Oct. 15, 2009
Washington State first-year head coach Ken Bone inherits a team coming off an appearance in the National Invitation Tournament, its third-consecutive trip to the postseason. Only one player on the roster, senior Nikola Koprivica, played in more than one tournament, though, as the 2009-10 Cougars feature seven sophomores and eight freshmen.
"It's going to take time to work together and instill our philosophy," Bone said. "But we are a very young team that I see progressing throughout the year."
The rate of that progression may rely heavily on the play of the three sophomores returning with the most experience.
"Klay Thompson was one of the better players in the conference last year. DeAngelo Casto has proven that he's a very good player. Marcus Capers had quality minutes last year, along with a few of the other guys."
Those guys will have to step into the leadership role on and off the court this season. "The fact of the matter is, they are, in a sense, the upperclassmen compared to the freshmen," Bone said. "There are no juniors and there's only one senior, so they need to provide leadership."
The young group of Cougars will be tested early with a difficult preseason schedule.
"Going back to play Kansas State, playing LSU, Gonzaga, those are three high-caliber teams," Bone said. "Along with some other teams that are pretty good, like Portland State."
Of course, the Pacific-10 Conference schedule will provide a challenge of its own as the 2009 Cougars try to improve on last year's 8-10 league record good for seventh place.
COUGARS GO GLOBAL
It has become common for WSU players to appear on the global basketball scene, but 2009 was a banner year for international excellence and recognition.
Former Cougs Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver started the trend with their selections to the 2007 USA Pan American Team. The same summer Aron Baynes led the Australian team at the World University Games to a third place finish, fellow former Cougar Thomas Abercrombie represented New Zealand in the same tournament.
The next year Nikola Koprivica captained the U20 Serbian National Team to a gold medal at the 2008 European Championships.
This past summer, four Cougars competed for their countries, with three bringing home gold medals.
Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto teamed up for the U.S. at the FIBA U19 World Championship in Auckland, New Zealand. The Cougar duo led the USA to the gold in dominating fashion. Thompson started five of the nine games and averaged 7.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and two assists per game. Casto played in four games before injuring his knee. In that time he averaged 6.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and nearly a block per game.
Incoming freshman Brock Motum, a seasoned international player, represented his native Australia at the same tournament. Motum averaged a team-best 13.6 points on his way to helping Australia earn a fourth-place finish. Motum also led all players at the tournament shooting 60 percent from the floor.
"The international experience is so valuable," Bone said. "Klay, DeAngelo and Brock Motum getting an opportunity to play in the U19 World Games, getting a chance to play against the best players in the world at their age, is a great opportunity for them and very, very good experience."
Motum went on to join the Australia National Team, the Boomers, with former Cougar Aron Baynes following the U19 World Championship.
Koprivica teamed up with his countrymen again in 2009 at the World University Games. Once again the Serbians earned a gold medal.
"Nikola was part of the team with Serbia and played on a worldwide stage against some of the best players in the world," Bone said. "That will only help him going into this season."
The Cougars' strength this season will be their guard play. Klay Thompson returns after a sensational freshman campaign in which he was the Cougars' second-leading scorer. Also back to provide some experience is sophomore Marcus Capers who started nine games in the second half of last season, and the team's lone senior, Nikola Koprivica.
"We have a good group of guys coming back who know what it's about," Bone said. "They've been in the Pac-10, they've played ball here at Washington State, and they know what's expected of them."
This year's backcourt will try to collectively replace the heart and soul of the Cougars last season and one of the most accomplished players in school history, Taylor Rochestie. The point guard, who transferred to WSU in 2005, spent three seasons as the Cougs' court general and found the postseason each year. Rochestie posted an incredible senior season with a handful of memorable games willing the Cougars to victory. He left WSU in the career top 10 for 3-pointers made (10th - 132), 3-point field goal percentage (fifth - .401), assists (sixth - 381) and free throw percentage (first - .835).
Without Rochestie's nearly 37 minutes per game at the point, the ball-handling duties will fall on Capers, sophomore Michael Harthun and a crop of new freshman. Xavier Thames (Sacramento, Calif.) and Reggie Moore (Seattle, Wash.) will share some of the point guard load. Also in the group of first year players is Spokane native Anthony Brown. A big, athletic guard, Brown will mostly play off the ball.
"There is a fine group of freshmen coming in that have not proven it at this level yet, but are obviously very good basketball players. We have a good nucleus and I have high expectations of what they are going to be able to produce on the court."
Baynes used a big senior season to not only become the 30th player in Cougar history to amass 1,000 points, but also found a place on the career lists for field goal percentage (eight - .546), blocks (eight - 93) and rebounds (11th - 653).
The Cougars are hoping Forrest left some of his grit and determination behind, and that Harmeling's natural leadership abilities wore off on the returning players. Bone is confident his players are up to the challenge, especially DeAngelo Casto.
"It starts with DeAngelo," Bone said. "He was productive in limited minutes last year and he's a big, strong, hard-working, athletic kid who has the ability to be a very good basketball player."
The sophomore returns after playing nearly 16 minutes per game in his first year of college basketball. That experience, coupled with a gold medal at this summer's U19 World Championship as part of the USA team, makes him a veteran on this team.
"There are a lot of guys around him that really have not proven themselves, especially at this level," Bone said. "Charlie Enquist has been here for two years but has not played a lot of minutes. James Watson redshirted last year and is sort of an unknown commodity. Steven Bjornstad has only played high school basketball."
That is not to say Bone is overlooking any of their abilities. He has high hopes for the redshirt sophomore Enquist. "I think Charlie could surprise some people this year," he said.
Bone is pointing to another redshirt sophomore to contribute in the frontcourt, Abe Lodwick. A 6-foot-7 guard, Lodwick has the size to gain some minutes inside.
"I think Abe Lodwick can play some at the four this year," Bone said. "Even though Abe did not play major minutes last year, I think he's an intelligent player who can step in and help us at that spot."
With no juniors or seniors in the mix, the young guys will have an opportunity to earn minutes. Bone expects freshman Brock Motum to be one of them.
"Even though Brock Motum is coming in as a freshman, he's an older freshman and has had a lot of experience internationally," Bone said. "So, even though he's a first-year player, he's played against Pac-10 level players before and I'm hoping he can step in and help us right away."
HOME COURT ADVANTAGE
To go along with the young team on the floor, Bone is excited to experience the youthful exuberance that Beasley Coliseum's large student section provides.
"I've heard nothing but great things," Bone said. "Not only do a lot of people come out to support the team, but a large percentage of those fans are students. There's nothing like getting a lot of students in that place being loud and obnoxious and having a good time."
Having spent three years as an assistant at Washington, Bone is happy to be on the WSU bench this time around.
"It's fun, it's exciting and that's what college basketball is all about," Bone said. "But at times it can be a little bit intimidating, and that's what we want to be able to do. We want to have a great crowd here and have everybody fired up to support the team."
The Cougars' home court advantage will extend beyond Pullman this year on a number of occasions. The annual Cougar Hardwood Classic in Seattle features WSU taking on LSU (Dec. 22), but the Cougs will host two more `home' games in the state outside of Pullman. WSU will meet Air Force Dec. 12 in Spokane, and the Cougars and Portland State will meet halfway, Dec. 19, in the Tri-Cities.
"I like our preseason schedule, in that we never really travel that far away," Bone said. "We stay pretty much local, even the games outside of Pullman and that's nice. Even though they are outside of Pullman, they are in an area where we have Cougar fans."