PULLMAN – Washington State’s fifth-annual ZZUMania tipoff to basketball season was a feast for the eyes (and ears) Friday night in Bohler Gym. The men’s and women’s teams sported their new Nike Hyperelite uniforms, June Daugherty showed she could cuss like a stevedore, a newcomer showed off some serious hops and an old vet nicknamed Young Simba put on a show from downtown.
The evening began with a spirited Daugherty serving as MC after her players were introduced. She treated fans to a few comedic moments, enough profanity to remind everyone they were indeed in a college town, and a message for all the dads in attendance:
“Glad you’re here, don’t drink all the beer.”
While there were sparkling moments on the court, one of the most noticeable aspects of the evening was a hobbling Will DiIorio
The senior forward entered the gym with the team but rather than donning the new unis, DiIorio was walking with crutches, displaying what looked like a lower leg injury. He wasn’t wearing a boot, which is a good sign, and he actually looked almost identical to the way redshirt freshman Que Johnson had been hobbling around earlier in the year – meaning he shouldn’t miss too much time. He appeared to be using the crutches as an added caution rather than a primary source of mobility. DiIorio’s injury likely occurred in a recent practice considering because he was a full participant in the Lewiston workouts and the team’s first on-campus practice. Coach Ken Bone did not comment on the status of DiIorio.
Meanwhile, the most talk-about injury on Planet Coug over the last two weeks, the stress fracture in Que Johnson's foot, appears to be on a glide path to good news.
“Mr. Superstar,” as Royce Woolridge called Johnson during team intros, treated fans to a glimpse of his shooting prowess when he participated in the three-point-shooting contest. He sat on the bench when the team went through layup drills, no doubt part of Coach Bone's "overly cautious" approach to bringing Johnson back. But based on the three-point shooting contest, Johnson’s injury hasn’t hindered his stroke at all.
Johnson expected to return to practice as a full participant sometime this coming week.
That three-point contest was a barn burner. Johnson, redshirt junior Dexter Kernich-Drew, junior DaVonté Lacy (aka Young Simba), and sophomore Brett Boese competed in the two-round competition. Kernich-Drew came out of the gate the hottest, choosing to spend his 30 seconds of shooting time on the right wing. The rest of the group chose to shoot from straight on and after Boese was eliminated first, a shootout between Johnson and Lacy took place to decide who would square off against Kernich-Drew in the final round.
This is when the shooting was the most impressive.
It was clear Lacy and Johnson are pure shooters. Their strokes looked effortless. Both players came out hitting threes in bunches in a bout ultimately won by Lacy, who then went on to win another shootout against Kernich-Drew. Lacy shined the brightest, hitting at times five or six buckets in a row.
Although Johnson fell short in the competition, his shot looked the best and he seemed to be as good as advertised -- from a shooting standpoint anyway.
The dunk contest didn’t allow for many opportunities for fans to get off their feet but the times they did were exciting. Among the mix of 360 double-pumps, tomahawk slams, and windmills were a few true crowd pleasers.
The first was Kernich-Drew taking flight over Butch, because, what’s a dunk contest without jumping over a mascot? The 6- foot 7 forward soared over the big-headed feline and put in a one-handed jam that received a perfect a score (40) from the four judges.
The judges; including Woolridge, sophomore women’s basketball guard Mariah Cooks, last year’s $500 half-court shot winner Sean, and Cougar Athletic Fund member Tony also showed love to the high-flying acrobatics of Ikenna Iroegbu.
The freshman guard won the contest on a two-handed reverse double-pump jam but it was his opening display of athleticism that ending up being the dunk of the night.
Aided by fellow backcourt mate Lacy, Iroegbu took flight over the three-point champion who delivered an over-the-head alley-oop while sitting in a chair in the middle of the key.
“I just try and throw it up and get as high as I can and make sure I make the dunk,” Iroegbu said.
Iroegbu almost took second place but Kernich-Drew failed in three attempts to put in a between-the-legs dunk in the final round which would’ve been the most electric moment of the night.
“My double pump didn’t go in smoothly. If Dex would’ve got the between-the-legs it would’ve been game over.”
Fans get a chance to see the men’s basketball team in action on Nov. 1 in an exhibition against Central Washington at 8 p.m. The women’s basketball team hosts The Masters College on Oct. 30 in an exhibition contest.
Speaking of the women’s team, junior guard Tia Presley, who was in the middle of a breakout season last year before going out with a knee injury, looked to be back as strong as ever on Friday.