Tip Drill

The shot from a Mountaineer opponent heads for the hoop, but clanks off the rim. Below, players from both teams jostle for position, a battle that would seem to favor the usually bigger WVU foe.

However, West Virginia's players have a not-so-secret weapon in their rebounding battles this year. It, like many other fundamentals of the game, is a staple of head coach John Beilein's practices. It's the tip.

OK, so it's not glamorous. Tipping the ball on a rebound attempt isn't going to get any highlight time on ESPN. It probably won't even get a viewing on WBOY. However, in Beilein's eyes, the tip is a valuable weapon in WVU's uphill battle on the boards this year.

"We work on tipping the ball every other practice," Beilein said after watching several tips result in big plays in West Virginia's win over UNC Greensboro last Saturday. "We emphasize that if you can't get the ball, at least try to tip it away from your opponent. "

During Saturday's win, the tip was an integral factor for WVU. On the offensive end, senior forward Chaz Briggs kept two different offensive possessions alive by first tipping, and then controlling, offensive rebounds. Briggs followed one tip with a made shot, and fed the other to teammate Patrick Beilein for an important three pointer in West Virginia's second half rally.

Defensively, WVU has also prevented opponents from gaining possession on several series by tipping the ball away from offensive rebounders and getting the ball away from the basket. With the height advantage most Mountaineer foes possess, job one is keeping them out of the lane with the ball, and the tip helps meet that goal more times than you might imagine.

Beilein and his staff also emphasize trying to tip the ball to a teammate, rather than wildly slapping at the basketball. It's all part of his "value the ball" strategy that has served the Mountaineers well so far.

To assist the team in controlling the ball better, Beilein also users drills to emphasize catching skills. He believes that doing so will help his team concentrate on catching and controlling the ball, and be more comfortable with the ball in their hands. From there, it's a natural step to getting better at controlling the ball on tips.

"We'll throw tennis balls, and weighted balls and volleyballs at them in practice," Beilein noted. "We'll get them used to it."

The strategy doesn't always work, of course. In one instance Saturday, WVU tipped a missed free throw back out toward the free throw line. However, the tip missed its intended target, Jarmon Collins, and when right to a Greensboro player who came down the lane and scored a layup.

For the most part, though, this mostly forgotten part of the game has paid dividends for the young Mountaineers.

"We try to keep that ball alive if we can't get it," Beilein summarized. "We'll make it a 50-50 play again."

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