Keeping The Beat

A reality check has changed the offseason approach of Joe Mazzulla.

Where West Virginia's point guard once portrayed the literal meaning of the word, pairing relaxation and rest with basic workouts, he now plans to try an all-out style emphasizing both his play and that of others. Spurred by the graduation of Darris Nichols and his own NCAA Tournament emergence, Mazzulla is relishing his newfound leadership role.

"Last year knowing Darris was coming in to start, I would not work out as much," Mazzulla said. "Coming into this year, basketball is the number one thing on my mind. I look forward to working out every single day."

Which entails pickup games on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and detailed work on his own game. Mazzulla, who averaged 8.6 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, is placing special emphasis on his jumpshot and conditioning. The rising junior, expected to start over incoming freshman Darryl "Truck" Bryant, will likely see his 18.5 minutes per game increase by double digits. And with his renegade drives to the bucket and slashing, physical style, the Rhode Island native will need even greater strength and physiological prowess. If he can pair that with a consistent outside shot, Mazzulla has every other tangible needed to become the player through which the offense is started, if not geared.

"We all know we need to work and what we need to work on," Mazzulla said. "Shooting and being a point guard, I want to make sure than the team doesn't miss a beat. I have a great opportunity to lead a team that went to the Sweet 16 and has a chance to go further. That's exciting. It's a reality check, though. I know I need to buckle down and be sure to do what I need to do and better weaknesses and help my strengths."

Mazzulla's 13-point, 11-rebound, eight-assist outing against Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament showcased what he could do when clicking. That needs to come more often, however, something that is expected with the increased minutes. Mazzulla's concentration has never been an issue, though it remains to be seen how effectively he can help ease Bryant into the heady Big East level of play. Nichols, a natural teacher, prepared Mazzulla well while allowing his own game and skills to flourish. If Mazzulla, who has yet to have such a challenge in college, can do the same with Bryant, WVU should have enough depth at the position to win.

Mazzulla said he wants to "welcome Truck and help him and become the person to him that Darris was to me." The two have more similarities to their styles than did Nichols and Muzzulla, and should be better able to handle the rigors of Bob Huggins' system and defense. The head coach has acknowledged Mazzulla as a personal favorite, and said that Mazzulla is his type of player.

Besides the workouts in Morgantown, Mazzulla is considering a return to the same Pittsburgh summer league in which he was named MVP last year. He said he will talk with the coaches to see the tournaments in which they would like him to play, then set up a schedule. All other workouts will be on his own. West Virginia will not be able to work with coaches until school begins in August. Up to three players are then permitted to drill together in organized sets with staff present.

"It would be great if we all went back there," Mazzulla said of the Pittsburgh tournament.

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