Capers' fan club even includes Montgomery

PULLMAN -- Tony Bennett wanted Marcus Capers. Wanted him bad. So bad, in fact, that Bennett -- then coaching the Washington State basketball team -- just might have told a snow-white lie when Capers left sunny Florida to make his recruiting trip to WSU in the fall of 2007.

"It was one of their first football games," Marcus Capers said. "I remember they played Idaho, and I thought (WSU's) Brandon Gibson was the best receiver I've ever seen in my life. It was about 40 degrees. I was like, ‘Tony, it's cold.' He's like, ‘Oh, this is the coldest it will ever get.' I was like, ‘For real? This is not bad.'"

A year later, Capers moved to Pullman and discovered that Bennett was a fine coach but a lousy weatherman.

"I woke up this morning and I cried," Capers deadpanned Tuesday in frosty Pullman.

There are times when Capers' teammates and coaches must feel like crying for joy that Bennett and then-assistant coach Matt Woodley were able to convince Capers to move to the Palouse from his lifelong home of Winter Haven, Fla.

Capers, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound junior guard, will never win any shooting contests. He didn't sink his first college 3-pointer until this season, but Capers is a quality defender who often draws the opposition's top scorer, and he dunks like few people on earth.

"I really believe he's one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, I really do," WSU forward Abe Lodwick said. "It's a big statement, but Marcus is that good of a defender in my opinion."

"He's a really good athlete," said Cal coach Mike Montgomery, who will face Capers and the Cougars this week. "He plays really hard. He can defend, he can board, he can hit open shots, drive it to the rim."

CAPERS HAS STARTED ALL 16 games this season and owns career-best numbers virtually all the way across the stats line. He's averaging 6.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, .8 steals and 29.4 minutes per game. Shooting from close range most of the time, he's hitting 56.5 percent from the floor, including 20 percent on 3-pointers (1-for-5), and 62.7 percent at the free-throw line.

"Marcus has kind of settled into his role," WSU coach Ken Bone said. "He knows what is expected out of him and plays within himself."

"What he brings to our team is unreal good," Lodwick said. "What he brings defensively, people see that. They see the tip dunks. But at the same time, he's put in so much time on his jump shot. His first couple years, he couldn't throw it in the ocean."

Capers leads the Cougars by a wide margin with an assist-turnover ratio of 3.4. In rebounding, he's giving 6-8 post DeAngelo Casto (6.0) and 6-6 wing Klay Thompson (5.2) a run for the team lead.

"He's not real bulky," Bone said, "but he's just such a great athlete. He just kind of finds a way to get in there, and he's quick and athletic."

"He's really long," Montgomery said. "He's a great offensive rebounder and a good defensive rebounder because he's quick off his feet. He plays above the rim."

WSU fans love to watch Capers dunk, and Capers likes to give the fans what they want. Capers said he never dunked until his sophomore year of high school, after he grew from 5-9 to 6-3 between basketball seasons.

Capers said his first dunk remains his most memorable dunk.

"I hung on the rim a little bit, screamed," Capers said with a laugh. "I was just, ‘Oh! Oh! I just dunked!' I almost called a time-out! Coach is just, ‘Get back on ‘D'! I was like, OK, OK, OK."

Capers is extremely personable, but Lodwick said that wasn't always the case.

"He was a quiet, real shy kid when he came out. Sometimes, I wish we could kinda go back to that," Lodwick joked.

CAPERS SAID HE'S TOYING WITH the idea of turning out for football at WSU as a wide receiver, even though his high school football career ended after one game as a junior varsity receiver his freshman year.

"I was 5-9, probably 130 pounds," Capers said. "I got hit one time, and I was just like, ‘Maybe this isn't a sport I want to play.'"

Fortunately for the Cougars, Capers did want to play college basketball. The communications major said he turned down offers from such schools as Florida State, Miami, Penn State, Illinois and Clemson.

"Out of all the schools, I feel like Washington State gave me the most attention," Capers said. "Any time something was written on the internet about me thinking about going to another school, Matt would fly down and I'd see him at my practice the next day."

Still, Capers never would have come to Pullman if former WSU point guard Taylor Rochestie had not learned how badly Bennett wanted Capers after the Cougars had run out of scholarships. Rochestie got on the phone and told Capers that he would let him take his scholarship.

"I was like, ‘Hello? What?'" Capers recalled.

Rochestie wound up staying on scholarship when another player left, but Capers has never forgotten Rochestie's gesture.

"That's something you do for somebody you're related to," Capers said. "Taylor didn't really know me. He just knew Tony had a lot of confidence in me."

Confidence in Capers' basketball skills, and confidence in Capers' ability to find a warm winter coat.

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