Back on the Road
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Truck is off the hoist and back on the road, fixed and ready to go. West Virginia’s Truck Bryant broke his right foot sometime between the time the Mountaineers beat Missouri in their NCAA tournament second round game and the practice leading up to their Sweet 16 round appearance against Washington in Syracuse, N.Y. last March.
Bryant thinks it might have happened during the Missouri game, but he knows for sure the moment he first felt the stabbing pain that shot through him as he began backpedaling during practice.
“The Missouri game I played but my foot started hurting,” Bryant said recently. “So I switched sneakers at halftime and my foot kept hurting, but I didn’t think it was serious.”
The next practice it got serious.
“We were practicing and somebody took a shot and I backpedaled and just felt a pop in my foot,” he said.
That ‘pop’ in his right foot kept him out of the Washington, Kentucky and Duke games despite a heroic effort by WVU athletic trainer Randy Meader to try and find a shoe that would have enabled Truck to play. For the remainder of the season Bryant kept up a brave front, outwardly smiling and joking around with his teammates while sitting on the bench with his foot propped up. Inside, watching history being made right in front of his eyes was tearing him up.
“It was very disappointing that I was hurt because that is something you look forward to from when you were a little kid playing in the Final Four,” Bryant said. “I finally got to be on the stage that I wanted to be on my whole life and I couldn’t even play because of my foot.”
Bryant spent the remainder of the spring and part of the summer rehabbing his foot until he was finally given the green light to begin running in early July. “My foot is good. I’ve been playing, lifting and doing everything the team is doing,” Bryant said.
Since mid-August, Bryant has been working out without any restrictions. Bryant said he never had an injury that serious before and even now he is still sometimes feels the lingering effects of being off of it for a couple of months.
“It is still a little bit sore sometimes but the doctor said that’s going to happen for the first two months,” he said. “The only thing I’m really waiting on now is just jumping the way I was jumping before. Other than that I’ve been fine.”
Bryant expects to be fully functional by the time fall camp gets underway in mid-October. The two-year letterman is expected to be one of West Virginia’s big guns this year on a remodeled roster that no longer contains Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith.
While last year’s team was more forward-centric with Butler, Ebanks and Smith, Bryant thinks this year’s club could be more guard-oriented with himself, seniors Joe Mazzulla and Casey Mitchell and sophomore Dalton Pepper the likely candidates to take up more of the scoring this season.
“It’s going to be a totally different team,” Bryant explained. “Last year we were longer and more athletic and this year we are quicker and can put more pressure on the rim. I think we can get to the Final Four again. I believed it would happen last year and it did and I believe it this year and I think it can happen again. It’s going to take a lot more hard work, obviously, but that’s what we come from with Coach Huggins and (strength coach) Andy Kettler.”
Last season Butler and Ebanks were the team’s No. 1 and No. 2 scoring options, with forward Kevin Jones a dependable third option. This year, it could very well be Jones No. 1 and either Bryant, Mitchell or Pepper now the second alternative. Bryant, who has averaged close to double figures in 70 career games, says he is eager to take on more of the scoring burden this year.
“One thing is obvious, me and KJ have got to put numbers up,” Bryant said. “Other than that, I think we’re going to be fine. Deniz (Kilicli) and Danny (Jennings) have shown a lot of improvement and it’s just been a great off-season for the whole team. Everybody is really on the right track and we’re working hard and we know what it takes once we got the taste in our mouths of going to the Final Four.”
Bryant has been really impressed with the way Jennings has worked this summer, reducing his weight while continuing to add strength and quickness. Kilicli was in his native Turkey for most of the summer, but he came back in decent shape and is also making gains under Kettler’s watchful eye. Bryant says those two 260-pounders can get up and down the floor as well as anybody in the country.
“They fun the floor like guards now,” Truck said. “I think that will help us out a lot when we start Big East play. They’re big - 6-8, 260 and 6-9, 260 - and they can run the floor better than most bigs in the country.”
Despite the loss of three key players, the Mountaineers will still have a giant bull’s-eye on the front of their jerseys. Of course that’s usually the case for any Bob Huggins coached team. Still, Bryant says the players are taking an underdog approach to this season.
“Last year we were ranked top 10 during the preseason and now we are back to where we were at the year before,” he said. “I like it that way. I don’t want to be given nothing and we just want to work as a team for everything. I think we can prove a lot of people wrong this year.”
A solid nucleus of players that also includes senior forwards John Flowers and Cam Thoroughman will get additional some help from newcomers Noah Cottrill and Kevin Noreen.
Bryant says both players have talent.
“I see a lot of potential,” he said. “There is a lot of space where they can get better at things, but they’re picking it up quick, though. They’re learning a lot of things that we’re doing and I think it’s great how they are picking it up so quickly.”
Speaking of picking up, Bryant said open gym has ratcheted up these last few weeks as the players get ready for preseason practices, set to begin in a couple of weeks.
“At first we were just really going through the motions because we were so tired from what was going on during the off-season but now we’re picking it up, we’re playing hard, and everybody is starting to look good and we’re playing as a team,” Bryant said.
Bryant and Mazzulla have purposely been playing together a lot during open gym in what could be a preview of how Huggins plans to use both of them this winter. Bryant also has been asked to shed a few pounds so he can be in shape to play longer this season.
“I’m like 199 and I’m going to play at 195 this year instead of 200, but that is something Huggs wanted me to do this year because I may have to play a lot more minutes than last year,” he said. “Other than jumping I’m in full effect - running, defense, I’m back.”
And that’s good news for Mountaineer basketball fans.
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