Jan. 21, 2005
By Russell Houghtaling
A coach's first recruiting class is often a ray of light in what is often a toilsome sophomore season.
For Washington State Head Men's Basketball Coach Dick Bennett the ray of light has been white hot and bright as the sun. Each of Bennett's six freshmen has played above expectations.
"These are not McDonald's All-Americans," Bennett said. "They're guys we thought would help us, that perhaps had been overlooked by other schools."
While they may not be the most highly regarded recruits in the country, the contribution of the 2004-05 freshmen shows in the numbers. Last season's freshman class scored three percent of the team's points, and recovered two percent of its rebounds.
By sharp contrast, the 2005 group scores 40 percent of the team's points, and gathers 29 percent of its boards.
In addition, this year marks the first time in the 104-year history of Cougar basketball Washington State started three true freshmen in a game. This season, the Cougars have done it five times.
Low has started the point guard spot for the Cougars in the last nine games, and plays an important part for Washington State.
"My role is to be the best leader I can be and make my teammates better," Low said.
The Honolulu native is averaging more than a steal per game and shoulders 28 minutes per game as the only true point guard on the team. Low can score as well. He has put up 10 points four times this season, in wins over Portland, Stanford and USC, and in a close loss to Oregon.
Flanking Low is Weaver, a starting guard who is tied for second on the team in assists. He scored a season/career-high 12 points in a victory against Oregon State, and is third on the team in scoring and rebounding. A versatile player, the Beloit, Wis., native can play inside and on the perimeter, and has started six games for the Cougars.
"Kyle Weaver played himself into that other starting guard spot," Bennett said.
Center Cowgill is another freshman starter for Bennett. The Austin native brings a level of interior defense the Cougars greatly missed last season. Cowgill leads the team and is tied for eighth in the Pacific-10 in blocked shots (as of Jan. 21), averaging 1.0 per game.
"That's definitely one of the reasons coach has me in there," Cowgill said of his shot-blocking ability.
Sharpshooter Josh Akognon rounds out the major freshmen contributors, and provides an offensive spark of the bench. He sits second on the team in 3-pointers made with 18.
"The coaches always tell me my job is to come and get us into the game," said Akognon, who's played in all 15 games this season.
Two freshmen big men come off the bench and provide quality minutes for Bennett.
Center Daven Harmeling scores 2.5 points per game in 10.8 minutes of action, and has played in 13 games this season. Despite playing different positions, Harmeling considers his role similar to that of Akognon.
"I come off the bench and hopefully give a lift offensively, and hold my own on the defensive end," Harmeling said.
Big man Chris Henry missed the first eight games of the season with injury, but has played in the seven games since, including a start in his first game against BYU, Dec. 11. Since coming back from the injury, Henry has found it difficult to find an exact role with the team.
"Coming back from the injury, it's tough to get in there," Henry said. "But I'm a team player. I will do whatever I can do to help, whatever I can do to win."
The newcomers have already broken into many of Washington State's freshman top-10 records. Most notably, Cowgill's 15 blocks is already tied for fourth in blocked shots in a season. Akognon is currently 10th in 3-pointers made. Weaver (seventh) and Cowgill (eighth) both hold top-10 spots in rebounds per game, with 3.5 and 3.3, respectively. All this comes only halfway through the season.
Bennett's first full recruiting class has proven to be potent. However, the Cougar mentor is cautious about his freshmen sustaining the pace they have set for themselves.
"You just can't be sure if they're always going to be able to bring that same attitude, that needed intensity," he said.
If they keep the high level of intensity Bennett mentioned, the team will have a much better chance of reaching the goal expressed by the freshmen.
"I hope I, along with all the other freshmen, can bring Washington State to the top of the Pac-10," Harmeling said.