West Virginia basketball is known for suffocating defense.
In recent years, the Mountaineers have utilized an aggressive press defense that sees their players guard every inch of the court. The approach has been wildly effective, as West Virginia has rode their staunch defense to back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances, but it's also exhausting.
In a recent piece for The Player's Tribune, former West Virginia guard Jevon Carter, now a rookie with the Memphis Grizzlies, revealed how the Mountaineers built the extraordinary endurance needed to play their "Press Virginia" defense.
Since Bob Huggins first became head basketball coach at WVU in 2007, he's had a treadmill on the sideline of every practice. Over the years, the number of treadmills has increased. When a player makes a mistake in practice, he immediately gets sent to one of the treadmills. We'll let Carter take it from here:
If your guy was able to dribble to the middle of the court while you were guarding him, you had to get off the court and get on the treadmill and run 18 mph for 45 seconds. Right on the side of the court. Allow an offensive rebound…you're on the treadmill. Let your guy drive past you. Treadmill. Turn the ball over. Allow an uncontested layup, miss a box out, lag getting back on D…you're running. Nobody could avoid the treadmill. And the first treadmill in any given practice…it isn't too difficult. But the thing is, as soon as your 45 seconds are up, you're right back in the action—and you're going up against fresh legs. So now you're even more likely to make a mistake. And another mistake means you're right back on the treadmill. Coach's whole philosophy was about maintaining focus, minimizing mistakes and working hard. He wanted to make sure that no matter who we were up against, we were not going to be the first ones to get tired.
Do you know how fast 18 mph is? That's a straight-up sprint. We're talking about a pace that, if sustained, would result in roughly a 3:20 mile. How did Huggins decide on that pace? It's apparently the fastest possible setting the team's treadmills have. And when you're sprinting that fast, 45 seconds is an eternity. One particularly brutal practice saw Carter perform 10 45-second treadmill sprints.
The treadmill punishment was initially born because Huggins was tired of watching some guys dog it during traditional sprints.
"I used to make 'em run. You send 'em over there with your trainers, then they don't touch the line, they have to run again, then they're (whining) and moaning to the trainer. Then you've gotta go over there and make 'em run, or they don't make their times, so they have to keep running. I found out I ended up spending more time with the guys who weren't going to play than the guys who were going to play. So the treadmill deal is really pretty easy—if you stop running, it throws you against the wall," Huggins told The Chris Vernon Show in June. "You gotta run. You can't stop in the middle and take a break on the treadmill."
For Carter, who twice won the National Association of Basketball Coaches Defensive Player of the Year award at WVU, every treadmill sprint meant something. He quickly learned to embrace the pain, because he knew it had a purpose.
"Every time I stepped on that treadmill, I told myself, Don't fear it. During those 45-second sprints, I was always thinking of the future. Every 45 seconds mattered. Every 45 seconds made me a better player. All those mistakes in practice, and all of that conditioning, is how we won a lot of games last year. It's how we came back from 18 down against Missouri. It's how we got to the Sweet 16," Carter writes.
The next time you see West Virginia outlast and out-hustle another opponent, now you'll know why.
Photo Credit: John Weast/Getty Images
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