WVU's Ebanks surprises with tough defense

| Thursday, April 1, 2010

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Devin Ebanks' high school highlight reel is filled with 3-pointers, tomahawk dunks and cross-over dribbles. He averaged 23 points his senior year, which included a 44-point game.

"I didn't have to play much defense in high school," Ebanks said. "I was primarily a scorer."

Ebanks is now a shadow of his old offensive self, averaging 12 points. But that's exactly what Ebanks wanted when he came to West Virginia to play under coach Bob Huggins.

"I wanted to come here to learn how to play defense," Ebanks said. "I think I've done a good job at that."

Ebanks had originally committed to Indiana. But after Kelvin Sampson was let go by the Hoosiers, the 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward signed with WVU. Ebanks knew about the NBA players Huggins had coached — players such as Kenyon Martin and Joe Alexander, among others.

And while he came to WVU determined to improve his defense, he has maintained his quickness despite gaining 30 pounds since his high school days.

"It wasn't tough to change because it was something I wanted to do," said Ebanks, a sophomore from Long Island City, N.Y. "[The coaches] told me it's about effort. I didn't really put out the effort on defense in high school. Now I try all the time."

Huggins said it's been Ebanks' ability to study film that has been the biggest key to defensive improvement.

"Dev does a great job of paying attention," Huggins said. "He really studies his guy and what they run for him."

Because of that, Ebanks has become the team's go-to defender. He leads the team in rebounds (8.2) and steals (1.1) and has seven double-doubles this season and 16 for his career.

Ebanks, who has defended first-team All-Americans Scottie Reynolds of Villanova and John Wall of Kentucky this season, is usually given the task of shutting down an opponents' best guard. The matchup usually boils down to Ebanks' size and tenacity against a guard's speed and quickness.

"You definitely have to defend them differently," Ebanks said of the guards he has to stop. "It's kind of hard for me to guard a shorter guy, so I have to use my length. Somebody my size can usually stay in front of them pretty well."

WVU forward Cam Thoroughman said Ebanks has surprised him.

"I didn't think he would be our defensive stopper when he came in," Thoroughman said. "He's learned how to play defense as Coach Huggins has developed him. Now he's one of the best defensive players in the country."

Despite all of that defensive improvement, Ebanks keeps a little of that scorer's mentality he had in high school.

"I'm very confident in my scoring," Ebanks said. "Anytime I get the ball, I can be a scoring threat."

WVU fans give Mountaineers loving sendoff

The Mountaineers have got to be feeling the love.

Thousands of screaming fans packed into one side of the West Virginia University Coliseum on Wednesday to send basketball coach Bob Huggins and his players to the Final Four.

Senior Wellington Smith said he was amazed by and grateful for the turnout, while D'Sean Butler thanked the community for being genuine, kind and supportive throughout his time in Morgantown.

Huggins says the Mountaineers are happy to represent what he calls "the greatest people in the world."

West Virginia hasn't been to the Final Four since 1959. The Mountaineers face Duke on Saturday in Indianapolis.

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