Away from the court, Devin Ebanks is just another normal college freshman. He likes to joke around and cut-up with his teammates.
"He's a clown," said teammate Da'Sean Butler with a laugh. "He's always joking around in the locker room. He's just a joy to be around, pretty much. Everybody loves being around him."
Once the 6-9 freshman steps between the lines, though, he is all business. Ebanks's play is a big reason why sixth-seeded West Virginia has become a popular pick to make a deep run in this year's NCAA Tournament. Simply put, whatever the team has needed, Ebanks has provided.
Need a third scorer behind Butler and senior guard Alex Ruoff? No problem. The Long Island City, N.Y., native has become an offensive presence over the season's final two months, culminating with back-to-back 20-point games in last week's Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, where the Mountaineers rode the play of the freshman to the semi-finals.
Need a presence on the glass? Ebanks has certainly provided that, too, leading the team in rebounding, posting 10 double-doubles and having at least 17 rebounds three different times this season.
Once Joe Mazzulla was declared out for the season because of his shoulder injury, West Virginia needed another point guard. Lo and behold, Ebanks has filled that role as well.
Though his status as a five-star recruit gave him about as good of a reputation as you can have entering college, it is safe to say that the multi-talented guard/forward has exceeded expectations. Just ask his teammates.
"The only time I had seen him play really were in workouts and pickup games (before practice began in October)," said Ruoff. "The main thing that you could see was his length. I didn't know how much of an impact he'd have, but I knew he would grab a lot of rebounds and defensively he would get a lot of hands on balls.
"He's done a lot more than I expected," admitted the senior. "He's played point guard for us having never played the guard position. He's really done a lot more than I expected."
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With the first-round game against Dayton now less than 24 hours away, there really isn't a whole lot left for West Virginia to do from a preparation standpoint. Of course one could argue that coming out of the same conference which produced three of the four top seeds in this year's tournament has prepared the Mountaineers more than any film or scouting report of the Flyers could possibly do.
"I think coach said that we had played six number one seeds this year," said Ruoff. The Mountaineers played Pitt and Louisville a combined five times, and also played Connecticut. "So, I think that that is pretty good preparation, playing against the best in the tournament. People might say that we beat each other up, but I don't think that that is the case. It's very physical in our conference. When we match up with other conferences than our conference, then we are very prepared."
"It prepared me a great deal," added Ebanks. "Everybody said all year that it was the best conference, and playing against Big East teams probably makes you prepared more than anybody else just because you're pretty much playing against a Top 25 team."
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Speaking of the Flyers, just because West Virginia has a significantly higher seed does not mean that Dayton will just roll over. Perhaps the best evidence of that is the fact that both teams are built to play similar styles.
"It's a big challenge," Ruoff said. "They kind of play like us. They rely a lot of defense and rebounding; we have a similar game plan and game style. They really play hard, and that is something we pride ourselves on. We want to be one of the tougher teams in our conference and they do, too. It should be a good matchup."
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Finally, West Virginia's players were asked on Thursday what it was like playing for Huggins, who is as well-known for his fiery coaching style as he is for his success. To the surprise of no one, Butler, Ebanks and Ruoff all gave their coach rave reviews.
"Playing for Coach Huggins has been a great experience," Butler said. "My game has matured on all levels. When I first came here, I was pretty much just a shooter. I've become a better defensive player since he came here. Coach Huggins really instills in you to really care about what you are doing. It's not just about basketball; it's about life in general and caring about what you are doing."
"The two years I have been with him have been great," echoed Ruoff, who spent many of his formative years growing up in Ohio and rooting on Huggins's great Cincinnati Bearcats teams from close by. "I really wish I could have played for him for all four years. Like Da'Sean said, he really helps you. He really is a player's coach. It has been a really great time."
"Playing for Coach Huggins so far has been a great experience," added Ebanks. "You have to be a tough-minded person to play for him, and have thick skin because he can get on you a little bit. That's just because he wants to make you better. He wants to see you get better. I think with all three of us, that has (happened)."