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Cottrell Is Healthy For WVU

West Virginia forward Isaiah Cottrell (13) floats the ball to the hoop over a Western Kentucky defender during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in SIoux Falls, S.D. (AP Photo/Josh Jurgens)

MORGANTOWN — Roughly nine months ago, Isaiah Cottrell’s season came to an abrupt and painful end.

The 6-foot-10 forward tore his Achilles tendon on Dec. 29, ending his freshman season before it ever really began. He averaged about five and a half minutes per game in a reserve role, scoring fewer than two points per game.

Cottrell was set to be sidelined for eight to 12 months as he rehabbed his injury. For two hours a day, five to six days a week, he worked, ultimately returning to action this summer a month ahead of schedule.

“It was definitely tough,” Cottrell said. “I couldn’t do regular things like run and walk and things like that for the first three months, four months. It was really tedious. A lot of little things I had to work on, like getting my calf strength back and things like that. It was definitely tough, but I made it happen.”

Head coach Bob Huggins didn’t expect Cottrell to be a full 100% but, since returning to the court, he has exceeded expectations.

“I was really surprised this summer,” Huggins said. “I thought he would be real ginger with it, but he was out there running up and down, playing, running and jumping. He hasn’t shown any sign of favoring the other leg or whatever. He’s been, from the beginning, ready to go.”

Derek Culver’s departure opened a spot in West Virginia’s front court, and Cottrell, who was a consensus four-star prospect in the class of 2020, is seen as the frontrunner for the spot. If he earns the role, he would add a unique wrinkle to the Mountaineers’ starting five.

While most big men are viewed as liabilities from long range, Cottrell is not. His ability to knock down shots from the perimeter is unorthodox for somebody of his size, and it complements the stereotypical skills he possesses that allows big men to dominate under the basket.

“I was always good inside,” Cottrell said. “I think just the way I naturally play is more outside or finding the open space and trying to make plays from there. I can pretty much do anything on the floor, any spot that I’m at. I’ve definitely been trying to get a lot better in the post, just strength-wise and making big plays down there.”

Cottrell’s ability to be a threat at any spot on the court allows Huggins the opportunity to employ a five out strategy on offense. With the strategy, the team would position its entire five-man unit behind the three-point line, allowing the offense to increase floor spacing.

With an entire lineup of versatile playmakers, scoring opportunities would be, in theory, endless.

“If we can get people spread, it would be easy,” Huggins said. “You gotta be able to spread them, but I think we can. I think they’re gonna have to guard all those guys. We had guys before (that) [opponents] didn’t have to guard, so they could kind of leave somebody in the lane and protect the basket. I don’t know that they’ll be able to do that now.”

Cottrell hit the floor for the first time in “game” action on Friday, when the Mountaineers held their annual Gold-Blue Debut intrasquad scrimmage.

“I think I was starting to come along really well towards when I got hurt,” Cottrell said. “I don’t think a lot of people got to see as much as I could’ve shown, due to playing time and just trying to get used to college basketball. I’m definitely excited for this year to show what I can do.”

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