Exits mean faster transition, not setbacks

THE SKY IS falling! That's been the prevailing theme running through cyberspace on Coug hoops the past week. Heck, even folks who should know better, like SeattlePI.com and KHQ-TV in Spokane, made a far bigger deal about the recent attrition from WSU's b-ball team than reality would dictate. With all due respect to the players involved, because once a Coug always a Coug, the simple fact is this..

Anthony Brown was not going to see the light of day. Michael Harthun was probably maxed out at 10 minutes a game. Walk on John Allen was, well, a walk on. And Xavier Thames, whose departure does sting a little, was still destined to be Reggie Moore's backup for three more seasons.

CRIMSON COMMENTARY

So all this hand-wringing about attrition? It's nonsense.

Some bench players on a last-place team are leaving. Look around the nation -- players are leaving left and right if you read the small print in the sports section. It's the way college basketball works.

Yawn.

But that's not how it's being digested in and around Cougar Nation.

IN THE AGE of the Internet, people get more attached to players than ever before. We follow them religiously during and after the recruiting process, and then welcome them as our own kin the minute they're suited up in crimson. Fans being eternal optimists, we imagine untold potential in every one of them. They are, it is apparent, part of the family.

But as time goes on, and performance maybe doesn't match potential or perceived potential, we still tend to hang on to the hope that some day ....

AND SO FANS tend to look at attrition, no matter who the people are, as a negative, when in fact it can actually be a positive -- both for player and school.

Of the three scholarship players who are departing -- Brown, Harthun and Thames -- none were starters and all had a tough, tough climb ahead to beat out the players in front of them and earn minutes. The one who showed the most promise was Thames, but he was not going to supplant Moore at the point, period.

Moore's play, along with his team's, fell off considerably down the final stretch of the season. His defense was not good. And that's what people remember most. What they're forgetting is that prior, for the majority of the season, the Pac-10 rookie of the year race had only two legit names.

Moore's was one of them.

Sure, you can question the wisdom of what he decides to put up on twitter but out on the court, Moore was neck and neck with Derrick Williams for Pac-10 frosh of the year until the season's final stretch. Nobody picked him in the preseason to play at that level.

And Moore, like Thames, was just a freshman this past season. He's going to be better next year. His defense will improve -- if he dedicates himself to his craft this offseason. And Thames will be better, too. But the best thing for Thames, if he wants starter's minutes, is to go find a place where he has a better opportunity to start. That's what Josh Akognon, Chris Matthews and Mac Hopson all did in the Bennett Days and it worked out beautifully for them.

With Moore and his upside, Thames just wasn't going to see his 17.6 minutes per game up and skyrocket to 34.

MOREOVER, NONE OF THE three scholarship players leaving are what WSU needs most to get over the proverbial hump. It was apparent early on this past season -- even when WSU was winning -- that Washington State desperately needed skilled big men. DeAngelo Casto can't be both power forward and center.

And the bigs in the crimson cupboard last season were not ready for prime time. Some may even need more time beyond next year before the verdict is in on them.

BUT THE HARDEST TRUTH, one many fans are either unaware of or are unwilling to accept judging by message board postings, is that when a coach decides to remake a program to his system, there is a transition period. And that involves players transferring. It involves bringing in players who fit the system. And, unfortunately for the less patient among us, it involves time.

Some, however, think Bone is most at fault here. The reason for that is straight forward: because the team's losses piled up in the second-half of the season. If you flip the two halves, if Washington State had struggled mightily at the start of the year and then finished with a flourish, then the same fans criticizing Bone would likely now be singing his praises.

And yet, when it comes to coaches who undertake the kind of large scale transition Bone is at WSU, in the post-Bennett era, both set-in-stone praise and condemnation at this point are woefully premature. The truth? We don't know yet what kind of coach Bone will be at Washington State, and in the Pac-10. Not after one year where he was trying to run a mixture of both systems and lacked the personnel to fit his style.

No one is saying Bone did everything right this season. All coaches would do things differently with the benefit of hindsight, from Mike Krzyzewski to Tony Bennett. But keep in mind, it took two years -- two full seasons -- before Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low, Aron Baynes and Co. had adapted to the Bennett's style and become proficient in it. The 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, where WSU went dancing twice and notched 26 wins both years, that didn't happen in a vacuum. The cost was the two seasons that proceeded them -- you remember 12-16 and 11-17, don't you? The cost was the transition to the Bennett system.

IT'S BEEN ALL BUT FORGOTTEN now but Bone said before this season began that it wouldn't be his offense or defense, that he would keep some of what the Bennetts ran. It turned out to not be the best of both worlds.

He also said immediately after season's end that it would likely take another year, and recruiting class, before he would be fully running his system.

But that now changes a bit.

With two scholarship spots now open, Bone's transition process has accelerated in a big way. He gets to bring in two more guys of his choosing, and for his system and style of play.

Now, there's also development to consider, a rookie shouldn't be expected to come in and play like an upperclassman with a few years in a program, but Brown, Harthun and Thames were recruited for Bennett Ball. These next two Cougars will be a match for Bone Ball.

And that means better, sooner.

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