Bone, Cougs weigh in from New York

NEW YORK -- Ken Bone stood behind the microphone in the middle of the dais at the press conference hyping the NIT final four. It was a little past 1 p.m. Eastern Monday afternoon in the Marriott Marquis' Broadway Lounge, sitting eight floors above the usual sea of yellow cabs, street musicians and mass of humanity below in Times Square.

"If you've been to Pullman, Washington, there wasn't a lot going on this weekend there, so we decided to get out of town early and get to New York," Ken Bone the Washington State coach, said, with tournament officials sitting to his left and Master of Ceremonies Fran Fraschilla and the other NIT coaches to his right. "We got here Saturday night. We saw more people in Times Square than we do sometimes in Pullman. It's been fun so far."

The Cougars would have loved their fun to have come at the NCAA Final Four in Houston, but the NIT final four in NYC and playing at the World's Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden, will have to do. This is the program's fifth try at this tournament and its first final-four appearance here.

These players are determined to make the most of their mini version of March Madness and bring home first prize to Pullman, a consolation prize after not making it to the larger slice of March Madness.

"I'm not sure it'll make up for it, but it would definitely ease the pain, just because we thought we had an NCAA tournament team," Klay Thompson said, sitting at Washington State's table at a pre-press conference gathering for the media.

"This is our second chance to prove to people that we're good enough to be in the tournament."

WASHINGTON STATE's NIT semi tip off Tuesday night is at a little past 4 p.m. Pacific on ESPN2 against a Wichita State team that's chasing its 28th victory, which would set a single-season record for the Shockers. The nightcap of the semifinal doubleheader pits Alabama vs. Colorado. Alabama coach Anthony Grant is in his second season after jumping from VCU, a surprise member of Houston's final foursome.

"I'm really, really happy and proud about what those guys have been able to accomplish," Grant said.

What VCU has accomplished stirred up some thoughts in Marcus Capers of what might have been for the 22-12 Cougars if they had received an entry pass into the NCAA tournament. But the 6-foot-4 junior guard also admitted they lost some games that they should've won. And they did fall by two to Washington in their Pac-10 tournament opener despite getting 43 from Thompson.

"I feel pretty confident in us taking this," Capers said. "I'm not trying to be cocky, but I'm really confident in my team. If we do this in a fashionable scent, I feel like they'll look it like they made a mistake (not taking us). ... I feel like if we would've got one more win, we would've been in for sure."

It has been a bumpy ride at times for Washington State. Its three-game winning streak in the NIT marks the team's longest since December. Of course, there were also the marijuana arrests of Thompson, Reggie Moore and DeAngelo Casto along the way, causing distractions and leading to brief suspensions.

"It's been an up-and-down season emotionally," Bone said. "I'm just thankful that ... really in the big picture, if you look at our whole team, we have a lot of solid individuals with high character, and they've been able to keep us together.

"I like the fact that we've been able to deal with adversity all season long. We've had numerous injuries. We've had a couple of suspensions. But the guys on this team seem to keep putting it aside and keep going, which takes good leadership and perseverance."

IN THE END, Thompson does feel there was at least one benefit that came out of all the off-court trouble.

"A few of us made mistakes; actually only a couple of us made mistakes," Thompson said, since Casto has denied guilt. "We learned from it. Everyone's human. The other players were easy to put it past them and very accepting. I think it brought us closer and think we're better from it."

The 6-6 All-Pac first-team junior guard, who leads the Cougars at 22 points per game, says he hasn't made up his mind yet whether this will be the end of his Washington State career. His dad, Mychal, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1978 draft by Portland and won three rings with the Lakers.

"I'm going to weigh my options after this tournament is over and talk to some people and see where my stock's at and just go from there," Thompson said.

THOMPSON AND HIS teammates got to practice at Columbia University in northern Manhattan Sunday, and then they got to see some sights out of the bus window, including Central Park. They also got to stop at the famed basketball playground, Rucker Park.

"That was pretty different," said Capers, who's from Winter Haven, Fla. "I thought it was a whole lot bigger than it really is. When we got there, there were a bunch of kids running around. There was one girl who I remember. She said she was on her Maya Moore tiff. For the most part, she was doing her own thing against the dudes and looking pretty easy while she was doing it."

They also got to walk through Times Square again.

"A lot of people, and a lot of characters at that," Capers said. "I saw one dude who was pretty short. He thought it was entertaining to give me a high five. An old lady decided to cuss out a cab driver. She walked across the crosswalk when, the crosswalk light, it didn't tell her to walk. She was just doing her own thing. And there were comedians. I met a homeless guy who pretty funny last night.

"This city is so different. Me from little Winter Haven, I'm not used to all these skyscrapers at all. ... Being here is way faster than Seattle. Everyone stays in their little box or bubble. It's just a fast city."

The world underneath the city -- the subway system -- caught Thompson's eye.

"I've never seen anything like it," he said. "That's pretty crazy. That and I'd say just how there's buildings everywhere you go. I've never been in a city like this. I'll remember it the rest of my life, this trip."

Oh, there's one building in particular this team won't forget from this trip. The Cougars will get their first look inside Madison Square Garden at Tuesday's shootaround.

"Not many kids can say they played in the Staples Center and Madison Square Garden in the same year, let alone in a month frame," Capers said. "But I think it's going to be a cool experience. Once we get there, I feel like I'll take it all in and just think about the history of the building and some of the performances that's happened there.

"The one that sticks out in my mind is Ray Allen hitting the game-winning shot over Allen Iverson in the Big East tournament. Ray Allen is one of my favorite players."

GREGG MARSHALL HAS concerns about Washington State's players. The Wichita State coach sees a team that plays hard, forces turnovers and has talent. Thompson would be his biggest concern, especially in light of his two career 43-point performances.

"Forty points is a lot of points," Marshall said. "It took me a good week and a half to two weeks to score 40 points when I played. Hopefully he doesn't have 40 against us. We're just going to have to do the best we can to try to guard him. It'll take a team effort. Hopefully if he scores 40, he takes about 45 shots to do it."

Bone will worry about Alabama or Colorado if he gets that far. For now, he just doesn't want to be shocked by the Shockers to end his second season.

"They're a hard team to match up with because they're so athletic and quick and strong at every position," Bone said. "It's not just one through five. It's one through 10 with that depth. They just keep coming at you with guys off the bench."

This run could be a springboard for the Cougars to even better things next season. So what are the chances that they will come away with the championship trophy?

"From what I've seen, our chances are as good as anybody else's," Bone said. "I'm not sure they're any better. You have four teams that are playing good basketball here in late March. Forty minutes goes by quickly. So if you can get out there and perform well, you have a chance to win it."

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