West Virginia Rides a Guard in Full Revival

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Joe Mazzulla spent a difficult year recovering from a rare shoulder injury.

Joe Mazzulla introduced himself to the college basketball world in the N.C.A.A. tournament two years ago when he slapped his palms against the court to mock the Duke tradition after West Virginia upset the Blue Devils.

“It was just a great opportunity,” Mazzulla said Friday in a telephone interview. “That’s what the month of March and the N.C.A.A. tournament is about — it gives student athletes an opportunity to fulfill a dream.”

The second-seeded Mountaineers and Mazzulla, who is seeing more time since point guard Truck Bryant broke his foot, can fulfill their dream Saturday night by upsetting No. 1 Kentucky and advancing to their first Final Four since the Jerry West-led squad of 1959.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Joe Mazzulla had 13 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists in West Virginia’s second-round upset of Duke in the 2008 N.C.A.A. tournament.

Joe’s childhood was seemingly spent on a field or a court. Joe Mazzulla said that when he was sophomore in high school, he and his father agreed that they would treat their relationship more as a business arrangement to help him as a player than a father-son relationship, with his father basically forcing him to the gym every day.

Mazzulla and a high school teammate at Bishop Hendricken in Rhode Island, the former Rhode Island star Jimmy Baron, would work out for 90 minutes at 6 a.m. four days a week. They fired up shots with the assistant coach Rob McClanaghan in a group nicknamed the Breakfast Club. Mazzulla won three state titles, the last coming on a 17-foot jumper in the waning seconds.

“I think the passion comes from nothing coming easy in our lives,” Mazzulla said. “We didn’t have the best of lifestyles, and we had to work for everything we had. I’m not the most talented guy, but I play with passion and enthusiasm.”

Mazzulla struggled without playing basketball. Dan Mazzulla said his son went through “mood swings and depression.” That bottomed out when Mazzulla was arrested last April on charges of domestic battery at a bar in Morgantown, W.Va.

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