Recovery Time

When backup point guard Joe Mazzulla enters the game against Providence this evening, most fans won't give his status a second thought, even though he missed five games with a deep thigh bruise.

Once players return from injury, many assume that they are back to 100% effectiveness. That's usually not the case, however, even if the injury that caused the absence is fully healed. For Mazzulla, who played against both Georgetown and Seton Hall last week, the recovery of his leg muscle is just the first step in the process to getting back to where it was.

"Obviously, I feel like it was a big setback," said the quick-talking point guard, who has impressed with his fearlessness on the court. "It's tough to come back after [being out] for two weeks and pick up where you left off. In the Big East, everyone improves every day, so you fell like you are behind. I just have to take strides and work that much harder to get caught up and back to where I was."

Never one to back down from any challenge, the feisty Mazzulla speaks with a bit of wistfulness as he describes the time he missed. It certainly pained him to not be able to contribute on the court in WVU's wins over UCLA, Seton Hall and DePaul while he was sidelined, but that's only half the story. The Rhode Island native also knows he missed out on opportunities to improve his game and better mesh himself with the Mountaineer system while he rehabilitated the injury.

"The toughest thing for me was that I missed a very important stretch of the season where our team grew," said Mazzulla, displaying excellent perspective on the entire situation. "They gained a lot of maturity and grew a lot, so sticking me back in there has been a little tough. It's been tough for me to get comfortable. But I think time will take care of that, and it will be better further down the stretch."

Of course, "WVU is already coming down the stretch, so the freshman guard does feel a bit of pressure to catch up for the time he has lost. Still, some of that will have to come in game action, as he notes there is simply nothing like playing when it counts in order to gain experience and grow more comfortable in his role.

"You can't replace court time, especially with the speed and quickness of the game," said Mazzulla, whose position running the offense places not just physical, but mental demands unlike any other spot. "I just didn't feel as quick or as fast as I usually do. And the other people are faster, because they have been out there. I just have to keep working hard and helping the team the best that I can while I catch up."

It may be hard to understand how a finely conditioned athlete can fall behind after just a two or three week absence, but the competition is so great, and the edges to which athletes hone themselves are so razor-sharp, that just a few days' inactivity can leave a gap that is tough to make up. Add in the loss of experience in on-court practice time, and a freshman like Mazzulla might feel like he is back to square one, even though his injury is no longer a factor – at least directly.

"The injury is fine. I'm 100% back there," Mazzulla confirmed. "But physically, I'm not back yet. I just have to keep working to get back to that level."

Mazzulla's return could be critical for West Virginia, which has struggled at times against aggressive, in-your-face defenses. Where starting guard Darris Nichols, at times, is hesitant to attack the basket, Mazzulla has no such qualms. And while he is still learning when to attack and when to back it out, it's much easier to rein in an aggressive player when need be than to instill the aggressiveness to attack in times of pressure. When defenses and pressure ramp up in the Big East and NCAA tournaments, WVU will need two point guards playing effectively in order to win games and advance. The Mountaineers certainly have one in Nichols, and if Mazzulla can make up the gap and get in sync with his teammates, it will have the pieces it needs to enjoy some postseason success.

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