On 950 KJR with afternoon host and WSU alumnus Ian Furness, Bone said he feels a top-five finish for the Cougars in the Pac-10 is realistic. He said he felt Washington, even with the graduation of leading scorer Quincy Pondexter (19.3 points per game), is the favorite. The Huskies return experience with junior guard Isaiah Thomas (16.9 ppg) and seniors Matthew Bryan-Amaning (forward) and Venoy Overton (guard).
But Bone feels the conference is fairly open after that.
Oregon, which lost several significant players to graduation and transfer, appears to be the consensus last-place team. But Bone said California, which graduated its top four scorers after winning the conference, remains a factor. He cited coach Mike Montgomery, who built a perennial Pac-10 contender during his previous stint at Stanford, as the reason for that.
ONE OF THE more interesting exchanges on the day came in a Seattle Times chat with Bone:
[Comment From Henry in Cle Elum]
Coach Bone, could you explain the niche you are after, like Dick Bennett with defense and Craig Robinson with the Princeton system. What is your calling card?
We would love to become an uptempo team that's looking to shoot the three-point shot, preferably with our best shooters.
[Comment From Doug S]
Your uptempo idea kinda runs counter to the Bennetts, who said you can't recruit the same caliber of uptempo players as Arizona and others. Do you think you can go toe to toe with UCLA and the rest for those uptempo players?
We'll find out.
BONE SAID THE most significant factor in determining how the Pac-10 race shakes out will be which teams finish games. That was a concept the Cougars struggled with last year as they finished last in the conference with a 6-12 record and were 16-15 overall. In conference play, WSU was just 2-7 on the road. And the Cougars led at halftime in three away games -- Washington, Stanford and California -- that they ended up losing.
“I felt like overall we competed well,” Bone said on KJR. “I think with some maturity and experience, we’ll be better in those last few minutes.”
Junior wing Klay Thompson, who averaged a team-high 19.6 points per game, returns. But Thompson shot 41.2 percent from the field and converted just 35.7 percent of his shots in conference play.
“He’s a perfectionist,” Bone said on KJR. “It really bothers him when he’s not playing up to his standards. It’s hard for him when he misses two or three shots.”
PRACTICE DOES NOT begin until Oct. 15, but he noted that team chemistry is better than a year ago. He said sophomore point guard Reggie Moore told him the same.
“They all stuck around, went to summer school and lifted weights,” Bone said on KJR.
Moore, who averaged 12.7 points per game, had somewhat of an uneven freshman season as WSU won just two of its final 13 conference games. Bone said he accepts responsibility for that as he asked Moore to take more shots with Thompson and others struggling.
“We had a 10-minute scrimmage the first day we could go out,” he said, referring to an NCAA-allowed September workout. “Reggie took two shots and hit the game winner. Last year he would have fired that thing up left and right. Now he’s more of a catalyst.”
Sophomore Xavier Thames transferred to San Diego State during the offseason and Bone said freshman Andre Winston will backup Moore. Winston helped guide Lakes High School to a third-place finish in the Class 3A tournament last winter. He set tournament records for points (119) and field goals made (45) in four games. That helped him earn Most Valuable Player honors.
“We think Andre has a chance to be a really good player,” Bone said on KJR. “There’s times those two could play together.”
THE FRONT COURT, particularly center, could be a bit more problematic. While Moore, Thompson and junior Marcus Capers all have starting experience at the guard and wing positions, WSU lacks size in the post. In a Seattle Times chat, Bone listed 6-foot-7, 208-pound junior Abe Lodwick and sophomore Brock Motum (6-10, 230) as co-leaders for the starting job at power forward. Despite his added size, Motum was not known for his physicality last season.
“Brock isn’t a big, powerful post player,” Bone said on KJR. “He can step away from the basket and do some good things.”
DeAngelo Casto (6-8, 255) returns as the starting center. The junior, who averaged 10.7 points and seven rebounds per game last season, has not practiced recently because of pain in his surgically repaired right knee. Bone said he expects Casto to be healthy soon, but seemed more concerned about him becoming too big.
“He’s a lot bigger and stronger,” said Bone, who prefers to run an uptempo offense. “We just don’t want him to have too much weight. We need his quickness.”
Bone said sophomore Steven Bjornstad (6-11, 240) showed a lot of progression last season, but knee problems have meant that “he’s been on the basketball court four or five times since then.”
He said, however, that he believes that Bjornstad will be able to begin practicing in a few weeks. Junior Charlie Enquist (6-10, 235) also returns and could see time behind Casto.
“Anytime a young man gets an opportunity to play two or three years, he should improve,” said Bone, referring to Enquist.
Looking ahead toward the season, Bone cited the Nov. 23 game at KeyArena against Portland. Unlike former coaches Dick and Tony Bennett, Bone said since he was hired that recruiting in the Puget Sound region is a priority.
“Seattle is the area that I know the best since I’ve coached in this area for over 20 years,” Bone said in a Seattle Times chat. “I have a lot of confidence in the high-school coaches and their ability to teach the game, and their honesty within the recruiting process. We will continue to recruit the Northwest as hard as we can, knowing that it’s extremely competitive.”
Bone said Thompson shares some similarities with former UW standout Brandon Roy. But he also noted that Roy benefited from playing with future NBA contributors Bobby Jones and Nate Robinson.
Bone dispelled any notion that Moore is unhappy in Pullman. He said that Moore now is roommates with Michael Ladd, who transferred during the offseason from Fresno State. The two played together at Rainier Beach High School.
“He’s got a good situation and he knows it,” Bone said on KJR.
In a Seattle Times chat, Bone was asked about freshman Dexter Kernich-Drew (6-6, 180), who is the Cougars’ latest signing from Australia.
“Love Dexter,” Bone said. “He came to school a month early just to get acclimated and to begin working out. I believe Dexter will be a very good player in the years to come, but he does need to add strength.”
Bone also was asked in a Seattle Times chat if he expects to use more zone defenses this season. He said he does, but the man-to-man defense will continue to be his favored system.
“I believe the man-to-man principals are played whether you are in man or zone, so therefore we always work on man defense from day one to the end of the season,” he said.