By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
October 21, 2008
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Devin Ebanks admits the allure of playing for one of college basketball’s most successful coaches in West Virginia’s Bob Huggins was simply too hard to turn down.
Ebanks, one of the top high school players in the country, chose West Virginia last spring after backing out of a commitment to Indiana when Coach Kelvin Sampson was forced to resign.
The 6-foot-9-inch, 206-pound forward was one of the nation's most hotly pursued players last spring when the Hoosiers let him out of his commitment. National runner-up Memphis and Texas were also in contention to land the high-flying forward.
“(Huggins) is pretty intense and that’s what I felt I needed and that’s why I came here in the first place,” Ebanks said Monday afternoon. “He is very similar to Kelvin Sampson. They’re both defensive coaches and what I feel like I need to work on most with my game is my defense.”
Ebanks gives West Virginia yet another athletic wing player that can get to the rim in a hurry. His angular frame and acrobatic game is very similar to that of one-and-done Syracuse forward Donte Green, selected in the first round of last year’s NBA draft by the Memphis Grizzlies.
Ebanks does not conceal his desire to eventually play in the NBA. Everything he’s doing now is with the goal of getting his game ready for the pros. That includes getting bigger and stronger.
“It starts with Coach Andy (Kettler) our strength coach,” Ebanks said. “He’s the one who started with us in the weight room and that’s what we’ve been doing from the summer until now.”
The Long Island City, N.Y., resident says this is the first time he’s ever been in a structured weight program.
“It was a big shock to me,” Ebanks said. “I had never worked out this hard before. I feel like it’s getting me ready for the next level which is where I want to be at. I just go in there and put in the hard work every day.”
In the meantime, Ebanks has lofty goals playing for the Mountaineers this year.
“A Big East championship is what we want,” he said. “From there we want to get to the tournament and hopefully do some things and get to the Final Four. That’s our main goal. We always say national championship after every huddle so that’s what we’re trying to get to.”
Despite the loss of Joe Alexander to the NBA, West Virginia has several key parts returning from last year’s Sweet 16 team and Huggins believes the recruits his coaching staff were able to land this year will make the team even deeper.
“I think they’re all going to play,” Huggins said. “Devin and Kevin (Jones) give us great length. Truck (Bryant) gives us ball handling ability and someone else that can attack the rim.”
Ebanks said it was helpful having some other New York City guys in this year’s class.
“I knew Kevin and Truck. I knew Truck since the eighth grade and I kind of met Kevin when I was out on the circuit playing AAU,” Ebanks said. “That was a big factor. We’re all three from New York. We have played against each other and we all three came to college together.”
New York City has long been the high school basketball capital of the country and the top players in the city sometimes have reputations that exceed their abilities. Ebanks is aware of that.
“There are players at smaller towns that are really good,” he said. “I don’t think where you come from makes the player. The player makes the player. You can be from anywhere as long as you work hard and put in that hard work.”
The laid-back and soft spoken Ebanks said getting out of the city was something he was always interested in doing.
“I needed to get out of the city,” he admitted. “It’s definitely different out here in the mountains where New York City is nothing but buildings. It’s very laid-back and I like it so far. I’m glad to be here.”
Ebanks also isn’t worried about the enormous expectations that have followed him to Morgantown.
“We’re all different people and we all have different opinions and I’m sure there are probably a lot of freshmen out there that feel like they have got to live up to big expectations but that’s not the case with me,” he said. “I just take it one day at a time.”
Experts believe Ebanks’ game is already Big East-ready. The No. 2-rated small forward in the class of 2008 was recently listed by CNNSI.com as one of the nation’s Top 15 impact freshmen. Ebanks is supremely confident in his abilities but he knows there are things that he could get away with in high school that he won’t be able to do in college.
“Obviously high school and college are a lot different,” he said. “The moves I made in high school I tried here in college and they didn’t work. I just have to find another way to get from point A to point B. It’s definitely been harder. My teammates don’t slack off at all.”
He is also getting used to the rough stuff that he is going to encounter on a nightly basis in Big East Conference.
“The hardest thing for me is taking a bump right now,” Ebanks noted. “I’ll get by somebody and they will give me a little bump and it will get me off-balance. I will take a shot that’s tougher than I probably would have made if I was a little stronger.”
Ebanks says, too, that the practices have been much harder than he expected. He has already been on the treadmill once because his group wasn’t playing defense up to Huggins’ satisfaction.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” Ebanks laughed.
Treadmill or no treadmill, Ebanks says he’s ready to go this year.
“I’ve been anticipating (the first game) for a while now,” he said. “I’m excited for my first game which is November 8th. I’m really just focused on that and focused on practice and working hard.”
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