West Virginia Notebook: New York-area talent all about toughness

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- There are six players from West Virginia's roster from either New York or New Jersey, including five players from New York and surrounding areas.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said this is an area he always looks to recruit because the players are not only talented they are always very tough.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the influence of the New York kids is easy to see not just in the Mountaineers, but in teams throughout the Big East Conference.

"It is as much mental toughness as it is toughness physically," Calipari said. "You think about what Pitt has done over the years, they did it with those New York players and now you see West Virginia doing the same.

"They are very hard-nosed kids and they know if you want something, you have to go after it, it is not going to be given to you. They're not afraid."

The New York and metro area influence on the Mountaineers was evident in their starting lineup last night against Kentucky as four players who started the game -- Da'Sean Butler (Newark, N.J.), Devin Ebanks (Long Island City), Kevin Jones (Mt. Vernon, N.Y.) and Wellington Smith (Summit, N.J.).

Jones, who is a sophomore, said that growing up playing basketball in New York certainly prepared him for the battles of the Big East and has made him a much tougher player than he would have been had he played elsewhere.

And he believes that the influence of players like him and Smith and Butler and Ebanks has rubbed off on the rest of the team, which is why they have a reputation for being such a tough out.

A blended family

Butler, Smith, Joe Mazzulla and Cam Thoroughman are the last of the players who were recruited for and played for previous West Virginia coach John Beilein (junior John Flowers was signed by Beilein but never played for him).

That group has had a significant role in the Mountaineers' success and said a big reason for that is that Huggins has gone out of his way to build around their strengths as players.

"Coach Huggins met us halfway when he got here," Mazzulla said. "He didn't impose his will and try to make something out of what he didn't have. He didn't have his style of players and he's done a great job of adapting to the cards that he's been dealt."

A good move

A lot of underclassmen who are considering leaving school early should look at the way things have gone for Kentucky junior Patrick Patterson this season.

Patterson considered leaving early but decided to return and clearly has improved his draft stock by working on some of his weaknesses.

"The first reason I came back was I talked to my academic advisor and he said I could graduate in three years," Patterson said. "And also, the chance to play in coach Calipari's dribble-drive offense helps me improve my game in areas I needed to develop."

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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