Kernich-Drew filling out and making a mark

PULLMAN – For two years, the crimson faithful have been told that Dexter Kernich-Drew, the slender import from Australia, just may be the best athlete in the Cougar basketball program. He just needed time to bulk up and acclimate to the rigors of big-time college hoops. This season the 6-6 swingman from Melbourne is flashing the potential Cougar coaches have long seen in him.

Following a redshirt season in 2010-11 and then spot-duty action last season, when he averaged about eight minutes of playing time per game, Kernich-Drew is now firmly ensconced oncenter stage.

After DaVonte Lacy went down with a mild knee injury in WSU's embarrassing loss to Kansas on Nov. 19, Kernich-Drew responded the following night with a career-best 16 points in a one-point loss to Texas A&M in his first start of the season and second of his career.

Eight days later, following WSU's 64-55 win over Idaho on Nov. 28, head coach Ken Bone summed up his man from Down Under this way:

"We've been excited about Dexter from the get-go," Bone said. "He's a thin kid and he's trying to put on weight and put on strength. He works hard in the weight room but he's always had some great athleticism. He's quick, he's fast, he's probably our best athlete on the team and he can shoot."

Bone also noted that Kernich-Drew took the ball "to the rim a couple times" against the Vandals. Of that aggression and confidence, he said, "I like seeing that."

The Idaho game was a well-rounded coming-out-party of sorts for Kernich-Drew. He played 34 minutes, scoring 15 points, dishing 4 assists, pulling down 4 rebounds and nabbing a steal. He followed that up against Portland with 6 rebounds, 7 points and 3 assists.

And then came the Gonzaga game.

Kernich-Drew (a.k.a. The Hyphen) was responsible for much of the contest with containing the Zags' Kevin Pangos, who had firebombed WSU for 33 points on the strength of nine three-pointers a year ago in Spokane.

In this one, played in front of a raucous Pullman crowd, Pangos played 38 minutes, Kernich-Drew 34, and the Gonzaga sharpshooter finished the night going just 2-for-12 from the field.

Afterward, Bone offered praise, noting that Kernich-Drew isn't necessarily a lock-down defender, but by utilizing his length and effort he made life tough for Pangos.

In a recent interview, Kernich-Drew said his output is reflection of product of finally adjusting to Pac-12 competition and Bone's offense.

In addition, notes Bone, Kernich-Drew has added 20 pounds of muscle since coming to Pullman, jumping from 165 to 185 pounds.

The additional ballast is allowing Kernich-Drew to get back to what he did best in Australia: score. He averaged nearly 27 points-per-game during his senior year playing for the Waverly Falcons.

"I don't know if I was recruited as a scorer but I scored a lot back home," Kernich-Drew said. "That's what I was used to doing. Last year, was more about understanding and finally being out there and playing.

"I've always kind of seen myself as a scorer and someone who can play defense and stop their best players," he said. "I just need to keep evolving and working within Coach Bone's offense, picking and choosing when I can get my points and help out the team."

In the four games Lacy missed with his knee, Kernich-Drew averaged 12 points per outing. For the season, he's averaging 9.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. And he's playing an average of 26.1 minutes a game – fourth-most on the team.

What's more impressive is that Kernich-Drew was bothered for much of that run with an ankle he tweaked coming down on the foot of a St. Martin's player in a Nov. 6 exhibition contest.

Bone has hinted that KD's playing time would decrease slightly once Lacy returns to 100 percent. Kernich-Drew played 22 minutes last Sunday against Fresno State, but was back up to 28 the other night in the victory over Jackson State.

"We think he's going to be a really good player," Bone said in a recent interview. "We think he's just going to get better and better."

The Cougs have two non-conference games remaining -- in Seattle against Buffalo on Dec. 21 and then vs. Idaho State in Kennewick on Dec. 29 -- before opening Pac-12 play in Pullman on Jan. 5 against Washington.

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