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WVU basketball: Devin Williams, goggles a deceiving pair

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Devin Williams is quite aware of the impression he gives opponents when they prepare to share the floor with him.

They look past the 6-foot-9 body holding 255 pounds.

"Genetics," Coach Bob Huggins said. "He's got a great body and big, wide shoulders."

And if the other team happens to catch the freshman forward in warm-ups, it probably isn't watching the surprisingly soft jump shots or the able dribbling to the basket.

"For a big guy," point guard Juwan Staten said, "he can put the ball on the floor and he's really got a nice little touch on his shots."

No one really notices that about Williams, either, because more often than not, everyone's eyes are on his eyes. Williams is severely nearsighted and wears goggles that seem to contradict his skill.

That's fine with Williams. That's part of the plan.

"I get that a lot," Williams said. "Because I'm wearing goggles and I'm a big guy and I'm strong, the goggles make me look goofy. But at the same time, I'm out there to play. I've got the same goals as everyone, so it's cool."

It doesn't take long for people to realize the goggles don't match his game.

"I can see that being effective probably for the first four games until teams start scouting and watching tape and see he's really going to rebound and make plays," Staten said.

Williams has been wearing goggles since seventh grade. He tried contact lenses, but they didn't work, and because of comfort and practicality, he won't go back.

"Being a big man, I'm going to be down there scrapping in the paint, and I lost like two pairs in there," he said. "That wasn't for me."

Williams, who has just one pair of goggles and hopes he never has to consider a backup during a game, came to WVU as an extremely accomplished prep player. He was ranked by Rivals.com as the 11th-best center in his recruiting class and as a top-100 player by ESPN, Rivals.com and Scout.com. He started his high school career at Withrow High in Cincinnati, where WVU started recruiting him as a freshman. He finished at Florida's Montverde Academy, which won the 2013 National High School Invitational Championship and was generally ranked as the nation's best prep team.

In his college debut last week, Williams played 27 minutes, snatched 14 rebounds and scored four points in an exhibition victory against Fairmont State. When the Mountaineers opened the season Friday with a 77-62 victory against Mount St. Mary's, he hit early foul trouble and finished with four points and one rebound.

"If you told me he had one rebound, I'd probably say that's a lie," said Staten, who's known Williams for years because Staten is from Dayton and started his college career at the University of Dayton. "I know he going to get more than one rebound, regardless of if he's hurt or not."

Williams nevertheless showed things opponents will note, beginning with Tuesday's opponent. The Mountaineers (1-0) play Virginia Tech (0-1) at 1 p.m. at Cassell Coliseum. The game will be televised by ESPN. Williams made a jump shot early in the first half and early in the second. In the second half, he was given the ball at the top of the key and watched his teammates clear out so he could shoot or drive. Williams decided to drive and was fouled shooting a layup.

"I'm pretty good at facing the basket," he said.

Williams isn't short on confidence, either. He said of his low-post skill last week that "there's nobody in the country that can guard me one-on-one down there." When he was asked about how he played, and specifically how he rebounded, against Fairmont State, he seriously took issue with the box score.

"They said I had 14," he said, "but I counted 15."

In so many ways, he is what the Mountaineers need. Center Aaric Murray was the team's leading rebounder last season, and though he was 6-10, he averaged only 5.9 per game. Deniz Kilicli, the 6-9 forward who played more than anyone else in the frontcourt, averaged 4.3. Kevin Noreen played 186 fewer minutes than Kilicli last season, but had four fewer rebounds.

Noreen is a reliable rebounder, but Williams has a better offensive game.

"He gives us a lot that we really haven't had before," Staten said. "Not only does he rebound like no player I've ever played with, but he brings a toughness to the game. He just knows a lot about the game."

Williams was both limited and frustrated against Mount St. Mary's, hoping to build on his debut, but having to deal with the whistles and a pair of big defenders. Mount St. Mary's had a one low post player who was 6-10 and another who was 7-0.   

The Hokies, who lost their opener Saturday to the University of South Carolina Upstate, follow 6-7 forward Jarrell Eddie, who had 18 points and seven rebounds. The Hokies and USC Upstate both had 39 rebounds, though Virginia Tech counted eight dead ball rebounds. WVU was outrebounded 30-28 in its opener.

"I think it was just my mind," Williams said. "I could blame it on the refs, but at the same time, it comes back to me. I don't think I was aggressive going to the basket (for rebounds). There were a lot of things that played a part. In the first half, I only played about (seven) minutes and I think that took me out of my rhythm. I've got to find a way, someway, somehow, to get back in my rhythm because there are going to be games I might get in foul trouble.

"I hope I don't, but if I do I've got to find another way. I've just got to find a way to play because if I stay out of foul trouble, I'm going to continue to play and keep my sweat going and then I can be more beneficial."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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