Summer of Change

Coming off a summer full of big transitions, senior forward Wellington Smith not only looks different, but sounds different as well.

The physical difference is an easy one to discern, as the athletic forward gained 25 pounds during the offseason. The New Jersey native's confidence level is also up, partly due to the added strength, but also because he believes he will be much healthier than he was a year ago.

Although it wasn't common knowledge, Smith played with a potentially serious injury through the majority of his junior season at West Virginia. Smith thought that he was merely suffering from shin splits, only to find out that he had been playing the entire season with a stress fracture in his leg.

"The whole season [last year] I thought I had shin splints," Smith explained. "I didn't know then that an actual stress fracture had occurred. I waited until the end of the season to get checked out and when I got checked out it was a stress fracture. There was a deep indent into my tibia."

The problem certainly affected Smith's explosiveness, and also hindered his ability to push and use his legs for leverage against some of the big, strong front court players in the Big East. Thus, the offseason was devoted to healing the injury. That goal was achieved, with some attendant pluses and minuses. The healing process kept him off the court for most of the summer, and also prevented leg work on the weights, but it did allow for more upper body work and the weight gain that should help him compete on more even terms this year.

"I stayed off of it for the whole summer," said Smith. "It was kind of hard for me to not shoot jump shots or run and get in shape but I had to do it to prepare for this year so we could have a good year. [The weight gain] has just made [my legs] stronger. Hopefully it will help so something like this won't happen again. I have been taking calcium pills."

Clearly, Smith has done everything he can to help bolster his physical strength and prepare himself for the upcoming season. Although he didn't enjoy his time off the court, sometimes a break can be a rejuvenating process, and the hope is that he will be energized for his final season.

As his senior year gets underway, Smith has taken some time to reflect on the changes that have occurred within to the program during his time with the Mountaineers. Despite being recruited and coached by John Beilein, Smith has flourished under Bob Huggins. Smith credits his coach with helping him to succeed in the new system.

"[Coach Huggins] has just taken control," said Smith. "From the moment that he got here, he always thought this way with his team. He didn't think we needed to have a rebuilding year or anything. He's done a great job and believed in us."

Although Smith has been a part of great successes under Huggins, he admits that he did have to make some adjustments to play under the head coach.

"He's made me realize that I just have to play basketball and not think so much," said Smith. "That's where I kind of mess up. I need to be natural and go out and run like I know that I can do. I need to go out and block shots and do all of the things that I know I can do and kind of provide for this team."

Now that Smith is looked upon as a veteran and a leader on the team, he has tried to take freshman forward Danny Jennings under his wing, just as Huggins helped him. Jennings provides a physical presence that, for the first time in Smith's career, means he won't be battling short odds in the lane every night out. Add in Kevin Jones and his revamped physique, and suddenly the Mountaineers look much more formidable up front.

"[Having Jennings on the floor] helps a lot," Smith admitted. "He's huge. All he has to do right now is learn our system. He just needs to keep on learning and getting better because he's getting better every day. He's hustling. He's a hustler. He's doing a great job." As the Mountaineers prepare for their season-opener against Loyola on Sunday, Smith expressed his high expectations for his team's upcoming season.

"I think the sky is the limit for this team," said Smith. "As long as we stay humble and have a good mindset and know our goals, hopefully we can get there."

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