5 keys to the Cougar basketball season

PULLMAN -- Ken Bone is taking a page, albeit abbreviated, from Mike Leach's pre-season handbook and heading to Lewiston with his Cougar basketball team to kick off formal practices. They'll be there from Friday to Sunday, working behind closed doors. But closed doors or not, there are five clear story lines that will go far in determining where this Cougar team will be standing come March.

With Mike Ladd graduated, Woolridge figures to handle the bulk of the duties at point guard, with true freshman Ike Irogebu and JC transfer Danny Lawhorn bucking for significant back up minutes. Woolridge, a junior, offers intrigue when you consider that 1) he improved immensely from the first half of last season to the second half; and 2) last season was not only his first playing the point, but effectively his first in action in two years following a limited freshman season at Kansas and a mandatory year on the sidelines following his transfer to WSU. His continued development as a PG will be key to the Cougs finishing in the upper division of the Pac-12.

For the first time since Aron Baynes graduated, the Cougs will have a bona fide thick body in the post this season in 6-10, 264-pound redshirt junior Jordan Railey. The Beaverton native and former Iowa State Cyclone is believed to have made significant strides in his game while sitting out last season under NCAA transfer rules. Railey passes well, screens well, rebounds and, above all, has the potential to take up defensive real estate the way Baynes once did. Someone in the middle who can alter or block shots is something the Cougars need desperately. Last season the team averaged only two blocks per game. If Railey is the second coming of Baynes, Cougar fans will be rejoicing. Even if he only gets part way there, that will be a welcome boost in the paint.

Bone says the Cougs will be taking a different approach on defense this season, with considerable full- and three-quarter-court pressure. "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," he told CF.C's Barry Bolton earlier this month. "We want to get points out of it ... This year is going to be very, very different." The Cougs are deep at the guard and wing positions, making the idea plausible. Adding Rod Jensen, a noted defensive specialist, to the coaching staff adds to the possibilities. How well the team adapts to the new style and whether they can sustain the intensity for a full season may be the ultimate determinates on where this team ends up.

With Brock Motum and Mike Ladd gone, leadership of the team will belong to senior Will DiIorio primarily and then fellow senior D.J. Shelton, fourth-year junior Dexter Kernich-Drew and true junior DaVonté Lacy secondarily. DiIorio is a classic blue-collar, lunch-bucket guy with tremendous maturity and grit. He will lead by example and no doubt be considered the wise man of the team. Look for Lacy and Kernich-Drew to be more vocally assertive, especially on the offensive end.

He redshirted last season for academic reasons and used that time to shed 15 unwanted pounds. He now checks in at a well-toned 6-5, 205. From Bone to DiIorio, everyone this off-season has talked about Johnson's uncommon scoring abilities. He'll need to bring it in droves this season because Motum's departure creates a void of 18.7 points per game. The next-closest returnees, Woolridge and Lacy, averaged 11.0 and 10.5 points per game respectively last season. Bone loves to run his offense through a prime-time scorer, a la Motum the last two seasons and Klay Thompson before that, but Johnson is young. If he's up to the challenge, it will take pressure off Woolridge at the point while at the same time allowing Lacy to get after it in the new defense without the burden of having to bring the hot hand on offense each night.


  • Bone says Iroegbu and Josh Hawkinson, both true freshmen, 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," the coach told CF.C earlier this month.

  • The Cougars open the season with an exhibition against Central Washington on Nov. 1, and begin regular play Nov. 8 against CSU-Bakersfield. Both games will be in Pullman. WSU will finish out the month of November in Pullman against Lamar (Nov. 16), at Gonzaga (Nov. 21), and in Pullman against Texas Christian (Nov. 24). The Cougs will then head to the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, where they open against Butler on Nov. 28.

  • The Cougs will be wearing new Nike Hyperelite Uniforms this season. They are made from a lighter Dri-Fit material than previous uniforms and feature laser-cut perforations that increase ventilation. A more obvious change to the fans is the inscription of the Washington State fight song on the back of each jersey.

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