THE STATUS OF Washington State senior guard Mike Ladd has been upgraded. That does not mean Ladd, who has been sidelined for five games, will definitely play this week as the Cougars wrap up their regular season with home contests Wednesday against UCLA (TV: Pac-12 networks) and Saturday versus USC. Coach Ken Bone discussed Ladd, the state of the program and more during his Tuesday teleconference.
Ladd returned to the practice floor Monday, but Bone said he was limited to taking shots. Ladd did not participate in any drills. If the senior returns this week, Bone anticipates that he will return to his customary starting role at point guard.
Bone called Ladd, who averages 11.4 points per game, one of the most improved players in the conference this season even as he assumed the point-guard role from Reggie Moore — a position he had not played before this season. He lamented that Ladd, who transferred from Fresno State and sat out the 2010-11 season, was hampered by a thumb injury last season and knee issues this year.
“If he had been able to stay injury-free, I think he would have had a great career,” Bone said.
WSU (11-18 overall, 2-14 Pac-12) has lost nine consecutive games and has not won since Jan. 26 at Oregon State. Despite that, Bone continues to praise the team’s character. Five of the Cougars’ last nine setbacks have come by four points or less.
“It’s one of the most favorite teams I’ve ever coached,” Bone said. “The reason because of that is it’s low-maintenance. We’re able to deal with adversity and move on.”
That does not mean Bone — or his players — are satisfied with the results. WSU must win at least one of its final two games to avoid an outright last-place finish.
“You need to win games,” Bone said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Some have questioned how the Cougars will do that next season without center Brock Motum, who averages a team-high 17.9 points per game, and Ladd. Both generally are considered the team’s best players. Bone believes that can be accomplished through player development and incoming talent.
He noted that Klay Thompson, who now plays in the NBA for Golden State, developed from his freshman season after his staff took over from Tony Bennett. Thompson’s scoring average increased from 12.5 to 19.6 points per game from his freshman to sophomore season.
“He became a great scorer and not just a shooter,” Bone said.
Another example, Bone said, is Motum. He averaged just 2.9 points per game as a freshman in 2009-10 before he became the conference’s leading scorer (18.0) last season.
“We have other kids whether they are playing or redshirting who are developing,” Bone said.
He again stressed the importance of Iowa State transfer Jordan Railey, who is listed at 6-foot-10, 264 pounds. Railey is redshirting this season. Bone said Railey gives WSU an inside presence at both ends it has lacked since Aron Baynes graduated in 2009.
“Really more than anything else is his size,” Bone said. “He’s a big kid.”
He added that Railey provides a defensive presence with his shot-blocking ability and also is a capable shooter within 10 feet.
“He tells me he can shoot the 3, but I’m not listening,” Bone said, laughing. “We need him inside.”
Perhaps just as significant is Demarquise Johnson. The highly touted Johnson, who spurned offers from Gonzaga, Washington and others to sign with the Cougars, is redshirting this season as an NCAA partial-qualifier. Johnson cannot practice with WSU this season, but Bone said he is playing games at the Student Recreation Center to stay in shape.
“He can instantly step in and score,” Bone said.
Motum’s scoring average is similar to last season, but Bone said those who think he has not improved are mistaken. Bone said Motum is a strong defender and rebounder than last season. On the offensive end, he said Motum is more versed in “how to handle double teams and different situations on the court.”
“He’s done a great job of continuing to develop as a player even if it doesn’t show in points per game,” Bone said. “He’s a better basketball player than last year.”
Bone also noted that Motum works hard to improve during the offseason and thinks he could follow the route of Baynes, who also grew up in Australia and finally reached the NBA this season with San Antonio as a 26-year-old.
“A lot of guys who get to the NBA, it’s not right out of college,” Bone said.