This season, of course, there appears to be ample cause to question the Cougars’ prospects for basketball success. Pac-10 scoring champion Klay Thompson and two-time team rebounding leader DeAngelo Casto passed up their senior years to turn pro, and the Cougars lack proven talent, depth and experience on the front line.
Abe Lodwick and Marcus Capers, WSU’s two senior returning starters, say the Cougars will be just fine if they play as a team.
“People think because Klay and DeAngelo left that we forgot how to play basketball, and that really bothers me,” Lodwick said.
“Having been here as long as I have with the guys that are on the team, we’ve got a pretty good chemistry going. It’s the best it’s been since (third-year coach) Ken Bone has been here.”
IN LOOKING AT FOUR of the preseason magazines, Athlon, Blue Ribbon, Lindy's and Sporting News, none pick WSU to finish in the top half of the conference. Athlon tabbed WSU 11th, Lindy's and Sporting News each picked the Cougs 10th.
Capers said “it’s a slap in our face” that magazines are predicting the Cougars will finish near the bottom of the Pac-12. Capers and Lodwick predict the Cougars will make a run at the Pac-12 championship and play in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re hungry,” Capers said. “The way we eat is to win games.”
Capers and Lodwick, while stressing their admiration for the skills of Thompson and Casto, said teammates relied too heavily on the “dynamic duo” at times during a 22-13 season (9-9 Pac-10) that ended in the NIT semifinals.
“We really depended on Klay a lot,” Capers said. “Players, you know: ‘OK, I don’t have to do much. Klay is going to bail us out. He’s a scorer. Defensively, I can slack a little bit. Casto, he’s going to block a shot or two."
“That took a little bit away from the strengths of other guys on our team,” Lodwick said. “You’re going to be able to see guys really put their strengths on display this year, so I’m excited. I think we’ve got a chip on our shoulders. We’ve got something to prove, just like any Washington State team before us.”
BONE SAID returning players have looked sharp in workouts leading up to Friday’s official start of full team practices. The coach also offered high praise for newcomers like freshman guard DaVonte Lacy, junior college transfer D.J. Shelton and two guards who redshirted last year -- Fresno State transfer Mike Ladd and Australian guard Dexter Kernich-Drew.
“Dexter is a freak athlete,” Bone said. “Depending how his ball skills are, he can really help us … he runs faster and jumps higher than anybody on the team.”
Ladd is a capable 3-point shooter who averaged 10.3 points per game as a sophomore starter at Fresno State two years ago. Ladd starred with his good friend, WSU junior point guard Reggie Moore, on a state championship team at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School.
“Mike’s going to be a huge asset to our team this year,” Lodwick said. “He’s going to be a leader on our team, on the court and off. His toughness is second to none. His work ethic, too.”
“He’s a pretty tough kid,” Capers said. “He really fights. He’s not really going to give in to nobody. That’s what we really need, defensively and offensively.”
Moore (9.1 ppg, 3.4 assists per game), who struggled last season with an ailing wrist, looks like the Freshman All-American of two years ago by all accounts.
Bone said he expects Faisal Aden, WSU’s second-leading scorer (12.7) as a junior college transfer last year, to replace Thompson as the starting “2” guard.
“I feel like our guards can go up against any guards in the country and give them a run for their money,” Capers said.
“We would still like to play up-tempo,” Bone said, “but we are probably going to need to put the reigns on it a little bit more in regards to coming down and taking a quick shot.”
CAPERS, A FINE defensive guard, shot sparingly and averaged 5.8 ppg last season. Bone said Capers figures to be a third-year starter along with Moore and the 6-7, 215-pound Lodwick, a quasi-power forward who averaged 3.5 ppg and 4.1 rebounds per game and – like Moore – shot just 35 percent from the field. Lodwick said he’s recovered from foot problems that he kept quiet last season.
Australian Brock Motum (7.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg), who led the Cougars with 59.9 percent shooting from the field a year ago, is penciled in as WSU’s starting post.
The 6-10 junior, a part-time starter last season, has beefed up to 245 pounds but still has the ability to knock down outside shots.
“I think Brock’s going to have a great year,” Lodwick said.
SHELTON AND SENIOR Charlie Enquist, who are both 6-10, back up Motum. Bone said he likes Shelton’s athleticism, and Enquist has always been known for his hard work.
Fans can get an early peek at the Cougars at 8 p.m. Friday at "Midnight Mayhem" in Bohler Gym. A dunk contest and a short scrimmage will be held along with a 3-point shooting contest for the WSU women’s team. Merchandise will be given away, and layers and coaches from both teams will sign autographs afterwards.
The Cougars play a home exhibition game with Lewis-Clark State on Nov. 5, then open the season at Gonzaga on Nov. 14. The Cougars play only five games in Pullman before Jan. 19, starting with Sacramento State on Nov. 17.
The Cougars also serve as the home team in their last three games in December: Pepperdine on the 22nd in Seattle, Oregon (a Pac-12 opener) on the 29th in Spokane and Oregon State on the 31st in Spokane.