Ken Bone coached just one senior in his first two years at Washington State – Nikola Koprivica in 2009-10 – so Bone is pleased to have four seniors in the rotation in his third season in Pullman.
Bone, of course, wishes he had six seniors. That’s because the Cougars’ two best players, Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto, passed up their senior season to turn pro.
Excuse Bone for being greedy. Thompson led the Pacific-10 Conference in scoring last season. Casto led the Cougars in rebounds and blocked shots and was the team’s best inside scorer and defender.
Bone finds himself forced to rebuild – or revamp, anyway – a team that returns three starters and five other lettermen off a 22-13 squad that reached the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament. It was WSU’s best finish in a national tournament since the Cougars lost to Wisconsin in the NCAA title game in 1941.
The Cougars, who open the season Monday at No. 23 Gonzaga (ESPN, 9 p.m.), are stressing the need to spread the glory and play as a team. The “experts” have WSU pegged for a low finish in the Pac-12.
“We’re hungry,” senior guard Marcus Capers said. “The way we eat is to win games.”
“We’ve got a chip on our shoulders,” added senior forward Abe Lodwick, who said team chemistry is “the best it’s been since Ken Bone has been here.”
The Cougars lack size, depth and experience up front, but Capers and junior point guard Reggie Moore are third-year starters. Senior Faisal Aden, WSU’s second-leading scorer last season with 12.7 points per game, moves into the starting lineup as Thompson’s replacement at shooting guard.
“I feel like our guards can go up against any guards in the country and give them a run for their money,” Capers said.
Aden, a Somalia native who averaged 20 or more points in both his junior college seasons, said he was not comfortable coming off the bench last season. He hit 33 percent of his 3-pointers, and his shooting ranged from torrid to frosty.
“Last year, he was all on the 1-on-1 game,” Capers said. “He’s been passing a lot more, and he sees the floor a lot better.”
The Cougars are counting heavily on junior post player Brock Motum for inside scoring, defense and rebounding that was lost with Casto’s departure. The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Australian averaged 7.6 points and 3.0 rebounds as a part-time starter last season. He led the Pac-10 with 59.9 percent field-goal shooting.
“I think Brock’s going to have a great year,” Lodwick said.
True freshman DaVonte Lacy, a combo guard from Curtis High School, has drawn raves from Bone and his teammates. He led the Cougars with 21 points in their lone exhibition game, an 88-41 rout of NAIA Division I Lewis-Clark State with Aden (concussion), Moore (groin) and Lodwick (foot) on the sideline.
“DaVonte’s doing a great job,” Bone said. “DaVonte’s going to be a good player here at WSU.
“He’s strong physically. I think he’s tough mentally. He has a really good feel for the game for a freshman.”
Guard Mike Ladd, who redshirted last season after scoring 10.3 points per game as a sophomore at Fresno State, is another key addition. Ladd, a teammate of Moore at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High, is a team captain along with Lodwick and Capers.
“Mike’s going to be a huge asset to our team this year,” Lodwick said. “He’s going to be a leader, on the court and off. His toughness is second to none. His work ethic, too.”