When Devin Ebanks decided to seek a release from a letter-of-intent to Indiana last winter after then-Hoosiers head coach Kelvin Sampson was shown the door for breaking NCAA rules yet again, it set off one of the more memorable late-signing-period recruiting battles in recent years. Among the schools after Ebanks's services were perennial Final Four contenders such as Texas and Memphis. Rutgers, located not too far from Ebanks's Long Island City, N.Y. roots, was also in the picture.
In the end, though, Bob Huggins and West Virginia offered the best fit for the Oakdale (Conn.) St. Thomas More star. Ebanks chose the Mountaineers in mid-May after official making visits to each of his top four choices.
"I really respect Coach (Bob) Huggins and I trust what he's saying," Ebanks told FOXSports.com senior college basketball writer Jeff Goodman, who broke the news of the forward's imminent signing with the Mountaineers. "I also feel like I can make an impact quickly at West Virginia."
Of course with the exploits of Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo in recent years, many casual college basketball fans probably think that a quick impact involves putting up a ton of points night in and night out.
To be sure, Ebanks has certainly made a noticeable impact in Morgantown for Huggins and the Mountaineers. The 6-9 forward has started all but one game through the first 24 contests of the season, and even the lone bench appearance – an 11-minute cameo in a blowout win over Miami of Ohio – was due to injuries to his ankle and knee.
From day one, he has been perhaps the most active player on the court for West Virginia. A natural rebounder, Ebanks leads the Mountaineers in that category with an average of 6.6 per game. The freshman had a three-game stretch earlier this season in which he collected a total of 44 rebounds, seemingly announcing his presence to the Big East.
Look at box scores from most West Virginia games throughout the season, and you'll find Ebanks filling out the stat line nicely in just about every area. Three steals against Cleveland State. Three blocked shots in a road win at Seton Hall. A career-high five assists in last weekend's triumph over Providence. He's also been one of the team's more reliable and versatile defenders, using his length and athleticism to slow down everyone from fleet-footed, hot-shooting guards to burly Big East forwards and centers.
While he hasn't put up the gaudy point totals that Beasley or Durant did, his play – overall – has been just as critical to West Virginia's success as the play of either of those players was to their respective teams.
Over the past couple of weeks, Ebanks has looked increasingly comfortable on the offensive end. Against Syracuse, the freshman tallied nine straight WVU points to keep the Mountaineers afloat in the first half. Monday night's performance against Pitt was perhaps his best yet as he tallied a career-high 16 points in West Virginia's loss to the Panthers. Included in that total was a personal 8-0 run to keep the Mountaineers from getting run out of the gym from the opening tip.
"Man, he saved us," admitted senior guard Alex Ruoff. "In the first five minutes of the game, he absolutely saved us. He played like an upperclassman. He kept us in the game. They were up I think either 6-0 or 8-0 and he scored eight straight points to just bring us right back into the game. That was a great job by him."
As West Virginia hits the home stretch beginning with the oddly-timed 9:00 tipoff Friday night against Villanova, the play of Ebanks will be critical to WVU's eventual postseason destination. In Ruoff and junior Da'Sean Butler, the Mountaineers have two bona fide scoring threats. On a team that often struggles to put points on the board, a legitimate third scoring option must come to the forefront. Indications are that Ebanks will be that guy, as he has posted double figures in four of his last five games, boosting his per game average to nearly nine points.
If he – or anyone else – can fill that void, the Mountaineers will be that much better off down the stretch. And while stepping into an even bigger role than he's already playing might sound like a monotonous task, Ebanks is confident that he can be that third guy behind Butler and Ruoff.
"I'm just being more aggressive," he said of his recent scoring success. "I know that I might have to be that third scorer."
His best basketball, in all facets of the game, is still well ahead of him. Considering the impact that Ebanks has made in his first season, that has to be a scary thought for future WVU opponents.