Still Hopeful

It has been more than a month since West Virginia point guard Joe Mazzulla last saw any significant action on the court. Mazzulla is hoping to return to the court before season's end.

At first glance, Saturday brings just another game for Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers when they travel to Marquette for a noon tipoff with the No. 15 Golden Eagles. Off the court, however, the day is noteworthy for another reason.

More specifically, if injured point guard Joe Mazzulla were to play either on or after Saturday, he would not be eligible to receive a medical redshirt from the NCAA. It's a virtual lock that Mazzulla won't play against Marquette. What happens after that, though, remains to be seen.

The junior from Johnston, R.I. entered the season as one of the most experienced Mountaineers on a roster full of youth. All was going well until Mazzulla collided with Ole Miss forward Malcolm White during WVU's road win in Oxford on December 3. The collision aggravated a pre-existing growth plate fracture in Mazzulla's left shoulder, though the guard noted that he could have lived his entire life without knowing about the fracture had it not been for this particular hit.

Since that time, Mazzulla hasn't seen the court, save for a brief six-minute cameo against Davidson six days later in which he took another shot to the injured arm. For now, a target date for his return remains a mystery.

It goes without saying that as the conference schedule progresses over the next few weeks, the chances of seeing Mazzulla back on the court would seem to decrease. To his credit, though, he's keeping his glass half-full.

"It hasn't hit me that I could be out for the season so I consider myself coming back to play at some point in time," Mazzulla said earlier this week. "I haven't really looked at the other side of it."

That's not to say that there haven't been plenty of painful moments over the past month as the tough-as-nails floor general has been relegated to cheering on his teammates from the bench in street clothes while the Mountaineers played their way into the Top 25 for the first time this season.

Particularly painful was watching his teammates put on a clinic at previously-undefeated Ohio State two weeks ago. Aside from the dominating nature of the 28-point victory, West Virginia's players admittedly bonded during the nationally-televised shellacking in Columbus.

"We really pulled together as a team," Mazzulla recalled of the December 27 game. "It was a great win for us. In the minor games, the Radford games and stuff like that, you don't really appreciate it but when you have a bonding experience like we did in the Ohio State game and everybody comes together, I kind of sat back in the locker room. That's when it really hit me."

It should be noted that noticeable progress has been made over the past several weeks. Although he hasn't been able to practice with the team, Mazzulla has been spending a considerable amount of time doing a variety of other exercises under the watchful eye of head trainer Randy Meador.

Included in these exercises have been aquatic therapy sessions designed to increase the range of motion in the injured limb. While he still can't lift his shoulder above a 90-degree angle, Mazzulla is able to do some things now that he wasn't able to do earlier in his rehabilitation.

"We've gotten to a point to where the pain is manageable and I could move it back and forth," he explained. "I can do a lot more conditioning. I ran the Coliseum stairs (earlier this week) and I do a lot of treadmill stuff. I'm still doing the pool workouts. As far as conditioning, I've kind of stepped it up a little bit."

He has also been able to do some light dribbling and even thrown a few bounce passes here and there. Jump shots and layups have yet to be attempted.

As far as his status is concerned, there really isn't anything new to report. For the foreseeable future, Mazzulla will still be dressed in street clothes, many of which he's been borrowing from well-dressed teammate Wellington Smith. Surgery to fuse the bone together remains an option, but going under the knife isn't something Mazzulla is ready to think about in any detail for now.

The goal remains, as it has been all along, to get back on the court.

"To be honest with you, I really don't see myself sitting on the sidelines for an entire year," he assessed. "So, I am going to try as best as I can to see what I can do."

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