There have been plenty of times this season when West Virginia point guard Darryl Bryant has made plays that seem more in line with something that would come from a seasoned veteran, not a freshman. And, on the contrary, there have been times when Bryant – nicknamed "Truck" – has looked like every bit the rookie that he is. Such is life as a freshman starting point guard at the highest level of college basketball.
More than any other position on the court, point guard might be the hardest to adjust to as a first-year player, particularly in the rugged Big East. Aside from mastering his own position, he must also know the roles and responsibilities of the other four players in the game.
On top of all that, he has to be prepared for the opposition. For Bryant, last week was quite the learning experience. Last Tuesday, the first-year starter had to face Connecticut's deep and experienced backcourt in WVU's six-point loss to the Huskies. Days later, he squared off against Marquette's senior backcourt trio, including the lightning-quick Dominic James.
No matter how talented a player might be, there is no substitute for experience in the Big East. The Huskies and Golden Eagles can certainly speak to that, as their ultimate destinations this season will more than likely hinge on the play of their veterans.
West Virginia's most experienced player went so far as to admit that, when playing against first-year foes, there is somewhat of a different mindset.
"You smirk a little bit," admitted senior guard Alex Ruoff. "You know what you can get them on a couple of times, and you know that they might be nervous coming into the game."
Against Marquette especially, Bryant showed his inexperience. He finished with no points, four turnovers, one assist and three fouls in WVU's lopsided loss to the Golden Eagles. And while those numbers made up the worst performance of Bryant's career, his attitude following the game is evidence of the maturation process that is taking place during his first year at WVU.
"I was ready to play another game the next day," Bryant said. "I was on a mission."
On Wednesday night in Charleston, it was mission accomplished for Bryant and the Mountaineers, who were never seriously threatened in an 87-76 win over intrastate rival Marshall in the annual Capital Classic. Bryant finished with 22 points and three assists, an effort which earned him recognition as WVU's MVP.
Of course from Bryant's standpoint, facing an opposing point guard who doesn't boast four years of experience was a welcome change of pace. Marshall floor general Damier Pitts is also a freshman.
"That's definitely different," Bryant said with a grin. "He was a freshman. He's just like me in that he's trying to get adjusted to the game and is just getting adjusted to the game. I wanted to attack him first and play good defense on him, too."
As WVU makes its way through the Big East gauntlet over the next month and a half, there will certainly be more occasions when Bryant has to go up against an experienced and talented point guard, just as he did in last week's two-game stretch. He'll face Pitt's Levance Fields and Louisville's Edgar Sosa a combined four times in the regular season. Cincinnati's Deonta Vaughn and Villanova's Scottie Reynolds also await. And though he's just a sophomore, Syracuse's Jonny Flynn is already in his second season as a starter, and is arguably playing as well as any point guard in the conference.
Ironically, Flynn went through a similar process as Bryant last season, thrust into the starting role when two Orange players were lost for the season with an injury. As a freshman, Flynn took his lumps, but is likely a better player now for having gone through the experience of last season.
"It helps him every time he goes out there because every time he goes out there, he learns and he gets better," said head coach Bob Huggins. "The more things you experience, the more things you can adapt to. It's hard to adapt to things that you've never experienced before."
"He's really worked and he's getting better," added Ruoff. "He's got to stay humble. He had 20-some points (against Marshall) and that's good, but I think he can do better. He's just got to stay humble offensively and defensively and continue to work."
In all likelihood, there will be more nights for Bryant like he had at Marquette. It's just the nature of the beast that is the Big East, especially this season. Still, the experience he's gaining – through the good games and the bad – will pay off big time over the course of his Mountaineer career.