Feb. 15, 2001
Only The Strong Survive
In basketball, strength is vital to a player's success. Washington State junior J Locklier can tell first-hand how his physical presence has assisted him against Pac-10 foes.
"I'm definitely not the most athletic or graceful player, but my strength has really allowed me to compete inside," Locklier said. "If I can get in there and think I'm stronger than somebody, then it gives me a little bit of an edge. It has helped me tremendously and allowed me to be a Division I athlete."
A 6-foot-10 center from Rock Hill, S.C., Locklier surely has an edge over his West Coast rivals. He bench-presses 410 pounds, making him one the strongest players in the history of Cougar basketball. In fact, Locklier showed off his amazing muscle power and shattered a backboard last year in practice.
"That was pretty cool," Locklier said with a grin. "I broke a rim before, but I never shattered a backboard. It kind of surprised me, but it was a really good feeling."
"I hoped that it would end practice," Locklier added. "But they made us run later."
In 1999, Locklier transferred from Miami (Ohio) after playing for the NCAA Sweet 16 qualifying Red Hawks. Due to NCAA transfer rules, Locklier had to redshirt last season. Now he is the main post presence for the Cougars and has brought some valuable experience with him.
"My role here is to display leadership," Locklier said. "I was at a program where we had some success. I need to be an inside threat for us. I need to get some points and rebounds every game."
Locklier knows what it takes to win, and the coaching staff expects him to share that knowledge with his teammates.
"Some of the guys here have never been on a winning team before," Locklier said. "They never realized how much work it's going to take to become a winning program. The guys have really turned it around and everybody is working hard now and going in the right direction."
The Cougars certainly are moving in the right direction. After a six win season last year, the Cougars already have nine victories this season and snapped a 30-game road losing streak..
"This team has an unbelievable amount of talent," Locklier said. "We're young, but we had a good weekend in late January against the Northern California schools and Texas Pan-Am. We've started to turn it all around and mature. We still lost two games, but we played well in those games, and then we won a game without playing well. That's a trademark of a good team."
The major difference Locklier has noticed this season is the players he battles against are a little bigger than those he faced in the Mid-American Conference.
"The Pac-10 is a challenge," Locklier acknowledged. "In the MAC, I would see a big guy every once in a while, but every team in the Pac-10 has a guy my size or bigger. A lot of these guys are going to the NBA or pro ball in other leagues. It's a challenge for me, but it's a challenge I welcome. I've worked since I was in grade school to play college basketball."
Locklier acknowledges what he must do for the Cougars to be competitive, and he likes his role on the WSU squad.
"I have to be on the floor," Locklier said. "With us being a little thin in the post right now, I've got to play aggressive but I have to also play a lot of minutes. I can't pick up dumb fouls and be sitting on the bench. For me it's a defensive role too. I'm not going to go out and get 20 points every night, but I can grab eight rebounds and contain their post below his average."
With the same core players coming back for next season, the Cougars have some goals in mind.
"We want to reach postseason play, either the NCAA or the NIT," Locklier said. "That holds true next year too."
Planning to graduate in May, Locklier still has educational goals after this year.
"I'll work on my master's next year in athletic administration," Locklier said. "I'd like to do some business planning for major college athletics. I'm looking at business finance or something to do with athletics at a major college. It's difficult to get your foot in the door, but we'll see."
An avid fisherman and golfer, Locklier is falling in love with Pullman, although he admits he could do without the snow.
"The thing that distinguishes Pullman is that it's really a college community," Locklier said. "The whole state really backs the Cougars. One thing I've noticed is that everyone in this town lives and dies Cougars. It's evident on football Saturday. Everything is closed, and you're either at the game or watching it on television. Cougar athletics is pretty much the only show in town. That really brings this team together and was what I really liked when I came on my visit. The team realizes people will come watch us and follow us, and we have to stick together."
With the second half of conference play on the horizon, the Cougars have an opportunity to work together and make a run at postseason play. Whatever happens this season, Washington State will have a solid team next season. With Locklier, the Cougars will have a hard worker in the key who can be both a teacher and a player.
By Mike Kreiger