The skill in question is the bank shot. Using the glass is a skill that has faded as the emphasis on taking the ball to the basket or firing from long range has come to the fore, but it hasn't disappeared completely. WVU has been the center of a mini-revival of sort for a shot style that is about as rare as the one-hand set shot in 2008.
The chief practitioner is forward Joe Alexander, whose feathery shooting touch is perfectly suited to using the glass. Using his quick elevation, Alexander often gets a clean look at the basket, and but he didn't unveil this weapon until recently.
"I've always done that my whole life, but I haven't done it in games much until recently," Alexander said. "I just started doing it more over the past couple of months, but I don't know why."
Alexander had certainly gone to the board in his midrange game prior to his scoring explosion that began in the first days of March, but he didn't shoot the bankers with much regularity before that time. There was the occasional 8-10 footer that saw the glass first, but nothing approaching the regularity with which he has done so during WVU's late season charge. Perhaps it's no coincidence, then, that his scoring totals and offensive outbursts coincided with his unconscious decision to use the backboard more.
With his unconventional basketball background, Alexander might not be the best person to ask about the downturn in the use of the glass, but he gave it a go, anyway.
"Is it a lost art? Yes," he ruminated. "It is easier to shoot with the glass, so I don't know why more people don't use it. I enjoy it. In most of our plays, when I'm on the block, the bank is open. When you turn around on the block, it's a much easier shot."
Alexander learned those lessons himself while growing up and practicing long solo hours, so he wasn't influenced by a coach that urged him to use the board. He simply figured out that with his shot style and positioning, the boards were his best option.
Another Mountaineer whose shots can often be found with "the kiss" as CBS analyst Bill Raftery describes banker, is Da'Sean Butler. He, like Alexander, often uses the board on his midrange jumper, but also sees the boards as a bailout in another situation.
"It's easier, and it has a higher percentage chance of going in," Butler said. "If I get to the basket and I'm in trouble, I use the glass, and there's a good chance it's going to go in. I just put it up there, and usually it goes in."
Butler, whose creative array of moves and shots are tops on the team, has also mastered a variety of spins and angles to use every inch of both the boards and the rim in getting his shots to go down. He's not someone who, like Alexander, can elevate over defenders to get shots away. However, his mastery of the geometry of shot angles has made him a consistent scoring threat.
"It's just the angles," he said when asked to explain what makes using the backboard easier. You have to take advantage of the angles of the game, especially the closer you are to the basket. It's been successful for us. We all work on it in all of our practices, especially the forwards."
Using the glass isn't limited to the frontcourt players, however. Sometimes guards get into the act too, and there probably hasn't been a bigger one from that position this year than Alex Ruoff's second chance shot in the second half against Duke. On that play, Ruoff missed a three-pointer, but stepped in to get the rebound and caressed a 16-footer off the backstop and through the net. That shot helped WVU build a second-half lead against the Blue Devils that propelled the Mountaineers into its Sweet 16 berth.
"I have no idea why I went to the bank shot there," said Ruoff, who usually doesn't get a lot of shots in the mid-range areas of the court. "I got the rebound and no one really went for the ball. So I got it and put it back up, and from the angle I was at it felt natural to put it off the board. It just happened in the flow of the game. I don't even know if I've shot one all year."
Whatever the process that went through Ruoff's mind weren't important however. The decision to use the glass was an instantaneous one, and didn't take more than a split-second. And when the ball angled gently off the glass and through the hoop, barely ruffling the net on the way, it was just another example of the advantage using the board gives. Ruoff, who certainly qualifies as a shot technician, agrees with his teammates about the basics of the shot.
"From that wing, it's a much easier shot," he explained. "[If you are] aiming right at the rim, that's a tougher shot. Using the board, you have a target with the box (on the backboard) to aim at. If you ask any basketball player it's an easier shot and it's one that people should practice."
Again, the lost art angle. Despite the advantages, there just aren't as many players using the glass these days. But for Ruoff and other shooters looking for any edge they can get to help more shots go down, it's a no-brainer decision.
"It's a great shot, and with the success Joe and Da'Sean have, why wouldn't they want to use it?"