MORGANTOWN - Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones sat about a free throw away from each other Wednesday afternoon in the Jerry West Lounge at the Coliseum, talking about the West Virginia basketball season that officially begins with Friday's Mountaineer Madness event.Bob Huggins got in on the act, too, spending about 20 minutes talking about everything from newcomers (he has nine of them on the roster) to Deniz Kilicli's efforts to rebound more ("Jerry's statue got as many as he did a lot of games") to the changing face of Big East membership ("Probably the first eight years I was at Cincinnati we were in three different leagues, so I'm a veteran of league switching'').Perhaps the most interesting topic of conversation, though, centered around Bryant, the mercurial point guard who has had as many downs as ups during his three seasons in Morgantown.Bryant seems absolutely pumped to begin his senior season, if for no other reason than to try to prove that his game should be more closely associated with the ups he's had playing for Huggins than to the downs - that, using a mere two-game road trip from last season as an example, he's closer to the guy who scored 25 points on a Sunday afternoon at Marquette than to the one who had nine points and six turnovers three days later at DePaul.
If things work out the way Huggins and Bryant both would like them to this season, the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder from Brooklyn won't be playing the point guard spot that has been predominantly his since he arrived as a freshman. Instead, that will fall to one of two freshmen, Jabarie Hinds or Gary Browne.Bryant then would be free to play as more of a shooting guard. To say that flies in the face of statistical wisdom would be an understatement. A year ago, Bryant made barely one-third of his shots (33.4 percent), not from 3-point range but from everywhere, including layups. And now he's going to shoot more?While Bryant sat on one side of the room talking about having more of a green light to shoot, there sat Jones on the other talking about attempting to elevate his own game and take the shots that are available.He couldn't help but laugh out loud when told of Bryant's green-light talk."That's a scary thing,'' Jones said. "I might not even get a shot now.''He was joking.We think.The truth is, while Bryant takes a lot of ribbing for his never-met-a-shot-he-didn't-take mindset (Joe Mazzulla when told Bryant surpassed the 1,000-point mark at the NCAA tournament last year: "Yeah, but it took him a thousand shots''), he really is the best-equipped Mountaineer to shoot the ball this season. Yes, there have been a lot of shots (830 to be precise, Joe), but he's also a 33.8 percent career shooter from 3-point range, which isn't great but also isn't embarrassing. Alex Ruoff is the school's all-time leader in 3-pointers made and he shot less than four percent higher.Bryant has done that while playing point guard for the most part."He's our best perimeter shooter. I think he'll be our most consistent perimeter shooter,'' Huggins said. "He was miserable from the field to start the Big East [last year, going 10-for-47 during one 13-game stretch]. But then when we got him off the ball and Joe [Mazzulla] had the ball more, he started to make his shots."He just has less things to worry and less things to think about, although he still has to help K.J. [Jones]. He and K.J. still have to get people where they're supposed to be. But I think he's going to be a lot more productive for us offensively without having all the responsibilities of a point guard.''
For his part, Bryant is fine with playing the role of shooter (big surprise), although he maintains if he has to play the point that's OK, too. But if Huggins has his way and he can develop this group of newcomers (Bryant, Jones and Kilicli are the only real holdovers) into more of an up-tempo offense, there will be plenty of shots for everyone.Bryant compares it to his old AAU teammate Kemba Walker at Connecticut last year."[Having a green light to shoot] is a lot easier. Look at Kemba's situation. He has a green light and he's throwing the ball off the backboard and getting layups,'' Bryant said. "But [Huggins] always gave me the green light anyway. Some things were limited, but anything you can do to make a good play, he doesn't care what it is.''Chances are, Huggins would not see throwing the ball off the backboard and laying in the ricochet as a good play. Then again, if Bryant becomes the shooting guard that he and Huggins apparently envision him being, well, why not?"It depends on what I'm averaging,'' Jones laughed when asked if that might be part of his repertoire. "[If I'm averaging] 17, yeah, the ball's going off the backboard.''And that's likely to scare people other than Jones.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com