Wanted: Basketball Smarts

While the West Virginia coaching staff tries to prepare the men's basketball team for the rapidly approaching season, they also have an eye toward recruiting.

With the early signing period approaching just as quickly as the regular season, the Mountaineer brain trust hopes to get commitments from as many players as possible during that session so they can begin looking at the Class of 2004.

WVU's coaches aren't just out looking at anyone, however. They have several specific skills in mind when evaluating prospects for future Mountaineer teams.

"We want guys that shoot the ball well, but we also want guys who can think on the court," said assistant coach Jeff Neubauer recently. "That's something we emphasize in our program. Getting guys who can make good decisions is our number one emphasis."

Evaluating players on that basis can be difficult, especially in the run and gun, and mostly defenseless, atmosphere of summer AAU tournaments. Coaches must therefore look beyond the statistics and flashy moves of the summer circuit to evaluate the kinds of attributes that Neubauer and his fellow coaches are seeking.

"It's very hard for us to evaluate, even more so than other staffs, in the AAU environment," Neubauer explains. "That environment lends itself more to transition basketball with no help side defense. You can make plays in AAU basketball that you can't make in high school basketball or college basketball.

"The one thing we look for in AAU is the ability to pass. If a guy can pass, can see the floor and understand what he's seeing, that's a big thing. And then, obviously, if the guy can shoot. If he can make shots, he's a lot more attractive to us."

West Virginia's style might seem to have some inherent conflicts. It stresses passing, cutting and fundamentals, which are all old-school values. But it also encourages players to take good open shots, no matter what position the player inhabits or his location on the floor. If that means a power forward taking three pointers or a center stepping out behind the line, then so be it. How, then, do the coaches balance the search for fundamental skills with a seeming freewheeling style of play?

Neubauer believes that the staff's approach to the game works in their favor, especially in today's fast paced game that emphasizes letting fly from all angles.

"Our style of play is a big selling point, especially to the bigger guys. We can sell a big guy on the fact that he can step out to the perimeter and shoot three point shots. Our forwards get a lot of scoring opportunities too – if you're a 6-5 guy who can run off screens and score, you're going to get a lot of chances in our offense. And if you are guard who can make a good decision on the court, and values the basketball, and understands the system, you'll be a very valued player in our system as well."

The men's team opens the season tonight at the WVU Coliseum with an exhibition game against Latvia Select at 7:00 p.m.

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