Bennett likes Cougs' chances

NEW COUGAR basketball coach <b>Dick Bennett</b> was full of pleasant surprises today. For starters, he said, it's not a slam dunk that guard <b>Marcus Moore</b> will jump early to the NBA. But even if the standout junior does depart, said Bennett, the Cougars have enough returning talent, plus a couple of interesting incoming JC players, to be highly competitive this season --- more competitive in Year One than any at other stop on Bennett's impressive road to 453 career wins.

The personable head coach with a national reputation for rebuilding programs and deploying a stifling brand of defense made the remarks in an interview on Seattle's KJR radio.

Moore, who announced last month that he would forgo his senior season, has not yet hired an agent so has until June 19 to withdraw his name from the draft. He will participate in an NBA scouting combine next week and decide after that if he'll stay in Pullman to help launch the Bennett era.

Bennett says he thinks another year of collegiate seasoning would help round off the 6-foot-6 Moore's considerable talents, particularly at the defensive end of the court but also in terms of leadership as he would be charged with helping the players around him elevate their games.

Moore is one of only 24 players in WSU history to score more than 1,000 career points and one of only three to collect 300 assists and 125 steals. This past season, in which he missed nine games with a bum ankle, he averaged 18.6 points per game.

But with or without Moore, Bennett said, he believes the Cougars can be competitive in 2003-04 -- much more so than in the first years of his three other rebuilding efforts at Wisconsin, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

With the additions of JC transfers Jeff Varem and Anthony Grant, Bennett believes the Cougars will have a solid eight or nine players who will merit significant PT.

He didn't name names, but Randy Green, Thomas Kelati and Chris Schlatter are quality returning veterans and Justin Bellegarde and Ezenwa Ukeagu, a pair of bangers, figure to be much improved in '03-04 now that they have a year of Pac-10 competition under their belts.

Bennett praised former head coach Paul Graham for bringing in these players who can serve as the foundation for a turnaround.

The newest members of the team --- Varem and Grant -- have resumes that indicate they could contribute right away.

Varem, a 6-5, 238-pound small forward, is from Nigeria and comes to WSU by way of Vincennes University, a JUCO in Indiana.

"We're very excited to have Jeff in our program," Bennett said earlier this week. "He is a very unique player with a multi-dimensional game. We think he could be a difference maker."

Last season he averaged 15.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. He also averaged three assists and 1.5 steals per outing. He was named first team All-Region XII and second-team JC All-America.

Grant, a Seattle native, travels to Pullman from College of Eastern Utah.

"He is a very sound and smart player, the kind we need here. He has been prepared well by his high school and junior college coaches," Bennett said earlier.

Grant spent one season in junior college where he averaged 16.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game this past campaign. Also a solid defender, he was named first team All-Region XIII. The 6-foot-5 guard connected on 81 three-point attempts.

Grant played his prep ball at Franklin High, where he was a three-year letter winner and helped the Quakers reach the Class 4A state tournament twice. He was a two-time first team All-KingCo selection and was named both first team all-state and first team all-state tournament during his senior campaign.

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