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Devin Ebanks was 13 when his mother, Yvonne Jackson, brought him from their Long Island City, N.Y., housing project to Rikers Island, the infamous New York City jail. As a veteran corrections officer there, she was allowed one guest for the facility's annual family-day festivities and decided to expose her son to the inmates and their bleak living conditions. "I didn't want to return," he says. "It looked real tough on the inside."
By his senior year at St. Thomas More School in Oakdale, Conn., Ebanks had become a top prospect prized for his silky midrange game. But the 6'9" wing—who originally signed with Indiana but changed his mind after Kelvin Sampson's ouster—developed into one of the Big East's top rebounders last season, when he led the Mountaineers with 7.8 boards per game and was named to the conference's all-rookie team. "I think people misinterpreted skillful for soft," says Mountaineers assistant Larry Stewart. Adds coach Bob Hug-gins, "Most guys get a hand on a ball and knock it away. Devin's able to tap it back to himself in order to get a hold of the ball."
Ebanks's versatility made him a good fit in Huggins's fast-paced system, but he was more than just another long-armed interchangeable part. He keyed the pressure on defense while playing atop the 1-3-1 zone, frustrating opposing backcourts with his considerable wingspan. "The court just seems smaller against [him]," says Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.
In Ebanks and 6'7" senior Da'Sean Butler, West Virginia has one of the nation's top forward tandems. While Ebanks struggled from three-point range last season—shooting 12.5%—Butler picked up the slack. In a win over Villanova last February, Butler had 43 points, including six threes, while Ebanks grabbed 10 boards and scored 16 points. "We mirror each other," Butler says. "I make my reads off him."
If they keep it up, their story could be a must-read this season.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Bob Huggins (3rd season)