BONE: A big change coming in Cougar hoops

KEN BONE SAID it so casually in a wide-ranging interview with the other day that it took a moment to resonate. But as the head man of the Washington State basketball program elaborated on the subject, it became crystal clear that a monumental change is coming to Cougar hoops this season.

The last couple of seasons the Cougs have played a modified "pack" defense, and they looked fairly solid in the process. But Bone wants to take it to a higher level this season.

That doesn't mean they're moving to the pack defense a la Dick Bennett.

But certainly a similar effect is what Bone is after. The Cougs hope to get there by putting pressure on the ball as soon as it is in-bounded and throughout the possession.

"We're going to get after people," Bone said just before heading out on the recruiting trail. "We are going to get after people at the guards spots, and we are going to get out and pressure and deny.

"And we're going to do it more than Cougar fans have seen in a long time."

In the Bennett days, opponents made no secret of their disdain for playing against the Cougar defense.

If Washington State plays effective pressure defense the length or three-quarters of the floor for most of the game, the frowns up and down the coast figure to be similar.

NOT EVERYONE IS SUPER-TALENTED on the offensive end. But if you have heart and smarts you can play great defense. Effective pressure up the court means the best thing that can happen for the opponent is they get into their half-court offense -- and often later than normal.

After they get into their offense, they can't make the extra pass or two because they've already used that time on the front end trying to break the press. Of course, there are all sorts of other bad things than can happen for the opponent too. And on those occasions, WSU's offense would be the beneficiary.

"We want to get points out of it ... This year (on defense) is going to be very, very different," said Bone.

Bone recently moved Rod Jensen into the assistant coaching position made available with Ben Johnson's move to Australia and this seems to be genesis for the switch.

As an assistant at Virginia and a head coach at Boise State and College of Idaho, Jensen built a reputation as a defensive specialist. Bone says Jensen is as good defensively as there is in the country.

BECAUSE THE COUGS ARE GOING to play an attacking defense, two things seem likely.

First, the players are going to have to be in the best shape of their lives, and second the rotation is going to be deeper than usual. Tony Bennett tended to play a 10-to-12 rotation in the non-conference portion of the season and then reduce it to about eight for conference play.

"Right now I feel pretty comfortable with the guys in our program. We're going to be doing some juggling around ... best case scenario you would know (the rotation) by your first game. You'd hope everything is set by conference play, and we may use the pre-conference (schedule) to figure out how we are there," said Bone.

Asked who his starters would be if Pac-12 games started tomorrow, Bone declined to name a first five or what the rotation might look like because the players haven't been tested yet in the new style of defensive play. And it's hard to know precisely what you have in the newcomers. That said, he offered some clues how things might shake out.

"You figure 8, 9, 10 guys in rotation but in time that might change -- we haven't introduced a lot of stuff to them yet (in the limited practicing allowed this time of year)," said Bone. "You've got guys that have played a lot for us in D.J. Shelton, Will DiIorio, Royce Woolridge, Dexter Kernich-Drew, (Junior Longrus) and DaVonté Lacy.

"And then you add in Que Demarquise Johnson and Jordan Railey, who were with us last year but didn't play. And then you have Danny Lawhorn and the two freshmen, Ike Ikenna Iroegbu and Josh Hawkinson. That's already 10-11 guys. And you might have one or two who might not be ready to fulfill that 10-15 minute role. And you've got Brett Boese, who is coming on and could slip into that kind of role. So there are some things that are yet to unfold."

Regular practices start on Sept. 27. That's two weeks earlier than normal, courtesy of a proposal passed by the NCAA board of governors in the spring. The NCAA allows for 30 practices in a 42-day window before the first regular-season game.

Bone said everyone is healthy, qualified and ready to go.

Asked who would assume the scoring mantle left by Brock Motum and Klay Thompson before him, Bone was straight forward.

"I don't know if we have a Klay Thompson on our team. I don't want to say we don't, but it's hard to think we have a Klay Thompson right now. But we have a lot of guys who can contribute. I am sure of that. I like our depth. Maybe we don't have a lot of 9s or 10s. But we do have a lot of 6s, 7s, and 8s."

  • Bone said Iroegbu and Hawkinson will play this season. "Neither one of those guys is going to redshirt. But I've got to wait and see what we've got. Open gym is one thing but it's a whole different deal when you get after it in games," said Bone.

  • The point guard spot figures to see a wealth of competition between Woolridge, Lacy, Iroegbu and Lawhorn. Lacy was an assist machine over the summer on a U.S. team, but Bone cautioned about assigning too much importance to just that window of play because of the lesser competition the team was playing.

  • Ben Johnson left this week for Australia, where he played professionally and where his wife grew up. Bone said Johnson is looking into a couple coaching opportunities Down Under. Johnson was WSU's point man on recruiting in Australia and New Zealand. But his departure shouldn't shut off the pipeline. In fact, says Bone, it may improve because Johnson, living in country, can likely recommend more prospects for WSU to put on the radar.

  • Bone expects to fill the program's director of player development role, vacated by Jensen's move to assistant coach, very shortly. Chief among the things Bone is looking for are experience in scouting the Pac-12 and overseeing academics.

  • WSU had a plethora of close losses last year that Bone has no intention of repeating this season. "What we're doing is to change up the defense and then down the stretch we need to take care of the ball and make good decisions. We spent a lot of time last year working to get better in those areas -- video, drills, meetings, fundamentals, we tried the best we could ... Sometimes it just takes time and guys getting better from one year to the next. But we've also got to be able to make shots in crunch time this season."

  • Cougfan Top Stories