Ace In The Hole

John Flowers is not only emerging as West Virginia's jack-of-all-trades, but apparently its joker as well.

While freshmen are usually among the quietest of players, both on the floor and off, Flowers' six points and three rebounds per game are merely the tip of hat he has done for the Mountaineers. His size and athleticism have allowed him to play in all 20 games – with three starts – thus far, being inserted for Joe Alexander, Da'Sean Butler, Wellington Smith and others. A solid outside shooter, Flowers is also among the team's better rebounds and defenders. And, when things are getting uber serious under first-year head coach Bob Huggins, it's usually Flowers that opts to release some tension.

"I'm smiling now thinking of some of the things he says and does," said Da'Sean Butler, who is likely 1A on the list of team humorists. "He is a funny guy. He makes everybody laugh and smile."

No players would release any particular tidbits of road trip pranks or off the cuff remarks in the middle of practice. But it' clear this team is loose and relaxed mainly because of its youth and easygoing attitude. With a senior-laden class, the day-to-day tediousness can grow wearisome. Add in a loss like the one to Georgetown, and the team can begin to press and overanalyze. That's not so with younger players, who are too busy enjoying the new experiences to fret about much.

"You gotta have fun," Flowers said. "I love the game. It's a fun game and you might as well have fun while you are playing. I try to lighten the mood sometimes. I don't want the team to be all uptight and take it too serious because it's not fun when you take it too serious."

Huggins has said Flowers will play, regardless of the health or performance of Alexander or other players. He is too dependable as both a starter and reserve to sit and, with West Virginia in the midst of a stretch in which it plays four of six away from home, the added depth and joviality is welcome. Huggins eased Flowers in, playing him a combined 34 minutes in the first five games. The 6.8 minutes are nearly nine fewer than what he currently averages. Since Big East play began, Flowers has been on the floor an average of 20 minutes per game, meaning he is gaining the trust of the coaching staff even as the competition gets increasingly better. His three starts have come consecutively in the last trio of games played, and, until Alexander gets close to 90 percent – he played 70 to 80 percent in the last two contests – Flowers will likely continue to see both added time and a starting role.

"You just gotta be ready and John is always ready to play," said Wellington Smith, who is the reserve with the most minutes per game and is usually the first player off the bench. "Huggins needs us when he needs us. You never know how many minutes you'll play from one game to the next. It's not hard to go 100 percent everyday and play. Of course, coming off the bench is better because you can see what the team can improve on. But Da'Sean did it last year. John can do it, too. He is really long. Nobody knows how long he is until he puts up a shot and you try to block it. You can't, because his arms are longer than yours. He is also athletic, but that length helps him. The coaching staff expects a lot from him and for his future."

That added length could loom large tonight against Cincinnati. The Bearcats use a smaller, quicker line-up than most Big East teams, and Flowers' innate athleticism and his ability to finish around the basket, run the floor and rebound will be major assets. And because UC head coach Mick Cronin is still experimenting with line-ups, using as many as nine or 10 players in a game until he finds the correct mix for that contest, Flowers' minutes will provide West Virginia will increased depth to avoid wearing down late. The game is the final home one before WVU travels to Providence and Pitt.

"You go hard every time and for as long as you are in," Flowers said.

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