Dunks galore as Cougs kick off hoops season

PULLMAN – If Ken Bone's remarks about Friday night's official opening of basketball practices had been any more tongue-in-cheek, he would have required plastic surgery to fix the hole in his cheek. "How about that defense?" Bone deadpanned after a dunk-fest broke out at Bohler Gym. "We're really getting after it this year! We haven't peaked yet!"

Bone, the Washington State men's coach, seemed to have every bit as much fun as the standing-room-only crowd estimated at 3,000 that jammed Bohler to watch the second annual "Midnight Mayhem."

Defense was nothing more than an afterthought in the 8-minute scrimmages staged by the men's and women's teams. Dunks were routine in the men's scrimmage, which ended in a 22-22 tie, and the women raced up and down the court with abandon in a 24-13 Crimson victory.

Friday marked the first day of "official," full-team practices for NCAA Division I men's teams. The women started Oct. 4 due to a new NCAA rule, but the total amount of preseason workout time remains the same for both sexes.

Fans were the focus of "Midnight Mayhem," which actually began at 8 p.m. and lasted an hour. The Cougars gave away large volumes of free goodies, including posters and T-shirts. Players were still signing autographs long after freshman Dexter Kernich-Drew got the best of defending champion Marcus Capers in the finals of the dunk contest that capped the basketball activities at Bohler.

Prior to the scrimmages, 3-point shooting contests were held. Instead of the announced men versus women showdown, freshman Sage Romberg and sophomore Ireti Amojo went at it for the women, and freshman Patrick Simon took on junior college transfer Faisal Aden for the men. The freshmen prevailed in both contests.

Both teams were accorded standing ovations when they entered the gym with the band playing the WSU fight song. Ever-enthusiastic women's coach June Daugherty informed the audience that her long-suffering team plans "to have a long run through the Pac-10 and on to the NC-Double-A's (the NCAA tournament)."

Daugherty drew applause when she said, "We've got a great team. Not only can they play, but they look pretty good, don't they?"

"I wish I could say what June said about her team," Bone cracked. "We're working on it. We're getting there."

Cougar fans would rather see the men look good on the floor than in the mirror, of course. No one looked better Friday than Klay Thompson. The sweet-shooting junior guard opened the scoring in the men's scrimmage with a flying, one-handed, slam dunk on a rebound of Ben Loewen's missed jumper. Thompson effortlessly drained a 3-pointer over Capers to tie the score at 20-20 in the final minute, then raced to the other end of the floor and rejected Aden's shot at the rim.

Thompson said the team's "realistic" goals are to win the Pac-10 and advance to the NCAA tournament. Thompson, notoriously tough on himself and economical with words, pulled no punches when asked about goals for himself.

"Player of the Year (in the Pac-10) would be nice," he said, "just because that's just something, if you're one of the ‘go-to' guys on the team, obviously that's something you should strive for."

As he did last year, Thompson said he would consider leaving college early for the NBA if he believes he's ready. He got a brief sample of pro ball when he scrimmaged against LeBron James and Chris Paul while working as a counselor at James' summer basketball camp in Akron, Ohio.

"It was one of the best basketball experiences I've ever had," Thompson said.

Thompson is listed at 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds, the same as last year, but he said he's closer to 205 pounds and might be 6-7 "with my shoes on." Thompson said he was down to 195 at times last season, but he's gained strength and weight due to off-season weight training and conditioning.

"I think I got quicker, actually," Thompson said. "Just with the drills we did. We did a lot of footwork, a lot of agility. We worked really hard."

The men practiced for 2 1/2 hours immediately prior to "Midnight Mayhem." Thompson and two other key returnees, point guard Reggie Moore and post DeAngelo Casto, looked sharp at times along with all four new scholarship players – guards Aden, Kernich-Drew and Andre Winston Jr. and forward Patrick Simon. Aden and walk-on guard Will Delorio displayed excellent shooting strokes from the perimeter.

Coaches were not pleased with some of the defense and turnovers, particularly in the 20-minute scrimmage at the end of practice. Assistant coach Ben Johnson loudly informed players at one point that their defense was "ridiculous," and Bone told the team, "Some of us, our assist-turnover ratio is a joke."

Two of the few big men on the Cougars, Steven Bjornstad (knee) and walk-on Chris McNamara (ankle), did not practice. Fresno State transfer Mike Ladd, a sophomore guard who must sit out this season, was missing due to illness.

April Cook, the leading scorer for the WSU women last year, did not play Friday due to the flu. With or without Cook, the Cougars need a strong performance from new point guard Rosie Adzasu if they are going to accomplish much.

Adzasu, a junior college transfer from Yakima Valley, replaces KiKi Moore, who transferred to Fresno State. Moore offset plenty of great plays with plenty of turnovers, and the 5-foot-5 Adzasu lost the handle a couple times Friday night.

"I'm a small guard, so I've definitely got to pay attention to some of the passes I make," Adzasu said. "Like when that (one bad pass) happened when I went over the top, I have to learn to go under people because players are so much longer now than in JC."

The women play a home exhibition game with Lewis-Clark State on Nov. 7, then open the season Nov. 12 at Saint Mary's. Daugherty is already eyeing a Dec. 11 meeting with Gonzaga, an NCAA Sweet 16 qualifier last season.

"We'll go up to Gonzaga and beat them in their house!" Daugherty told the roaring Bohler crowd.

The men play L-C State in a home exhibition Nov. 5, then take on visiting Southern (La.) in a Nov. 13 season opener.



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