Reaction Time

Joe Alexander's NBA investigation, spring football thoughts and other observations are on my mind as the WVU sports scene branches out over the last two months of the school year.

Alexander's announcement that he will research his possible standing in the NBA draft may have surprised some, but I don't see it as a negative at all. While many observers, including me, think that another year of college play would help Alexander's NBA chances, we have to remember that the NBA doesn't look at players in the manner most college coaches and fans do.

The NBA, in some respects like the NFL, values athletic ability over nuanced play in the draft. It won't even sniff a 5-10 underclassman point guard who has mastered the art of running an offense and getting the ball to the right spots. It will drool all over a 6-5 player at the same position that might not know when to throw a bounce pass, but can jump out of the gym and run like a gazelle. So, looking at a player in college in terms of his productivity or basketball-specific ability doesn't always translate into a draft spot.

With that said, I think it's a good idea for Alexander to look at his NBA prospects. If he can be assured that he will get drafted in the top 20 or so spots, then he would be foolish not to consider it. Who among us would turn down that kind of guaranteed money (approximately $1 million guaranteed for two years)? Alexander also has his potential going for him. His back story is well known, and the NBA team that finally drafts him is likely to give him an extra year or two to develop and improve, as they know his "upside potential" (salute to Hubie Brown) is great.

It's not my place to offer advice on whether Alexander should go or stay. I can see arguments on both sides that are, or would be compelling. But if I were in his shoes, I would certainly research all my options.

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Another positive aspect to this is the way in which head coach Bob Huggins is handling the situation. He has been nothing but supportive to Alexander, and his list of former players in the league lends credibility to his counseling and support of his latest star. If Alexander ends up going to the league a year early, it will at least add another checkmark beside Huggins' name for those players considering West Virginia in the recruiting ranks. The move would certainly add to Huggins' reputation as a coach that can get players into the highest professional ranks.

However it works out, there will be positives to gain from the result. Certainly, most Mountaineer fans hope to see Alexander in WVU's gold and blue next fall. But there shouldn't be any recriminations if he is not, because Huggins will again be viewed as a coach who can help players achieve their ultimate playing goals – and that will have to help in the recruiting game.

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I'm not sure if enough attention is being paid to West Virginia's offensive line during spring drills. Not by the coaches – they are definitely concentrating on getting the protectors into shape. But with three linemen out, and others missing chunks of time, are there enough snaps left now and in the fall to build a cohesive unit?

WVU's linemen are a brainy bunch. They have been able to adjust to different coaching styles, and pick up new points of emphasis quickly. However, the modifications to the blocking schemes with the advent of new plays in offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen's vision of the spread will take some time to get down pat. And more than anywhere else on the field, players in this unit must work together in order to gain success.

Before spring started, offensive line coach Dave Johnson noted, "the clock is ticking". And while 3 ½ months remain before WVU's opener with Villanova, less than 30 practice days are left before the Mountaineers must strap it on for real.

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West Virginia's baseball team is hitting .370, and features five regulars with batting averages over .400. No matter what the level of competition, that's impressive.

Some of those averages will drop when the Mountaineers begin facing tougher pitching in the Big East, but there's not much doubt that WVU can't count itself out of any game with bats like that in the lineup. Given the opportunity, West Virginia's hitters can put together big innings with scary regularity.

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A recent column from the AP tried to draw parallels between Rich Rodriguez' contract situation and that of current Mountaineer coaches Bob Huggins and Bill Stewart, neither of whom have signed their formal agreements. While that might be cause for concern among some, I'm not worried about it.

On the football side, head coach Bill Stewart simply isn't the type of person to renege on a deal, or hold his employer hostage. Perhaps that's naïve on my part, but having known Stewart for a number of years, I can say that there's not a dishonest bone in the man's body. When he says, "my handshake is my contract" he means it, no mater how corny jaded onlookers may feel that sort of statement is.

On the basketball side, Huggins might be more sophisticated in contract dealings, but there's a different dynamic in play. Huggins truly agonized over leaving Kansas State after just one year there. Even down to the final moments before making his decision and taking off in a plane for West Virginia, the dedicated coach worried over the effects of his decision to leave. He knew it was his only real remaining chance to coach at his alma mater, but he still knew he would be leaving KState in a tough spot. That, to me, shows that he's not a hired gun looking for his next paycheck.

I realize that by saying this, I'll be viewed as quite naïve by some. (O.K., by many.) But I just don't see a plausible scenario that has either Stewart or Huggins taking advantage of a lack of a formal, signed contract to hold WVU hostage or get more money from another school. It's just not how they are built.

Finally, just as there are different ways to coach a team and produce results, so too are there different methods in which to conduct contract affairs. Perhaps Ken Kendrick has to have ironclad contracts written and set in stone before a player crosses the lines onto his baseball field, but that doesn't mean that's the only way that things can be successful. If all parties involved are honorable and hold to their word, then handshake agreements can be just as effective as documents pored over by high-priced attorneys and agents.

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