing time, but the head man is also impressed with some of the youngsters as well.

"You can count on the veterans – they will have the first shot at starting. They have a head start, because they know the system," Beilein noted. "But some of the freshmen have been very impressive so far. And you all know I try to keep a good player coming off the bench, because those guys can be as important as the starting lineup. We'll be trying to see how many positions people can play. I also want to find out where Joe Alexander and Alex Ruoff fit and where the best places are for them to fit in.

While the fifth-year WVU head coach likes what he sees of the players in terms of tangible items such as shooting and ballhandling, he might be even more taken with the overall attitude and knowledge of the game displayed by his new charges. Anyone who has watched Beilein ball for more than a few minutes can see the importance which those factors have in his system. Thus, the fact that he sees some of those attributes in his players is a good sign for the upcoming season.

"I've seen an attitude from the new kids that is very unselfish and very team-oriented. I don't see that with a lot of freshmen," he observed. "I have seen an attitude of leadership and communication and wanting to learn. They want to be coached. One of our player's goals is to learn to accept coaching better. They want to learn, and they don't come in here to see what we can do for them, it's what they can do for us."

If that sounds a bit Kennedy-esque, then one should remember that Beilein is all about the building process, team chemistry, and working together. While he admittedly enjoyed the success his team had over the past two seasons, he might end up having more fun with this group.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't like it," he said of molding and building a team. "Last year, the expectations were difficult to manage. This year, the expectations are really different."

Beilein, of course, knows that he has a bit more to work with than he did when he took the West Virginia job. In Nichols and Young, he has expected starters. Jamie Smalligan, although limited to practice last year as a transfer, at least has a nodding acquaintance with the playbook. And Joe Alexander, Alex Ruoff and Rob Summers, while seeing little game action, have that crucial first year under their belts as well. The Mountaineer mentor summed up that advantage succinctly.

"Four years ago, no one knew anything."


Beilein indicated a willingness to let some of his younger players learn by doing.

"The hope is that wherever Joe Alexander plays, we just want to get him on the floor and give him time in the game to learn and to make mistakes," he said of the athletic, yet sometimes out-of-control sophomore. We will give him a lot of opportunity to fail, because of the attitude he has shown. He has had a tremendous attitude in the off-season. He has a highlight package of moves, but [the question is], is it efficient? He is trying to learn that."

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Smalligan and Rob Summers "have progressed well," according to the coach. "Neither has had the chance to play a lot in the system. It will be interesting to see how they respond. It's probably a coin flip there."

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With so many new players to address, Beilein falls back to using initials in making practice plans and addressing players. That has presented a slight problem, as both Devan Bawinkel and Da'sean Butler share a common "DB".

"It hasn't been a big issue," Beilein noted. "I have all their names down. But when I'm planning workouts, I have a roster next to it to remind me who is in which group. We didn't need that in past years, because we only had a couple of new faces each year."

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Beilein anticipates two or three redshirts this season.

"I'm not sure about redshirting yet. If we had two, that would probably be the fewest. We could have a third as a result of an injury or a guy that would be intelligent and know it would be the best for him."

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Beilein also provided several updates on his departed senior class. J.D. Collins is looking at playing in South America, and could also end up on a U.S. minor league team. Joe Herber remains with Alba Berlin in his native Germany. Mike Gansey, as reported earlier on BlueGoldNews.com, was released by the Miami Heat, and is now trying to land a spot overseas – perhaps in the Italian League. Kevin Pittsnogle remains on the Boston Celtics' roster.

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