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West Virginia <a href=Mountaineers" title="West Virginia Mountaineers"/>
Though his game is full of finesse, Devin Ebanks can lay down the law on defense and the boards.
Though his game is full of finesse, Devin Ebanks can lay down the law on defense and the boards.
Porter Binks/SI
Key Game
Bob Huggins's squad doesn't wilt against pressure defenses, but Villanova's guards will challenge the Mountaineers with the most physical perimeter play they'll see all year. Devin Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler must use their height and length to open passing lanes.
Fast Facts
COACH: Bob Huggins (3rd season)
2008-09 RECORD: 23-12
Big East RECORD: 10-8 (T-7th)
NCAA TOURNAMENT: First round
Starting Lineup
POS.PLAYER   HT   CLASSKEY STATS
PGDarryl Bryant*6' 2"Soph.9.8 ppg2.7 apg
SGCasey Mitchell**6' 4"Jr.20.0 ppg5.2 rpg
SFDa'Sean Butler*6' 7"Sr. 17.1 ppg5.9 rpgCELL5
PFDevin Ebanks*6' 9"Soph.10.5 ppg7.8 rpg
CWellington Smith*6' 7"Sr.5.2 ppg3.8 rpg
Key Reserve
G Joe Mazzulla6' 2"Jr.5.6 ppg3.7 apg
*Returning starter

This article appears in the November 23, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated

Devin Ebanks was 13 when his mother, Yvonne Jackson, brought him from their Long Island City, N.Y., housing project to Rikers Island, the infamous New York City jail. As a veteran corrections officer there, she was allowed one guest for the facility's annual family-day festivities and decided to expose her son to the inmates and their bleak living conditions. "I didn't want to return," he says. "It looked real tough on the inside."

By his senior year at St. Thomas More School in Oakdale, Conn., Ebanks had become a top prospect prized for his silky midrange game. But the 6' 9" wing -- who originally signed with Indiana but changed his mind after Kelvin Sampson's ouster -- developed into one of the Big East's top rebounders last season, when he led the Mountaineers with 7.8 boards per game and was named to the conference's all-rookie team. "I think people misinterpreted skillful for soft," says Mountaineers assistant Larry Stewart. Adds coach Bob Huggins, "Most guys get a hand on a ball and knock it away. Devin's able to tap it back to himself in order to get a hold of the ball."

Ebanks's versatility made him a good fit in Huggins's fast-paced system, but he was more than just another long-armed interchangeable part. He keyed the pressure on defense while playing atop the 1-3-1 zone, frustrating opposing backcourts with his considerable wingspan. "The court just seems smaller against [him]," says Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.

In Ebanks and 6' 7" senior Da'Sean Butler, West Virginia has one of the nation's top forward tandems. While Ebanks struggled from three-point range last season -- shooting 12.5% -- Butler picked up the slack. In a win over Villanova last February, Butler had 43 points, including six threes, while Ebanks grabbed 10 boards and scored 16 points. "We mirror each other," Butler says. "I make my reads off him."

If they keep it up, their story could be a must-read this season.
-- Kevin Armstrong

Issue date: November 23, 2009

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