Growing Process

While many fans and scribes hailed Joe Alexander's performance against St. John's for his Statue of Liberty dunk and eye-popping blocked shot, it was actually a pass that signaled the improvement he has made since the start of the season.

Sure, Alexander wowed the crowd with his dunk, which he unleashed with full-court sprint past an outmanned St. John's defender before soaring high above the court for a posterizing slam. And his blocked shot later in the game, which was actually more of a steal, was also something rarely seen on the Coliseum floor. However, neither of those ESPN-worthy moments were the most important ones in West Virginia's73-46 victory over the Red Storm, which pushed the Mountaineers to a Big East-best 3-0 league record. Instead, it was a garden-variety fast break, keyed by the still-learning sophomore, which showed how far he has come and how quickly he is learning the game.

On the play, Alexander got the ball in a one-on-one situation in transition. The Alexander of last year, and perhaps even earlier this year, would have taken the ball to the basket and attempted a shot. And, in all fairness, that wouldn't have been a bad play. Attacking the basket and being aggressive are points of emphasis for head coach John Beilein's team this year, and he surely would have been pleased to see one of his young guns make such a move.

However, another of the tenets of Beilein's philosophy is "one more". One more pass for a better shot, one more progression in the offense – those things are based on the fact that while a good play may be right in front of a Beilein baller, a better play could be available with a little more thought, or the application of some "basketball IQ". And that's just what Alexander showed.

As he dribbled the ball down the court, Alexander, confronted by the St. John's defender, chose not the good play, but the better play. Rather than take the ball directly to the basket, Alexander veered off to his left, drawing the defender with him. That opened the court, and provided a lane for the third man down the court, Darris Nichols, to break to the basket. Alexander, who set up the situation with the deft move, adroitly slipped a pass to the cutting Nichols, who laid in an unopposed shot for a basket. What would have been perhaps a 70-30 chance to score instead changed to a 99-1 scenario – a perfect illustration of the "one more" philosophy.

"I probably wouldn't have recognized that [earlier this year]," said Alexander, who has become just as comfortable in media interviews as he has on the court. "In practice I've done it a couple of times, but that's the first time in the game.

"One other thing about it was that the ball was in my right hand even though I was on the left side," Alexander continued. "That's something that Coach Beilein has been teaching us, but I haven't done it before. I probably wouldn't have been able to make the pass if I hadn't done that. I was just trying to push the ball, and when I saw Darris cutting – well, it works well when the ball's in my right hand."

While that bit of teaching runs counter to conventional basketball wisdom, which dictates keeping the ball in the outside hand on drives (left on the left side of the court, and right on the right side), Beilein's teaching point allows for an easier pass to be made with the inside hand. Alexander, in putting that into practice, showed that the long hours of practice and instruction are starting to pay off.

"It just shows that by making easy adjustments and simple plays, you get conversions instead of trying to do something crazy," he said.

Of course, this one play doesn't mean a cosmic shift has occurred in Alexander's, or WVU's play. There are still plenty of sets that are getting blown up, and bad decisions being made. However, the frequency of both are decreasing, and the execution of this one simple play is certainly a great indicator of the progress the young Mountaineers are making in their on the job training.

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