Spend just a few minutes chatting with West Virginia point guard Darryl Bryant and you'll come away with two quick impressions. First, if you can get the kid to flash a grin, you'll see a smile that stretches from here to Bangor, Maine. Second, if you listen to him say just a few words, it's quite clear that confidence will not be an issue for Bryant as he makes the transition from high school star to collegiate contributor.
When Bryant sets foot on the court, the smile goes away. The confidence does not.
One of four newcomers to the WVU program this season, Bryant will likely see a healthy dose of minutes from game one when the Mountaineers tip off the 2008-09 campaign on November 15 against Elon. With only one other true point guard in the program, projected starter Joe Mazzulla, head coach Bob Huggins likely won't have any choice but to give Bryant some burn, even if only to spell Mazzulla.
The good news for Bryant is that he won't be completely thrown into the fire, what with Mazzulla returning for his junior season after spending two years as the understudy to the departed Darris Nichols.
First and foremost, Bryant has one goal for his rookie season.
"I'm used to winning, so I'm just trying to win," he said recently. "I came from a winning program, and I want to win."
Bryant comes to WVU from New York City, growing up in Brooklyn and putting together an outstanding prep career at St. Raymond's High School for Boys in the Bronx, where he left as the Ravens' all-time leading scorer.
After arriving in Morgantown this summer, Bryant got his first introduction to big-time college hoops in the presence of new basketball strength and conditioning director Andy Kettler. Under Kettler's tutelage, Bryant was able to shed a little bit of "bad" weight and build up muscle mass. The result of his work in the weight room is noticeable as the guard checks in at a healthy 6-1 and 200 pounds.
Affectionately known as "Truck", Bryant plays the game with a reckless abandon. Although he improved his perimeter jump shot during his senior season at St. Ray's, Bryant's first preference when he has the ball is getting to the tin to create easy shots for either himself or his teammates.
"My game is like that. I like to power into the lane," he explained. "I like to get and-ones. That's my style of play. If I get into the lane and see somebody open, I dish it off just like a point guard is supposed to do."
If that sounds familiar, it should. Mazzulla made a living out of doing precisely that in last season's second-round NCAA tournament game against Duke. Both point guards are similar in size and style of play. The biggest difference, of course, is experience. Throughout the summer and even now during preseason practices, "Truck" has been quick to pick the brain of Mazzulla.
"Honestly, I'm just trying to learn from Joe because he's been through this situation," Bryant admitted. "I'm just trying to learn from him day by day and once I pick it up, I should be fine.
"He's a tough point guard just like myself so we keep battling every day," he continued. "We're going to keep doing that and try to make each other better."
When one hears of a point guard from New York City, a certain perception and plenty of names come to mind. You think of nifty playground moves, ballhandling tricks and a whole lot of trash talk.
"Everybody says crossovers and handles, but I'm not really that type of a point guard," Bryant said. "I can do that, but I choose to go the easier route. I'm more of a laid back point guard without all the style and everything, all the handles."
Bryant's biggest area for improvement, like that of any young player, is on the defensive end of the court. By season's end he will be asked to guard spectacular point guards such as Connecticut's A.J. Price, Syracuse's Johnny Flynn and Pitt's Levance Fields. Going against Mazzulla every day in practice is certainly one way to improve the defense.
"In high school, we all know people are slower," he said. "In college, it is a different game. I've just been getting better day by day on defense, and learning how to play better defense."
All in all, the transition has gone well.
"It's been a good experience so far," he concluded. "I'm just having a good time already."