Young Leader

While he has only been through one full season as a college basketball player, WVU forward Devin Ebanks is going to be counted on to be a leader for a 2009 Mountaineer team that enters the season with lofty goals.

To that end, he has spent the "offseason" -- if such a thing truly exists anymore, since West Virginia players were back in the gym only a week after their season-ending loss to Dayton in last year's NCAA Tournament -- working on improving his all-around game.

"We've had workouts all summer -- conditioning, lifting, and putting on weight," said Ebanks. "That's what we've been doing while we're waiting for the season to start. I put on about 10 pounds -- I was at 205, and now I'm 215 (pounds)."

Adding strength might be the biggest remaining key for the Long Island City, N.Y., native to be able to take the next step in his game and launch himself into an NBA career.

Ebanks came on strong towards the end of last season, showing improving offensive skills as each game came and went. He feels the work done in the weight room this summer has prepared him to have an even bigger impact on his Mountaineer team this fall.

"I'm a lot harder to stop on the offensive end," Ebanks said. "I feel like I don't get bumped off the ball as much anymore -- especially playing at this weight. It's good for me."

While the forward's growing muscles remained hidden under an oversized hooded sweatshirt, he is prepared to show off his new physique when WVU gets its season under way with Friday night's Mountaineer Madness at the Coliseum.

But the body isn't the only part of the game that Ebanks has spent considerable time working to improve on the mental aspect of basketball.

As the sophomore has stepped into a leadership role, trying to teach some of West Virginia's talented newcomers the system they will be playing in for coach Bob Huggins, he feels he has also gained a greater grasp of things than he had a season ago.

"When you (teach the system to other players), you're analyzing more and you learn it better," Ebanks said. "That's really going to help me. That's why I'm really glad I came back for a second year."

Indeed, while he briefly entertained the idea of entering the NBA draft, Ebanks said there was never really a doubt that he would be back for his second season under Huggins.

"I knew I was going to have to come back," he said. "I wasn't ready for (the NBA)."

While Ebanks decided he wasn't quite prepared to take the next step in his basketball career, by staying at WVU he will be among a group of players that will have the task of helping a group of incoming freshmen make their own transition to the college game.

Like Ebanks was last season, the newcomers are all highly-touted prospects. They bring considerable talents to the table (Ebanks said big men Danny Jennings and Deniz Kilicli -- who has already acquired the nickname "Turk" -- "are going to be two guys not to mess with as the years go on."), and the forward believes that will help make the transition a smooth one .

"These guys have played basketball before," he said. "It's not that much of a difference. Experience is going to help and everything, but I think they'll be fine."

While the game itself doesn't change much with the step up to major college basketball, the quality of opponents a player faces does. To prepare players for that, Huggins holds infamously intense practice sessions. Those, Ebanks said, will be a wake-up call for the freshmen.

"They're all young right now," he said of the newcomers. "They don't know what's coming for them Saturday (when practices truly begin). They're just going to have to take the time to learn and ask questions. That's what I did as a freshman -- ask questions. That's the best thing to do for the learning process."

All told, Ebanks is looking forward for the start of a season that is characterized by high expectations for him personally and for his West Virginia team as a whole.

"I know I'm a little bit stronger and a little bit faster," he said. "I've gained some wisdom over the (last) year. I'm just excited and ready for the season to start."

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