There was plenty of excitement surrounding Isaiah Cottrell’s freshman campaign in 2020. Not only did Cottrell have high expectations for himself, but so did WVU hoops fans and pundits alike. Unfortunately, the forward barely even scratched the surface before he was sidelined for the rest of the season. Ten games into the year, Cottrell suffered a season-ending Achilles injury vs. North Texas.
“It was tough. I couldn’t do regular things like run or walk for the first three to four months. It was really tough,” Cottrell said. “A lot of little things I had to work on, like getting my calf strength back.”
For those first few months, you could see Cottrell zipping around the Coliseum or practice facility on a scooter with his foot secure in a boot. Very seldom was there not a smile on his face, but he admits it wasn’t always that way.
“The uncertainty of coming back, if I was ever going to be the same, if I was ever going to play again, things like that,” Cottrell said of the negative thoughts that went through his mind. “As rehab went on, my mind started getting better.”
He spent two hours a day five to six days a week working on his rehab. He was told the recovery process would take eight to 12 months, so he was pleasantly surprised when he completed it in seven.
According to Cottrell, his shooting and ball-handling are stronger than they were before he got injured. Even though he could physically work on them for months, he found a way, no matter his location, to put in the work any way he could. He also improved his basketball IQ by paying close attention from the sideline.
“Whether we’d be on road trips or I’d be doing my rehab, there’s a lot of times I’d be on the court just shooting. I couldn’t jump or run or do any pull-ups. I would just shoot threes standing still,” Cottrell said. “My range increased. I really worked on my touch, stationary things, work on passing. That’s how I got it right.”
There’s no denying Cottrell put in plenty of work to get back on to the court, especially quicker than his expected timeline. Once he finally received full clearance at the end of August, he wasted no time trying to pick up right where he left off.
“I was really surprised this summer. I thought he would be real ginger with it, but he was out there running up and down, playing, running and jumping,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “He hasn’t shown any sign of favoring the other leg or whatever. He’s been from the beginning ready to go.”
He showed just how ready he was on Friday night, tallying 16 points in the Gold-Blue Debut. Cottrell looked comfortable back on the court, especially from three-point range, but that’s nothing new in the eyes of Huggins.
“He’s shot the ball so well from the perimeter. He’s really shot the ball well. He shot a couple yesterday that didn’t even move the net from three,” Huggins said on Thursday. “He’s got to rebound it better and somethings, but offensively, he’s really shot it well.”
It may be just a small sample size, but Cottrell does have the benefit of college experience under his belt, which includes games and practicing to the WVU standard. The redshirt freshman forward barely scratched the surface in his limited opportunities last year, but he is confident he has plenty more to prove in an increased role in 2021-22.
“I’m definitely excited to show this year what I can do. Trying to show I am a mismatch and can play really anywhere on the floor,” Cottrell said. “I was always good inside, I think just the way I naturally play is outside or finding the open space and trying to make plays from there. I’ve been trying to get a lot better in the post strength wise and making plays down there.”
Cottrell and the Mountaineers will host Akron in a charity exhibition game on Oct. 30 before officially opening the season on Nov. 9 vs. Oakland.