HARMELING: A crimson comic book, come to life

THERE WAS NOTHING Mother Nature could do to deter me from making the trip up I-5 to see the Cougs at the Key Arena last week. After all, there were all manner of things to be excited about -- a newfound perimeter scorer in Faisal Aden, close-up witness of Marcus Capers' pogo sticks in action, a chance to add another win to the unblemished Cougar Hardwood Classic record. Plus, there was "Lotumon."

So when forecasts of seven inches of snow, freezing temperatures, and icy roads came across the ticker I didn't bat an eye. Hell, I was willing to rent a snowcat to get me to Seattle. Ah yes, the financial freedom of teaching and coaching for a living.

First things first -- Faisal Aden. If you would have asked me to play word association about him after the game against Portland, it would have taken me 0.3 seconds to say "wow". Now that I've had almost a week to refine my word choice, here you go… Robin.

As in, you know, Robin to Klay Thompson's Batman. Because let's face it, Klay needed a Robin last year. Little did we know last winter in the midst of Klay's cold streak that Robin was nested in Florida.

I'm not sure if it's possible to maintain the pace Aden has set so far -- his damage has been done against second best perimeter defenders on mediocre teams. But you can't deny the impact he has had there. Just ask Batman himself.

AFTER THE WIN, without any prompting from me, Klay's first words to me were, "How much did we need Faisal?" Notice, he didn't ask, "How much did I need Faisal". No, Klay is a selfless teammate. How much did we need Faisal? And I'll go ahead and answer the rhetorical question: A LOT.

But even with Batman and Robin leading the Pac-10 in scoring at this early juncture, things aren't all completely smooth sailing for the Cougs. The most obvious issue? Lack of rebounding.

But unless Aron Baynes shaves his beard, drops 30 pounds and works his foreign connections for a fake passport, help isn't on the way anytime soon.

Which leaves us with this dilemma -- how does an undersized front line with limited athleticism (save for DeAngelo Casto) become better rebounders?

THE FIRST STEP is obviously to acquire a catchy nickname to rival the Superhero guards. Done. The Three Headed Monster, starring Abe Lodwick, Brock Motum and Patrick Simon? Nah.

I have christened them "Lotumon", though you may create your own concoction. But just like their forefathers from the Bulls in the 1990's (Luc Longely, Bill Wennington, and Will Purdue), they won't wind up on the cover of GQ. But they'll do what you tell them to do.

AND WHILE THEY can't jump out of the gym, you most assuredly can win with these guys. They just need some pieces around them to help them on the glass. Longely/Wennington/Purdue had Rodman. Lotumon has Casto. Longely/Wennington/Purdue had Pippen. Lotumon has Capers, who should obviously at this point officially be dubbed "Superman".

Thankfully, Lotumon can shoot the rock. Unfortunately, the Cougar big men aren't going to be able to add any more weight on their frame this winter. Their arms won't grow any longer, and their rebounding instincts are what they are. What they need to do is engage in physical box-outs, stay engaged even when the ball is in the air coming off the rim, and let the Superheroes clean the glass for them.

BACK WHEN THE Lopez twins were running wild in the Pac-10, our rebounding technique was modified in an effort to tame them on the glass. One of our players was a particularly poor rebounder. I won't name names, but I hear he's gone on to become an unbelievable P.E. teacher who drives I-5 in the snow.

Anyway, this certain player's assignment was to forget any thought of grabbing the boards, but rather do anything to keep Robin Lopez off the glass. The theory behind it was that an undersized, "out-athleted" player is prone to lose a board against a superior rebounder as he releases from the box-out to pursue the ball.

But the key is you must have guards that can rebound well. I had Weaver. And Capers is even more capable.

Capers is leading the Cougs in rebounding already (7.4 rpg) and Klay is second on the team with 4.6 boards per game. But we need more of it. Marcus has the chance to be the best rebounding guard in the entire country and I don't say that lightly. And the height, athleticism, and length of his counterparts on the wing leave no excuse for them to not follow suit.

THE REALITY OF the situation is that the Cougs aren't going to be a great rebounding team this year. It just can't happen.

But there's no doubt they can become an adequate rebounding team. There have been some rumblings about lackluster Cougar defense already, but the last two opponents faced have been shooting mid-30 percent from the floor. I have no problem with those numbers.

It's just been the astonishing number of offensive rebounds surrendered that have hurt the Cougs most. Their post defense needs improvement as well, and look for my thoughts on that to come in the next article. But until then, let's sit back and enjoy the show.

And if you're within a 100 miles of Pullman, there's no reason not to grab a seat for tonight's game. The travel and snow won't be that bad. And where else can you see a comic book come to life?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daven Harmeling was a mainstay on the Washington State basketball team – and a fixture on the Pac-10 All-Academic team – during the most successful three-year stretch in Cougar history. Part of Dick Bennett's stellar recruiting class of 2004, this Grand Junction, Colo., product completed his eligibility in 2009 and now is in Vancouver, Wash., running clinics for Dan Dickau Basketball, coaching high school and AAU ball, and working as a substitute teacher. He writes a regular column for Cougfan.com during the hoops season.

Cougfan Top Stories