Cougar basketball gets underway

PULLMAN – It’s a new era for Washington State’s men’s basketball team. In addition to the coaching staff, Cougar fans will see six new faces on the court. Coach Ernie Kent said Friday at the first practice of the season that he feels the newcomers entered the program a little scatterbrained, but are starting to find their way. Still, he added, there is a lot of learning to do before November.

The Cougars held their first official practice of the 2014 season on Friday, which means Kent and his staff can work with the team for two and half hours on consecutive days. Previously, the coaching staff could only work with the team for two hours a week.

“For all the excitement Coach Kent brings and building up over the summer, it feels good to be back in the gym and have the season underway,” said senior guard DaVonté Lacy.

After playing in China with the Pac-12 All Star Team, Lacy said the experience of being on the court with a new set of players will hopefully translate to him helping bring the Cougars together.

“We were all new guys (in China), but we bonded close and we played really well after we bonded,” Lacy said. “With the new guys – as in the coaches and the newcomers – hopefully I can help them with just bonding and being a team.

“The quicker we become a team, the better we can be.”

The new Cougars are freshmen Trevor Dunbar, Jackie Davis and Ny Redding, and junior transfers Aaron Cheatum, Valentine Izundu and Marcus Graham.

Lacy mentioned that the upperclassmen are showing more leadership and helping the new faces get adjusted to the program.

With the first official practice out of the way for the Cougars, Kent said he believes it will take him four to six weeks before he can get an idea of who will help Lacy in the scoring department this season.

“There’s plenty of talent on this team that if they play with confidence and if they’re focused in, they should be able to make buckets and help him out,” Kent said.

One of those players is sophomore Que Johnson, for whom Kent said he has expectations in 2014.

“A player that everybody looks at in the conference as ‘there’s a guy you got to shut down,’ he certainly has the game to do it,” Kent said. “If we can get his stamina where it needs to be, play with great energy, play with a great motor, he has a chance to be a good player.”

Kent and his staff have been focusing on getting the team up to speed with his expectations – including emphasizing accountability.

“If I can get them to understand the importance of being accountable off the court, the basketball part will take care of itself,” Kent said. “Playing defense, running the floor, blocking out – it all the same thing.”

On the defensive side of the ball, assistant coach Silvey Dominguez said there is still a learning curve with picking up the defense, but that the team is heading in the right direction.

Dominguez named 7-foot center Jordan Railey as being especially beneficial in his defensive scheme.

“It’s always really helpful, especially if those guys are rim protectors, if they can block shots and help on various situations,” Dominguez said.

The Cougars will hit the hardwood next week for practice and then showcase their skills in their first PREseason FUNKtion next Saturday.

In addition to graduated seniors Will DiIorio and D.J. Shelton, three others from the 2013-14 team – each of whom had eligibility remaining – are no longer with the program: Royce Woolridge, who transferred to Grand Canyon College; James Hunter, who is believed to be back in his native Australia; and Keaton Hayenga, the former Kansas City Royals farmhand who spent the past two seasons as a walk-on with the Cougars.

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PICTURED ABOVE -- Top row, left to right: Trevor Dunbar, Jackie Davis, Aaron Cheatham; Bottom row, left to right: Marcus Graham, Izundu Valentine and Ny Redding; Ernie Kent at far right.

Click here for the complete 2014-15 Cougars roster.

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