True freshman Devin Ebanks is one such player. Although he hasn't missed a complete game, his time has been limited over the past couple of weeks due to two different injuries – one on, and one off the court.
"I turned my left ankle in practice just a few minutes into it," Ebanks said of the lesser of his two bang-ups. "That was before the Miami game."
That, however, wasn't the mishap that brought the most concern. Ebanks sustained a sprain or strain in his right knee caused, by of all things, work to help build his strength.
"It was in the weight room here," Ebanks detailed. "The machine wasn't locked correctly, and the weight kind of fell back. My knee wasn't ready for all the weight, but it took it.
That mishap, which could clearly be categorized in the freak accident category, caused swelling and soreness in Ebanks' right knee. While he could still play on it, it clearly put a huge crimp in his normal springy style. Early in the Miami game, Ebanks went up for a shot block and came down on his right leg awkwardly, causing him to grimace in pain and hobble back up the court. Although he didn't ask to come out, it was clear that he wasn't playing with his usual bounding style, one that allowed him to corral 17 rebounds in back-to-back games against Cleveland State and Davidson earlier this year.
Ebanks admits he was bothered by the injury, but that his health is improving. It was still sore and bothersome before the team's trip to Columbus, which resulted in a big win over Ohio State.
"I just have to play through it," he said of the occasional pain. "Sometimes it hurts when I go to make cuts. I have felt a little bit limited, and I'm not 100%, but it is getting better."
West Virginia has managed to continue winning since Ebanks was banged up, but it did affect his play on the floor and ability to practice hard during Bob Huggins' legendary workouts. That certainly has hindered his progress overall, but he has still, despite playing at less than peak efficiency, been a vital cog in WVU's attack on the backboards. Despite being just fourth in minutes played (and he's just two minutes ahead of fifth-place Wellington Smith, the slender Long Island City, N.Y. native leads the team in rebounds with 6.6 per contest. He's also tied with Da'Sean Butler for team honors with 32 retrievals on the offensive end, which is another key element in West Virginia's early season success.
While some of those numbers have come against lower-level competition, Ebanks believes that he can maintain, and perhaps even improve, his productivity when Big East competition gets underway this weekend.
"I think I can still come out with double figure rebounds," he said matter-of-factly.
Ebanks certainly knows that the competition will be tougher night in and night out, but he's also confident in his own ability. Of course, he will need to be at 100% health in order to fully show his skills, because so much of his game is predicated on his quick leaping talent. He manages to wedge into gaps, get off the floor quickly and extend his long arms for the ball, and has kept many others alive that he couldn't grab initially. As he continues to work with the Mountaineer coaching staff, who all view rebounding as something to be pursued with bulldog tenacity, it's likely that he will continue to improve.
In the Ohio State win, Ebanks scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds – average numbers for him, but excellent ones for just about any freshman in the country. He seemed to have regained some of his former springiness, and a couple of days off following the win will certainly have done nothing but help in be ready for the Big East battles to come.
Although he had to face the unexpected trial of overcoming twin injuries, the soft-spoken Ebanks has taken it, along with everything else in college, in stride.
"Everything that I've expected has happened," he said. "There haven't really been any surprises. I'm having fun, and I'm just looking forward to playing more games."