HOOPS: An early preview with Ken Bone

PULLMAN -- Six months ago, a young, scrawny and exhausted Washington State men's basketball team basically walked off the court and into the weight room after bowing to Oregon in overtime in the opening round of the Pac-10 Tournament. Coach Ken Bone ordered the Cougars to hit the weights hard and often in the spring and summer. Bone talks with CF.C about what's happened since, and much more..

It remains to be seen if the weight room work will help the Cougars win any more games this season, but they'll definitely look better in photo shoots.

"They're bigger and stronger. They are a year older. I know that, because I looked at the birthdates. I did my math," Ken Bone quipped. "They're working hard. I was impressed with them in the spring and I'm impressed with them in the fall."

All five starters return off a team that won 10 of 12 during a soft non-conference schedule, then faded badly in losing 10 of 12 at season's end. The Cougars finished 16-15 and came in last in the Pac-10 at 6-12 in Bone's first season.

"We lost confidence in ourselves," Bone said. "I chalk part of that up to our youth. We had one senior (Nikola Koprivica) and no juniors. … When things didn't go as well as we'd hoped, we did not perform well. That could be during the course of the game or, if you look at the big picture, the course of the season. We had a difficult time bouncing back from adversity. I think by going through that for a year, with our guys being a year older and more mature, I think we will handle adversity better this year."

Bone glanced at a copy of last season's final league standings and managed to chuckle.

"You know, it's crazy," he said. "We finished in 10th, but we're two games from being tied for fifth."

SO WHAT ABOUT this season, the Pac-10 and how the Cougs fit into the mix, Coach?

"I feel like Washington is probably the team to beat within the conference," he said. "After that, I don't really know … at the end of the day, I'd love to see us in that upper half, and I do believe we have a chance to get there."

The Cougars have no seniors and a lack of size down low, but they also have a potential All-American in Klay Thompson. He averaged 19.8 points last season despite inconsistent shooting.

"People talk as if he didn't have a good year," Bone said, "and he was first-team All-Pac-10 and did score about 20 a game. So, it wasn't like he had a bad year. I think Klay will perform better this year than last year shooting-wise. You know, Klay's really a pretty good defender. I think he did a good job last year, especially late in the year, of playing defense.

"He had a real good presence on the defensive end. At times, I don't think he gets enough credit for what he does there. I see Klay becoming more of a well-rounded player."

Thompson's size has changed little from last season (6-foot-6, 202 pounds) but it's been repackaged, says Bone -- he says he can see a difference in the junior guard.

"He is stronger," the coach said. "I think there's a little more definition there. His arms and shoulders look bigger...He's working hard as hard as I've ever seen him work. He's doing a very good job."

IN THE FRONTCOURT, DeAngelo Casto led the Pac-10 with 2.2 blocked shots per game, and he led the Cougars with 7.0 rebounds while finishing third in scoring at 10.7 The 6-foot-8 junior post, who became the proud father of a baby boy this summer, has beefed up to 255 pounds.

"That's a big, strong kid," Bone said.

Bone expects sophomore Brock Motum to help Casto inside now that Motum has grown to 6-10, 230. Motum was labeled a power forward last year, but he often lingered outside the paint on offense.

Junior Charlie Enquist and sophomore Steven Bjornstad are WSU's only other true big men. Bone said he hopes both can help off the bench.

Bone said expects Bjornstad to be ready for the start of the season despite knee problems that have severely limited his workouts since the end of last season. The 6-11, 240-pound Bjornstad has been diagnosed with patellar tendinosis ("jumper's knee"). He has microtears in the patella tendon, which connects the kneecap and shin.

Hard-working Abe Lodwick, a natural shooting guard who made himself into a starting power forward for much of last season, returns along with starting guard Marcus Capers.

Bone said he expects junior guard Faisal Aden, a high-scoring junior college transfer, to be the top contributor among four newcomers. Freshman Dre' Winston out of Lakes High School will back up collegeinsider.com Freshman All-American point guard Reggie Moore (12.7 points, 4.3 assists) now that Xavier Thames has transferred to San Diego State.

Moore's play will again play a major role in determining how much the Cougars will be able to play the high-tempo offense Bone favors. The 2009-10 Cougars' lack of experience, particularly in a high-tempo offense, forced Bone to slow things down at times last season.

NCAA Division I teams don't begin full team practices until Oct. 15, but limited practicing and conditioning with coaching supervision is already under way. The Cougars play their lone exhibition game Nov. 5 at home against NAIA Lewis-Clark State of Lewiston. WSU opens the regular season Nov. 13 at home against Division I weakling Southern of Baton Rouge, La.

"I'm more anxious to get out there this year than I was last year," Bone said, "because none of us want to finish in last place in the league. We just came off a last-place finish, and I'm anxious to have us change that.

"I was excited about last year, but I didn't know exactly what to expect. Being through that one time, I want us to be able to finish plays, finish possessions, finish games on a high note, be able to sustain a certain level of energy and effort for 40 minutes -- not 30 or 35."


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