First Steps

It's an axiom of the coaching profession that the best coaches are teachers at heart. If that's the case, then the Mountaineer men's basketball program has some professors wearing shorts and sweatsuits on the floor of the Coliseum.

One of the first things that strikes you when witnessing basketball practice this year is the sheer amount of instruction going on. No detail is too small for the coaches as the critique, praise and cojole the Mountaineers toward improvement.

"You have to keep the ball up high when you're inside," Beilein said at one point last week as he stopped a drill. "If you bring the ball down low, someone's going to strip it."

That's a fundamental of basketball – big men shouldn't drop the ball down below their waist inside. However, at this level, fundamentals are often ignored in favor of flashy play.

That's not going to be the case at West Virginia under Beilein, and it's evident from the way he conducts practices. The sessions begin with several periods of individual work, including shooting, rebounding and positioning. The drills begin individually, progress to two and three man work, and finally culminate with a full team on the floor.

Practice sessions then bounce back and forth between shell sessions with five players on each end of the court running through offensive sets and some situation work with both offense and defense on the floor. In between, players break out for more individual work, concentrating on such fundamentals as passing off, cutting and relocationg for shots, and on the proper way to come out and defend a shooter at the three point line. There are literally dozens of drills, and each is a building block in the Beilein system.

During each drill, Beilein and assistants Mike Jones, Matt Brown and Jeff Neubauer address everything from the proper way to come off a screen to the correct hand position for receiving a pass. Mistakes are quickly corrected, and there's a sense of efficiency and crispness that's refreshing to see.

That's not to say that WVU is going to roll through the Big East. Far from it. Beilein himself characterized the WVU program "at the beginning" of the rebuilding process at Tuesday afternoon's media day.

"We're nowhere near ready to play a game yet," Beilein said of his team, whihc has to take the court in just six days for the first of two exhibition contests. "We're just starting to put things together. We don't even have a good idea of who the starters will be."

But fans, especially basketball purists, should enjoy the cutting, passing and screening offense that is near and dear to Beilein's heart. A 1-3-1 trapping defense and the willingness to "dive on the floor and scrap for every ball" should also be popular.

In the end, however, Beilein knows that it's wins that will bring the program back to the level that it once was. But he admits that it won't be an overnight process.

"We want to win as much as any coaching staff out there," Beilein noted. "But right now, we have to concentrate on improving every day."


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