With two years of NCAA Division I experience under his belt, Ladd had a much shorter learning curve than Kernich-Drew when he arrived at WSU. Basketball in Australia has improved immensely in recent years, but it's no match for the game played in the United States, Kernich-Drew soon discovered.
"The guys are a lot bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic," Kernich-Drew said.
Kernich-Drew is certainly no slouch athletically -- he won the team's preseason dunk contest -- but he agreed with WSU coaches at the start of the season that it would be best to redshirt.
KERNICH-DREW WITH ONE OF HIS CONTEST WINNING DUNKS
"I came in here thinking I'd probably play 5 to 10 minutes a game," he recalled. "When I saw what others could do, I thought it would be a good idea to redshirt.
"I think if I played now, I could probably contribute."
THERE'S LITTLE DOUBT Ladd could have contributed to the Cougars right away. He started at Fresno State last season, averaged 10.3 points and shot a team-leading 39.1 percent from 3-point range.
Division I transfer rules forced Ladd to sit out the season. A high school teammate of WSU point guard Reggie Moore, Ladd said he's taken advantage of the opportunity to work on two areas of his game in particular.
"My ball handling … and defense," Ladd said. "Playing Faisal (Aden) every day in practice has improved my defensive skills."
Kernich-Drew is listed at 6-foot-6 and 165 pounds in the WSU media guide. The Melbourne native says he weighed about 170 when he arrived in Pullman in August and now packs between 180 and 185 pounds thanks to the first extensive weight lifting of his life.
"I feel stronger," he said. "When I first got here, it was kind of a shock how competitive it is here."
Ladd, 6-5 and 190 pounds, said he's seen Kernich-Drew mature right before his eyes.
"When he first got here, he was used to the Australian style of basketball," Ladd said. "It took him a while to adapt to the American style. Now he's playing tougher. Not to call him ‘soft', but I feel like we're tougher, the American style of basketball, and compete more."
LADD AND MOORE were originally headed to Fresno State as a package after leading Seattle's Rainier Beach High to the State 3A championship in 2007-08. Moore changed his mind after signing his letter of intent, however, and spent a year playing at a New England prep school before coming to Washington State last season when he was again eligible to accept a Division I basketball scholarship.
Like Moore, Ladd (who is not currently on scholarship) said he was attracted to Washington State largely because of coach Ken Bone's up-tempo offense. Ladd also said he "wanted to be close to home," and it didn't hurt one bit that Moore is a close friend who begged him to come to Pullman.
"Mike's a pretty aggressive player," Kernich-Drew said. "He's pretty skilled, and he can shoot the ball pretty well. He can come in and contribute next year, just as I can."
Kernich-Drew said he came to the United States because "it always had been a dream of mine to play college basketball."
Washington State assistant coach Ben Johnson, who played and coached in Australia after playing college ball with former WSU head coach Tony Bennett at Wisconsin-Green Bay, recruited Kernich-Drew.
Metropolitan Melbourne has a population of 4 million, and Kernich-Drew said he's adapted well to the small population and chilly winters of Pullman after being born and raised in a city where he "never" saw it snow. Ladd, born and raised in Seattle, said Pullman suits him just fine.
"It fits my personality," Ladd said. "I'm a real quiet, ‘chill' person. That's what Pullman is."