Net Gains

When West Virginia freshman forward Kevin Jones took a moment to assess his physical stature a few days ago, he was surprised at what he saw.

The 6-9 forward out of Mount Vernon High in New York City saw a body that had been transformed after just a few short weeks of West Virginia's strength and conditioning program under Andy Kettler, Bob Huggins' hand-picked choice to mold his team. Jones now is checking in around 220 pounds.

"Just a couple of days ago, I was looking and I couldn't believe how big I've gotten," said Jones, whose enthusiasm and work ethic figure to make him a popular figure on the 2008-09 team. "I've added about 15 pounds, and it's all muscle. And it wasn't just in one place. I've added strength in my legs, my upper body, everywhere. I think everyone will see a new and improved Kevin when they look at me on the court this year."

Except for those who follow recruiting to the point of viewing multiple videos and watching recruits in person, the change won't be evident, because they won't have a pre-Kettler version of Jones to compare to the strengthened version. For that group, envision the pre-Huggs edition of Joe Alexander to last year's model. That's the sort of gains that Jones has experienced, and he hopes that those changes will help him with his overall game.

While Jones didn't hesitate to go to the basket in high school, he wasn't built like many of the power forwards in the Big East conference when he came to WVU. He didn't think about the need to add the size and strength that he has so far (a process that is still underway), but knows now, after playing with his new tools, that they will help him throughout his career. It took some time for him to realize that he was capable of doing so, however.

"It did surprise me that I was able to put on weight and add strength so quickly," he admitted. "I have a very high metabolism, so Coach Kettler told me to just keep eating and working out, and that has worked for me. All the strength coaches have helped me out a lot. All of that added weight has been muscle, so I think that will really help me in the Big East."

Like many high school athletes making the transition to college, Jones has adjusted his eating habits as well.

"I am eating more, but I am eating healthier," said Jones. "I'm not eating as much junk food as I did in high school. The coaches have helped me with that too. I'm really seeing a difference in my game, too. I am able to bang better in the post, and it has helped me hold off defenders and box out better."

Improved performance is obviously the targeted end result of weight and strength gain, and Jones, along with several other members of the 2008-09 Mountaineers, think they are seeing those results already. It hasn't been an easy road to date, however, as the newcomers are seeing a big difference in almost every aspect of their basketball lives.

"The adjustment has been crazy," Jones said frankly. "The workouts are harder and longer. And just adjusting to the size and speed here is tough. Everyone is big and talented. I think I have done good with the adjustment so far, and I am really anxious for the season to start."

Before that happens, however, there's still a month's worth of practices under head coach Bob Huggins. WVU's tireless head coach has been crisscrossing the state and the country for much of the off-season, and that, plus the NCAA limits on coaching contact with players before the official start of practice this week, means that the newcomers to the program haven't been exposed to the full brunt of Huggins' demanding practices.

"Coach Huggins hasn't really yelled at us yet, so I don't think I have seen the real Coach Huggins in practice yet. I'm looking forward to that. Well, maybe I'm not," Jones added with a hearty laugh.

As part of a highly-regarded recruiting class, Jones and his new teammates might be expected to feel some pressure to perform early. Expectations can be pumped to unreasonable heights by fans and media, and if those aren't met, unrest is sure to follow. Jones, a veteran of media attention, isn't worried about that.

"I don't think there's any pressure on us," he said. "We just have to come out and perform. If we do that, if we play our best and play hard, then that's all we can do. We have to let the rest pan out however it's going too. My goal is to get some playing time and help my team win. I think everything else will fall into place."

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