Power Play

West Virginia's basketball weightlifting has entered another phase, getting away from building bulk muscle and into power transfer.

WVU is lifting before it practices, something never done under former coach John Beilein. The players, however, are no longer attempting to build larger amounts of new muscle, but instead fine tune and "athleticize" the offseason addition. The Mountaineers are lifting lighter weights, creating leaner bodies as the preseason progresses, ones that better allow the power gained to be transferred to on-court motion and usage.

"While we are lifting before practice, it's not the same lift as before practice started, it's not the same as out of season," center Jamie Smalligan said. "As long as you are shooting everyday and continue to lift – you won't get sore if you lift everyday, just maybe if you do it once every two weeks – maybe three days a week with light weights and a fast pace to work on athleticism, we will be fine."

A concern was the West Virginia's fine shooting touch would be affected by the lifts, which end just 20 minutes prior to practice. That hasn't happened, as it might have with heavier weights. When the body has lifting significant amounts, though less than a max out, it will sense that objects seem lighter, Thus, more power and energy will be placed into a movement than would normally be utilized for such. When shooting a basketball after heavier lifts, the shot is often off, both in range and laterally. But with the current lifts that emphasize using the strength gained, the shots seem fine, though there have been slight adjustments in the earlier portions of drills.

Players have had to use their legs more, giving the shot an added boost. That lessens as the practice progresses and the muscles begin to return to a more normal feel, with a bit less immediate fatigue. Guard Darris Nichols said despite his added weight, his shot as not been affected at all, and that he has yet to notice it in any other players. The Mountaineers worked entirely on offense during Sunday's practice, which gave players a better opportunity to check on their status after the initial two weeks of drills focused nearly entirely on defense.

"People have different theories, I guess," guard Alex Ruoff said. "I haven't noticed it throwing off my shot. I think that might mess up your shot, if you just get stronger and don't shoot, so I like ending the day with shooting drills. We are lifting really hard. Last season before the start of the year we would sort off wind down. We are still going now."

"This is power transfer, working on using strength gained over the summer and fall and making it more functional," Smalligan said. "They were just trying to kill us everyday, to push our bodies to what they could achieve. We still are, but it's not quite as challenging as well. We have been lifting for a while and shooting for awhile. You have to know when you come out, just like 30 minutes into the game when you are tired, that you have to get more into the shot."

Which is part of first-year head coach Bob Huggins' philosophy. He is draining the players' energy in practice, forcing them to play through fatigue, both cardiovascular and muscular. That simulates a game situation, and, as Smalligan noted, players are learning to adjust, giving shots more lift. West Virginia wasn't often tired in late game situations last season, when it ran a slower-paced offense – the former staff still attempted to gain easy points by running the break, but it wasn't as much of an emphasis – and mainly zone on defense. But now, with the man to man and an opportunistic motion offense that relies on the fast break, fatigue could set in more quickly, which is why Huggins is looking for extra players.

"We put seven of them together (as a unit in the scrimmage) for the first time," Huggins said. "We put the seven guys that kind of know what they are doing. Then we have got to find some other people. I think we have three guards that are all capable of starting. Joe (Mazzulla) and Darris and Alex."


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