It begins with wing Klay Thompson, an NBA prospect who averaged a team-high 19.6 points per game last season, and DeAngelo Casto. The 6-foot-8 Ferris High School product led the Cougars with seven rebounds per game and 67 blocks in 2009-10.
But second-year Washington State coach Ken Bone cited another player from that class during his Wednesday teleconference as the team's most improved player so far: wing Marcus Capers.
"We really like what Marcus gives us," he said. "He's proven he can compete here on the offensive and defensive end."
Because of those reasons, Bone said Capers will start while junior-college transfer Faisal Aden fills the role of first player off the bench. Capers shot a team-best 55.9 percent from the field among Cougars who averaged at least 10 minutes per game last season. He also was regarded as the team's best defender.
Bone said Aden has not been consistent enough on the defensive side to start yet.
"We see Faisal coming off the bench and giving us a lift on the offensive end," he said. "He's kind of sneaky creative. He seems to get into the gaps and can hit a midrange shot every once in awhile."
WSU, which had a 16-15 record last season but finished last in the Pac-10 with a 6-12 mark, also was rated as the conference's worst defensive team according to college basketball statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy. His website had the Cougars as the 155th ranked defense in the country.
Couple that with Thompson's struggles in conference play last season -- he shot just 35.7 percent from the field against Pac-10 opponents -- and it becomes apparent why WSU won just two of its final 12 games. While Bone said Capers has been the team's most improved player, he said Thompson also has shown significant development.
"I'm impressed with the energy level and the concentration he's had on the defensive end," Bone said.
THE COUGARS OPEN their season at 5 p.m. Saturday at Beasley Coliseum against Southern, a Louisiana school that plays in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and had a 5-25 record last season. The Jaguars open their season Friday at Gonzaga.
Bone said he is not sure if playing Southern on the second night is an advantage. He said the Jaguars could be more fatigued, but he also mentioned that teams sometimes play better after getting some court experience.
As far as Southern is concerned, Bone said he will begin reviewing that team Thursday. He said he cannot name the Jaguars' leading returning scorer, but he said that is typical for non-conference play because coaches are busy working with their own teams.
When Bone was asked what area we wants to see improvement from WSU's 89-49 exhibition win Friday against Lewis-Clark State College.
"I was really pleased with how our kids played in the exhibition game," he said. "I thought we had a number of opportunities in the transition game and I did not like all of the decisions we made."
BONE ALSO SIGNED two players to National Letters of Intent on Wednesday. Davonté Lacy is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound shooting guard from Curtis High School in University Place.
"We've seen Davonté play for a few years," Bone said. "He's been to our camps. We're excited about him joining our program."
The Cougars also signed 6-8, 225-pound Greg Sequele from Ribet Academy in Los Angeles. He originally is from France.
"He's similar to the way DeAngelo was in high school," said Bone, adding that Sequele needs to become more mature physically. "He can step out and play on the perimeter because he's a quick kid.
With no seniors on the roster, the two signings will put WSU one scholarship above the NCAA limit of 13.
"In the end, we'll have 13 kids on scholarship," Bone said. "We did the same thing last year and right now we only have 12. It always works itself out."
"Those are the type of kids we like to redshirt because we think he can progress," said Bone, adding that a decision on Kernich-Drew's status will come in a few days.