Just when Washington State basketball players thought no one could push them harder than Dick Bennett, Tony Bennett replaced his father as head coach two years ago and introduced The Hill -- an oxygen-sapping incline on Pullman’s north side -- where twice-weekly sprint sessions have become an integral part of preseason training.
Grudgingly, Harmeling admits The Hill has its benefits, both physical and mental. It is not always a pretty picture, however. “A lot of people throwing up,” Harmeling summed up. “I’ve seen a face-plant going up. Just agony on people’s faces.”
Thanks partly to The Hill, the Cougars have put opponents through considerable agony the past two seasons. WSU has won 26 games each year, but now must compensate for the loss of longtime starters Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low and Robbie Cowgill with a lineup that consists of two returning starters, three other lettermen and 10 players who have yet to play a game in college.
FOUR NEWBIES IN A ROW: From left, Watson, Thompson, Harthun, Witherill.|
“In the summer (at unofficial workouts), it was a little bit different, because there was a lot more teaching involved from the upperclassmen to the freshmen,” Harmeling said. “You have to be more in the mindset of coaching.”
That suited Harmeling just fine, since he’s a cerebral player who plans to become a college coach. The fifth-year senior forward -- the elder statesman of the team -- took some time the other day (after catching his breath following an exhausting afternoon at The Hill) to offer a scouting report on the most heralded recruiting class in WSU history, as well as on the team's returnees.
Marcus Capers, freshman, guard, 6-4, 172, Winter Haven, Fla.: “Extremely athletic. A huge upside. Great team guy. Very unselfish. Hard worker. Just really, really strong character.”
Michael Harthun, freshman, guard, 6-3, 180, Medford, Ore.: “Very heady. Good decision maker. Shoots the ball well. Makes hard shots. Very team-oriented guy. Of all the guys, I feel he’s the one who tries to learn the most or asks us seniors the most questions. Just being a student of the game and a gym rat.”
James Watson, freshman, forward, 6-7, 210, Atoka, Okla.: “Kind of a freak (extremely gifted) athlete. Great offensive rebounder. Garbage-type guy in terms of tip-ins, tip dunks. Gives the team extra possessions. Kind of an upside guy. He’s pretty raw.”
Nick Witherill, freshman, guard, 6-1, 176, Phoenix, Ariz.: “Good shooter. Team guy. Good ball handler.”
DeAngelo Casto, freshman, forward, 6-8, 229, Spokane: “Freak athlete. He’s really long. Strong. Great rebounder. Great frame. Doesn’t back down from guys that are bigger than him, like Aron Baynes. He’s always banging with Baynes. He doesn’t take any crap from Baynes and vice versa. Great shot blocker. Great defensively. In terms of athleticism and how he can play physical defense and block shots, he’s like (ex-Cougar) Jeff Varem. He can spread out and probably guard multiple positions.”
Klay Thompson, freshman, guard, 6-6, 187, Ladera Ranch, Calif.: “He’s special. Without question the best freshman I’ve seen since I’ve been here. Very complete. Extremely intelligent player. Great range on his shot. Unbelievable touch. Uses both hands really well. Really good instincts. He can get to the rim. He’s very crafty around the rim in terms of finishing, and probably better defensively than one would presume from just looking at him. Just a special talent.”
John Allen, freshman, guard, 6-0, 181, Brier, Wash.: “The walk-on. He’s really gutsy. Not afraid at all. Very aggressive. Just really confident. Hard-nosed.”
Abe Lodwick, second-year freshman, guard, 6-7, 196, Bend, Ore.: “Great shooter. The consummate team guy. Very smart. Knows how to play the game. Solid rebounder. He’s a guy, when he gets hot, he can rattle off a bunch in a row. He’s a good scorer. He’s getting better at slashing to
the hoop and making plays for other people and finishing at the rim, too.”
Charlie Enquist, second-year freshman, forward, 6-10, 220, Edmonds, Wash.: “Without question the most improved player. From the first time I saw him play until now, he’s literally gotten four times better. Great rebounder. Plays as hard as anyone I‘ve ever played against. Extremely active. He’s one of those guys you hate going against in practice because you know he’s not going to let up at all.”
Fabian Boeke, sophomore center, 6-11, 230, Hamburg, Germany: “His back, every now and then, kind of flares up. He doesn’t play all the time. He’s very skilled. Once he learns how to adjust to the speed of the game and kind of gets back in game mode, because he’s been out so long, I think he’ll be all right.”
Nikola Koprivica, junior, guard, 6-6, 211, Belgrade, Serbia: “His knee looks a lot better. He’s trimmed down a little bit. It seems like he’s moving better. He’s just improved. You can tell he’s more comfortable on his knee making cuts.”
Caleb Forrest, senior, forward, 6-8, 228, Pagosa Springs, Colo.: “Just a workhorse. He always makes something good happen when he’s in, whether it’s getting your team an extra possession with a tip going for an offensive rebound or setting a screen to get Klay or whoever open. He just keeps coming at you. He doesn’t know anything other than going 100 percent. He’s just the ultimate team guy whose value is far beyond what you see in the box score.”
Aron Baynes, senior, center, 6-10, 260, Cairns, Australia: “He’s lost 25 pounds; he looks great. He’s really learning how to put together his moves. He’s strong as ever. He’s a beast.”
Taylor Rochestie, redshirt senior, guard, 6-1, 186, Santa Barbara, Calif.: “I kind of get mad at him sometimes because I want him to shoot more. He’s kind of like, ‘I’m trying to get everyone involved, trying to get you shots.’ I say, ‘Don’t worry about it; you get YOUR shot.’ He doesn’t realize how good he is, how good a shooter he is. He’s the ultimate point guard in terms of, he makes everyone better.”
And last but certainly not least …
Daven Harmeling, fifth-year senior, forward, 6-7, 225, Grand Junction, Colo.: “I heard they tried to get rid of him. Petitioned the NCAA to take away his redshirt. It doesn’t matter to me (if he starts) … it’s just the way we are. It’s all about the team.”
• Harmeling, whose shoulders and arms look more muscled than ever, is checking in at 225 pounds right now -- up from 215 a year ago.
• The Cougars open the new campaign with an exhibition at Friel Court on Nov. 10 against Lewis-Clark State. The real season begins Nov. 15, also at Friel, against Mississippi Valley State, WSU will open the Pac-10 season on Jan. 3, at home, against Washington.
• The Cougars picked up their third known verbal commitment in the 2009 recruiting class this week. David Chadwick, a 6-8 forward from Charlotte, N.C., chose WSU over offers from a dozen mid-major schools, including George Mason. Chadwick’s father is a reverend, and presided at the wedding of Tony and Laurel Bennett.
• Chadwick joined a recruiting class that already included Anthony Brown of Spokane, Xavier Thames of Elk Grove, Calif. Though the numbers can and do remain in flux, WSU would appear to have one scholarship slot still open for 2009. A big man would seem the order of the day, but another strong backcourt athlete probably isn’t beyond the realm.
• The Cougars begin regular practices on Oct. 17. The session will be closed to fans. Currently the team is allowed to practice two hours per week.
THE TALL CRIMSON TIMBER: From left, 6-10 ENQUIST, 6-11 BOEKE, 6-10 BAYNES.|