Return of Ebanks is key for Mountaineers

November, 21, 2009
11/21/09
1:16
AM ET
Devin Ebanks' unexplained leave of absence for personal reasons is serious enough that West Virginia coach Bob Huggins won't even drop a hint at what his star sophomore player is going through, when he'll return or what the long-term effects are on the team.

Huggins has to be trusted on this one. He sounds genuine that the issue with Ebanks isn't for public consumption. Not everything is when it comes to deeply personal issues. And if his absence falls under that category, then he must be left alone.

Huggins said Friday afternoon he had no idea when Ebanks would be back. He wouldn't commit to Tuesday's game against The Citadel in Charleston, W.Va. He wouldn't say whether Ebanks would be with the Mountaineers in Anaheim, Calif., next week for the 76 Classic. He wouldn't confirm or deny that Ebanks was in Morgantown or back home in Long Island, N.Y.

The 6-9 Ebanks was one of the two main reasons for West Virginia being picked in the top two in the Big East. (The other was senior forward Da'Sean Butler.) Ebanks is coveted by NBA personnel as a possible first-round pick and would have had plenty of interest had he declared in June.

The Mountaineers have played only one game, a 23-point win over Loyola (Md). Butler scored 26 points, making 11 of 17 shots. Forward Kevin Jones scored 14. Huggins said forward Wellington Smith will certainly help as well. So, too, would John Flowers, who has been hampered by an ankle injury.

Point guard Darryl Bryant scored 15 in the first win and dished out five assists. But it's not the same team without Ebanks, not even close.

Apparently, this will be the norm for the Mountaineers this season. Joe Mazzulla has had to deal with rehab from his shoulder injury. Turkish center Deniz Kilicli was suspended for the first 20 games of the season because of amateurism issues. He'll be eligible to play for the Mountaineers on Feb. 3 against Pitt. Kilicli can't redshirt because the suspension has to be served before he can play. So if he were to sit he would then have to sit 20 next season. So he'll play and Huggins said he'll help quite a bit for those final 10 regular season games and into the postseason.

But how far the Mountaineers go will ultimately depend on Ebanks' availability. He averaged 10.5 points and 7.8 rebounds a game as a freshman. The 6-9 forward would likely do even more if he were playing right now.

But again, why Ebanks is out has to be treated with respect at this juncture. Huggins seems sincere that this is no joke. If that's the case, then Ebanks deserves space to figure out whatever is going on with him. If he can clear up his issues and return, then and only then, will we see the ultimate potential of West Virginia in the Big East and in the NCAA tournament.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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