TAMPA, Fla. - Joe Mazzulla is already starting to sound like the coach he hopes to be one day now that his playing days are behind him.
Take Saturday afternoon, for instance. His career had come to an abrupt end with a 71-63 loss to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. He didn't have the best game of his 145-game West Virginia career (second only to Da'Sean Butler's 146), although he did score a career-high 20 points.
But Mazzulla managed to take it all in stride.
"It's tough, especially when you hear that final buzzer and you know it's over,'' he said. "But we had a great run, and it's easier to get over [the end] when you know you gave your all.''
Therein rests probably what this edition of the Mountaineers should be remembered for - giving it their all.
Let's face it, when the final buzzer sounded a year ago it was in Indianapolis at the school's first Final Four appearance in 51 years. That night, after a loss to eventual national champion Duke, Butler, Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith said goodbye to college basketball.
That a team that lost those three and added absolutely no one still managed to not only make it back to the tournament but also win a game and compete well for a chance to go to the Sweet 16 is rather remarkable.
Sure, there was hope at the beginning of the season. You could look at this team and, perhaps with a bit of cockeyed optimism, think that it could be pretty good. Maybe it would be a dominant inside team with Deniz Kilicli and Dan Jennings. It might have better ball handling with Mazzulla and Truck Bryant both healthy and playing together. Perhaps the shooting would be better if Casey Mitchell came through. Kevin Jones had already proven his worth.
Almost none of that panned out, though.
Jennings was a no-show after midseason and Kilicli had only a few good games. The ball handling was better, but neither Bryant nor Mazzulla could shoot the ball for most of the season. Mitchell began the season looking like Pete Maravich and then became a role player who was suspended for three games. Jones, without Butler and Ebanks and Smith beside him, wasn't what he was a year earlier.
Yet still this team got as far as perhaps anyone could have imagined, and even further than many thought.