3 clouds hover but Coug hoopers sound buoyant

PULLMAN -- Despite three clouds hanging overhead, Washington State players and head coach Ken Bone were buoyant Tuesday as the Cougs started on-campus basketball practices following three days behind closed doors in Lewiston. Much of the talk centered on new plans on defense, but freshman Ike Iroegbu chimed in that he's ready for a starting role at point guard.

Returning starter Royce Woolridge will no doubt have a say on that point position, but Iroegbu's confidence about the role has to come as good news to the faithful following last week's announcement that JC transfer point guard Danny Lawhorn has been suspended from the team. We'll call that Cloud One.

Cloud Two appeared Tuesday, during the media availability before practice, when head coach Ken Bone announced that 6-10 junior center Jordan Railey also had been suspended.

For both players, the stated reason for the disciplinary action was the standard "violation of team rules." No other details were shared, but two sources within the university have told Cougfan.com that Lawhorn's situation extends beyond the athletic department and is being investigated by the broader university.

Whether Lawhorn or Railey will return to the team this season is a question unanswered. "No timetable for return" is the operative phrase.

By comparison, Cloud Three on the Cougar hoops horizon is a veritable silver lining. Que Johnson is sidelined with a stress fracture in a foot but is expected back on the court in 10 days to two weeks, Bone said.

"A really good player for us, a guy who we can get the ball to at times and can really score," Bone said of Johnson.

AS FOR THE DEFENSE THE COUGS will be playing this season, it'll be heavy on pressure.

"We're changing the defense quite a bit," said Bone. "It is a much more aggressive defense. We want to apply pressure on the ball, get in the passing lanes and deny ball reversal. It's a lot different than what we've done in the past."

Bone said because the team is viewed as lacking an identity after losing leading scorer Brock Motum, they have a great opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong this season. And defense is step one in that process.

Bone said he is excited about having more options at the guard position than he did a year ago, and that is fueling the change in defensive scheme. Instead of players having 8-to-10-minute stints on the court, he expects to cut it down to 5-to-6-minute intervals to keep the intensity level high.

Bone said he was impressed with how conditioned the team was at last Friday's first practice so the constant full-court pressure should be no problem for the Cougars.

Iroegbu said it'll be all about putting full-court pressure on the opposing ball handlers and making it difficult for them to get it up the court. Woolridge said the Cougs are focused on setting the tempo this year – something that opponents dictated too often last season.

In the post, it was envisioned that Railey and D.J. Shelton would create something of a twin towers effect. Railey's suspension obviously clouds that outlook, but Shelton didn't talk Tuesday like his would-be batterymate would be gone long term. Shelton said the focus is for he and Railey to clog the paint, blocking shots when possible and if not, forcing opponents into tough shots.

Bone said Shelton, who plays very comfortably on the offensive perimeter, will be more of an Abe Lodwick than DeAngelo Casto.

"I think he's going to have a nice season," Bone said. "He's a big guy that can step out on and do some shooting from the perimeter like Abe Lodwick did."

Bone pointed to the final game of last season, in the Pac-12 tournament against Washington, as an example of the role Shelton will play this season. He said although Shelton went 2-of-8 from beyond the arc, that type of aggressiveness offensively is what fans can expect to see.

Shelton reinforced Bone's comments as he talked about his improvement during the offseason.

"I think my jumper is way more consistent, I'll be able to shoot way better. I'm way more explosive and I got stronger, so I should have inside and outside game."

Another returning starter who Bone expects big things from is junior guard DaVonté Lacy.

"DaVonté Lacy is one guy who has really stepped his game up. He's done a great job with his body, he's very toned and because of that he's a little quicker and a little more explosive.

Lacy averaged 10.5 points per game last season. He will play the 2 guard, but also figures to have turns at the point.

Although the way Iroegbu talks, there may not be a need for Lacy to fill minutes at the point. Iroegbu said he's ready for a starting role and has been working on setting up his teammates to score.

Woolridge was quick to marvel at Iroegbu's development as a passer and said the freshman has stepped up his game during the offseason.

As for his own game, Woolridge has come a long way as a point guard. Last year was clearly a trial run for him at the position but now he said it's natural. That should translate to more court awareness, increased aggressiveness pushing the ball up court, and greater confidence driving to and either converting at the rim or kicking out to the perimeter.

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.

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