FOR THE FIRST time in Washington State coach Ken Bone's four seasons on the Palouse, the point guard position is open. Bone discussed how the position will be filled in lieu of Reggie Moore's dismissal from the program, the progression of several players during the summer and much more during his Wednesday teleconference.
Bone acknowledged that the Cougars, who had a 19-18 record and were 7-11 in the Pac-12 last season, do not have a true point guard. But he think sophomore Royce Woolridge can fill the position. He said if the season began now — WSU's regular-season opener is at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 10 against Eastern Washington — Woolridge would start in the backcourt alongside sophomore DaVonté Lacy. Bone said Woolridge is different from Moore in that he is more of a shooter than a slasher, but also is a stronger defender.
"He's a very aggressive defender with great quickness," said Bone, adding that Woolridge focused most of his summer work on penetrating to the basket. "His defense is going to give us a lift."
The Cougars spent nearly two weeks in August competing in Australia against a variety of teams. Bone said the tournament particularly was beneficial for players such as Woolridge, sophomore Dexter Kernich-Drew and senior guard Mike Ladd, who was limited to 26 games last season because of injuries. Even when he played, Bone said Ladd constantly was bothered by his right thumb. Now that Ladd is healthy, Bone thinks he will be more effective as a player and a captain, which is a role he shares with senior center Brock Motum and Lacy. The latter was elected by his teammates.
Lacy also was affected by a hand injury late last season, but Bone said he is not sure how much that disrupted him. He averaged 8.5 points per game last season, but shot just 38.9 percent from the field.
"It's hard to gauge," Bone said. "Late in the season a lot of kids lose their legs."
In addition to playing in Australia, Lacy also was a member of the U.S. Eagles Men's Basketball Team, which competed in June in China. Bone said he is "sure" that experience will help Lacy become a better ball handler than a year ago.
Two others who likely will see playing time behind Lacy and Woolridge are Kernich-Drew and redshirt freshman Dominic Ballard. Bone said Kernich-Drew is one of the team's strongest shooters, while the 6-foot-4 Ballard, a Bothell High School graduate, is "a big, strong kid" who can play the point guard.
IN THE FRONTCOURT, WSU returns its best player in Motum, who averaged 18 points per game last season. Bone said Motum can be even better this season if he can continue to become a better rebounder — he averaged a team-high 6.4 rebounds in 2011-12 — and defender. He said players look up to Motum because of his play.
"He can give us an element of leadership," Bone said. "He's not a raw-raw guy … but he can provide good leadership."
Bone also hopes 6-10, 250-pound junior D.J. Shelton, who is in his second year in the program, can make strides this season. Shelton averaged 4.7 points and 2.9 rebounds in 14.7 minutes per game last season.
"He's definitely gotten bigger and stronger," Bone said. "I think that will equate into more physical basketball, which is what we need."
Bone acknowledged the Cougars lost some significant players in Faisal Aden, who averaged 14.5 points per game before his season ended in January with a knee injury, Moore and wing Marcus Capers. But that does not mean expectations are lower this season.
"I think our biggest priority is making sure our guys understand we can be successful," Bone said. "I have been in this [underdog] situation a number of times. If we play together as a group, we can be good."
Bone was the coach at Seattle Pacific University for 12 seasons, but said he was not involved with Patrick Simon's decision to transfer there. He thinks Simon, who initially was interested in Eastern Washington and Central Washington, "made a great choice." Bone said Simon's decision to leave came after a postseason meeting.
"I couldn't look him in the eye and say, 'You're going to play a lot or start,' " he said.