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Mazzulla makes most of second chance

| Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Last year at this time, Joe Mazzulla was sitting on the end of West Virginia's bench with his arm in a sling.

After injuring the growth plate in his shoulder during a game in 2008, Mazzulla was forced to undergo surgery and miss the remainder of the season, including the NCAA Tournament game against Dayton -- a WVU loss.

Following that loss, Mazzulla got in trouble with the law and was suspended from the team over the summer.

That's when Mazzulla grew up.

"I truly believe that I wouldn't be the same person I am today if it wasn't for that time in my life," Mazzulla said. "You learn from your mistakes and you grow from them, and I think the people around me have done a good job at helping me do that."

Now, he's a key component of the Sweet Sixteen-bound Mountaineers.

But it wasn't a certainty Mazzulla would be able to come back and be effective. His injury was expected to hamper him for the rest of his life. It was also his second run-in with the law in two years.

"I realized I couldn't be out there with the team and stuff and I started to wonder what I really was going to do for the rest of my life. I think I did it to myself and I kind of shunned everyone out," Mazzulla said. "But once I asked for help, I think it became easier."

Mazzulla said WVU coach Bob Huggins gave the point guard a second chance. Mazzulla worked on developing a more mature attitude and rehabbing his ailing shoulder.

"He's a great kid. I think anybody who has been around Joe would tell you that. He's a wonderful kid," Huggins said. "We all make mistakes. ... It's not whether you make a mistake, it's how you deal with it."

While Mazzulla was able to put on a jersey once again for the Mountaineers, he was just a shadow of his old self earlier this season. He had trouble raising his left arm -- his shooting arm -- over his head, which limited him offensively.

In fact, Mazzulla forced himself to learn how to shoot as a righty in the offseason. He would get tentative when he would agitate the shoulder with excessive contact but said he has learned to play through it.

"He's played with one arm the majority of the year," WVU senior forward Da'Sean Butler said. "He hasn't complained about it or cried or anything. He just got on the court, played as hard as he could and did what he can do."

Now, the pain is starting to go away.

"It's at 100 percent for the most part," Mazzulla said.

With a healthy shoulder, his production is beginning to improve.

Through the Big East Tournament semifinals and the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Mazzulla is averaging 25 minutes, 5.5 points, 3.75 assists and a little more than one turnover per game.

"He's just been stepping up for us at a good time," WVU forward Devin Ebanks said. "He's been more vocal on the court and more into the game. You can definitely tell and sense it from him. That's what we need from him."

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