Washington State basketball player Faisal Aden despises the harsh Pullman winters.
“I’ve never seen snow,” Aden said. “It’s been horrible.”
That said, Aden is eternally grateful to live in quiet, peaceful Pullman. After all, Aden reasons, it is infinitely easier fighting the cold than fighting for your life.
Aden, the sweet-shooting junior college transfer who has helped carry the Cougars to a 10-2 record, escaped war-torn Somalia when he was 7 years old. No one in the family spoke English when they arrived in San Diego.
“The civil war – people were dying every day,” Aden said by phone from Los Angeles, where the Cougars open Pacific-10 Conference play Wednesday against UCLA (8 p.m., FSN). “It was not safe. It could have been deadly (for his family).
“Even now, the whole country is, like, abandoned. If we had stayed longer, I don’t know if I’d be here talking to you.”
Aden, who is now so fluent in English that he plans to become a sportscaster, first played basketball in Somalia. His game developed significantly after he moved to Dallas in eighth grade to live with a stepsister.
Aden originally signed a letter of intent with New Mexico State, but he was ruled ineligible when the NCAA did not accept some of his high school credits. The Cougars latched on to Aden after he starred for two seasons at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla.
“I always wanted to play in the Pac-10,” Aden said. “Growing up in California, it was my favorite conference.
“I thought it’d be pretty cool to play here, even though I had offers from big conferences like the Big 12 and Big East, ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference). I had looks from Arizona, but I really liked my visit here.”
Aden also liked the up-tempo offense run by WSU coach Ken Bone. The offense is geared to feature high-quality 3-point shooters like Aden, who ranks fifth in the Pac-10 with 16.1 points per game and seventh with 2.2 3-pointers per game.
Aden, a 6-foot-4 wing, has played well when starting or coming off the bench. Bone generally prefers bringing Aden off the bench, and that seems all right with Aden. To a certain extent, anyway.
“My feeling is, I have a lot of confidence in my abilities,” Aden said. “It’s a coach’s decision, it’s not my decision.
“Obviously, my (goal) is to play basketball. But if that’s what the coach decides, I have no choice. I have to do my best when I’m out there.”
The Cougars were picked to finish fifth in the Pac-10 in the conference’s preseason media poll, but they’ve surprised many with their fast start. No Pac-10 teams are ranked in the Top 25, but WSU is receiving votes in both major polls.
“We’re definitely capable of winning the Pac-10,” Aden said. “I definitely feel we can be in the top half, at least, if not win it all.”
WSU junior wing Klay Thompson ranks first in the Pac-10 (and 15th in NCAA Division I) with 22.3 points per game. Thompson and Bone credit Aden with helping to ease defensive pressure on Thompson. WSU leads the Pac-10 in field-goal percentage (49.4) and field-goal percentage defense (36.9). WSU ranks second in the league in 3-point shooting percentage (39.3) and first in 3-point shooting percentage defense (27.1). Bone is pushing the Cougars to improve their rebounding (ninth, 34.8 per game) and foul shooting (seventh, 65.0 percent). Sophomore forward Brock Motum leads the Pac-10 in field-goal shooting percentage at 65.2. Junior post DeAngelo Casto leads the Pac-10 in blocked shots (2.0). UCLA (8-4) is riding a five-game winning streak. The Bruins are led by 6-foot-8 sophomore forwards Tyler Honeycutt (14.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and Reeves Nelson (14.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg). WSU visits USC on Friday (3 p.m., FSN). The Trojans are 8-5 and recently added prized Fordham transfer Jio Fontan (16.3 ppg), a junior guard. USC has won two in a row and four of five, including wins over Top 25 foes Texas and Tennessee.