HOOPS: What Cougs need is a Lodwick

ANY SUCCESSFUL college hoops team doesn't just have the headliners, they have the guys that do the little things... that aren't so little. And if the Cougs are to be successful this season out on the court with their new defensive philosophy, they'll need "role players" -- the guys who scrap and claw but don't necessarily fill up the net. In short, they need a guy like Abe Lodwick.

Lodwick, the former Coug F/G, always understood better than most his strengths and weaknesses. His propensity to step in and take a charge at an opportune moment, or dive to the floor for a loose ball destined to fly out of bounds, or come out and apply in-your-grill pressure, gained the Bend, Ore. native the admiration of a segment of CougFans who realized winning took far more than knocking down threes and slamming home dunks.

He was a streaky shooter, capable of draining treys and he could knock in a mid-range jumper if given space -- but streaky was the operative word for much of his career. His real value came in his defense, which was fundamentally unmarred. At 6-foot-7, with a big wingspan, he had sneaky hops and the ability to go up high and snag a "Wow" rebound.

"I pretty much do all the boring stuff that every team needs," Lodwick told Cougfan.com earlier this year.

If there were an award handed out at the end of every year for setting the most legal screens that resulted in staggered defenders, Lodwick probably would have won it. He fit ideally the mold former coach Tony Bennett looked for in a recruit – the tough-minded, unselfish player who probably didn't get any scholarship offers from the UCLA's or Arizona's.

Yet, for nearly all of Lodwick's years in Pullman (2008-12), nothing really came together offensively. He struggled to find his smooth shooting stroke and didn't look comfortable in coach Ken Bone's motion offense. Was he better suited as a shooting guard or a forward?

As a sophomore and junior, the answer remained unclear. He wore his frustration as scoring droughts interrupted stretches of hot shooting, though he didn't sustain the latter long enough to produce more than a brief glimpse of his offensive ability. He scored 2.5 points per game as a sophomore and 3.5 points per game as a junior, his combined shooting percentage in the mid 30's.

Lodwick, a conscientious, well-meaning sort, realized he was a role player, and he had no intention of playing after graduating.

"There was definitely times during my college career when I didn't really think about a career after college basketball," he said. "I always wanted one but I never thought it would actually happen."

In 2011, during a redshirt senior campaign where he averaged 7.1 points per game, he stopped caring, but in the right way. The bulk of his offensive production wasn't realized until the tail of the season.

"I got to a point where I didn't really worry about the results as much anymore," Lodwick said. "I had experienced enough failure to be like, ‘Well I've been here before. I've experienced missing a shot. I've experienced getting pulled out for making a stupid play. I used that to my advantage. I was like ‘you know what I only have so many games left in my career. I want to enjoy them.' And I did."

His final five games in a Cougar uniform came in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), an event regarded as an afterthought to the NCAA Tournament and the NIT. And indeed, most WSU basketball fans have probably already forgotten about the "zebra pen" tournament, -- look it up -- given that it was nothing more than a way for WSU to extend a season that had ended with a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Pac-12.

But Lodwick certainly hasn't. And with good reason.

In the postseason tourney, he transformed from a "glue guy" to a go-to scorer, dropping a career-best 23 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in a 72-55 third-round win against Oregon State in Corvallis. He proved that was no aberration five days later, when he scored 16 points and collected seven rebounds when the Cougars opened the best-of-three final round in Pullman against Pittsburgh with a 67-66 win.

Lodwick went from the fifth offensive option to filling Brock Motum's role after the First-Team Pac-12 selection went down the week prior with an injury.

"I only wish I could have gotten to that point earlier," Lodwick said. "A lot of players struggle with that throughout their careers. And some get to it at different points than others. Some people never get to that point. For me, it took the better part of five years."

The strain was worth it. After graduating from WSU in 2012, Lodwick launched an unlikely career overseas.

IT STARTED WHEN BONE connected him with K.C. Callero, an international agent who also represents Marcus Capers. Shortly thereafter, Lodwick signed a non-guaranteed deal with the German team Phoenix-Hagen. He surpassed expectations by using a one-month tryout to stick around his entire rookie season.

Phoenix-Hagen even made the playoffs in what was supposed to be a down year. Lodwick averaged 6.3 points in 36 games, including a 20-point performance during a regular season game last November.

"That was actually a pretty big deal for the team that I was on," Lodwick said. "Before the season, they had no expectations of making the playoffs. They kind of joked about it actually."

And Lodwick is still playing. He announced July 24 via his Facebook page that he had signed a deal with Oberwart Gunner, a team in Austria where former Husky Darnell Gant also plays.

The Austrian-A league is a slight step down in talent from the German league Lodwick played in last year, though he said he didn't mind because they signed him with the thought he could fill a more prominent offensive role.

Through five games with Oberwart this season, Lodwick, the team's starting shooting guard/swingman and averaging 13.2 points, shooting 50 percent from the field, 42.3 percent from 3-point range and playing 28.0 minutes per game.

Not bad for a former "role player" who thought he'd be done playing competitive basketball after his WSU career. And the Cougs this season could use some of that ‘ol role player mentality Lodwick exhibited so well, starting with Friday night's season opener against CSU Bakersfield (Pac-12 Networks, 7:00 p.m.)

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