WHEN IT COMES to sizing up the three new guards that have joined the Washington State men’s basketball team, it’s clear head coach Ernie Kent had a theme in mind during the recruiting process.
In a conversation Thursday about the outlook for his 2015-16 Cougars, two phrases were repeated in the run-down of each of his rookie guards ...
Very good on-ball defender
Can play the point, the 2 or the 3
Versatility among guards is a hallmark of Kent-coached teams.
So is scoring ability. But stepped up defensive proficiency is a focus this season.
Newcomers Charles Callison, Renard Suggs and Vionte Daniels sound like perfect fits for Kent.
“We have two big priorities: making up for the scoring loss of DaVonte (Lacy), which I think Josh (Hawkinson) and Ike (Iroegbu) will do, and playing better defense,” Kent said. “We were not very good last season on defense -- one of the worst defensive teams in my career. This year we’re going to be stronger, more aggressive ... have greater quickness to contain the ball.”
The Cougars ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense last season, surrendering 76.5 points per game -- 5.5 points more than the next-worst team (California).
“To stay in games, to win games when you’re not shooting the ball well requires good defense,” Kent said.
The need for improved defense extends to the frontcourt as well, with Conor Clifford (7-0/274) and Valentine Izundu (6-10/243) expected to make a difference in the paint.
But when it comes to ball containment, all eyes naturally are on the guards.
Iroegbu may be the fastest player in the conference if Pac-12 Networks pundits are to be believed. And fellow returning letterman Ny Redding is bigger and stronger than last season, Kent said.
In regard to the three new guards, here’s Kent’s rapid-fire description of each, with “very good on-ball defender” omitted to avoid redundancy:
Callison (6-0, 182, JC transfer):
“A terrific floor general, excellent at running the team. Very strong ... has an excellent shot."
Suggs (6-2, 188, JC transfer):
“A deep-range shooter who can also get to the basket.”
Daniels (6-2, 163, true freshman from Vancouver, Wash.):
“High basketball IQ and can really shoot. A pleasant surprise so far.”
“We’re going to run more, get up and down more. Coupled with the guys we have coming back, we have good guard skills,” Kent said
Junior shooting guard/small forward Que Johnson comes into the season “stronger and more energized,” Kent said. He believes the influx of new talent has helped motivate Johnson, who averaged 18 minutes and 6.1 points per game last season.
JC transfer Derrien King (6-6, 170) is coming off an injury and is just now getting back to full strength, Kent said. “He’s another guy who can shoot and has a good feel for the game. He has length, not the weight yet, and can disrupt defensively,” the coach said. King will play the 3, though Kent noted the Santa Monica CC product took some turns at point guard in the JC ranks.
The team’s summer-session GPA was 3.2 and the cumulative GPA is 3.1. “That tells you a lot about the work ethic of this team. The work ethic is really good,” Kent said.
Kent termed the off season “very productive” in terms of conditioning, academics and developing team chemistry between the six new players and seven returnees.
Regular practices begin Oct. 2 and Kent said there’s much “work to do, but we have time -- for where we’re at in September, I couldn’t be more pleased. We’re heading in a positive direction.” Last season the Cougars finished 13-18 overall and 7-11 in Pac-12 play.
Post man Junior Longrus and shooting guard/small forward Brett Boese are the only seniors on the team, meaning the Cougars have two slots to fill in the 2016 recruiting cycle. The early signing period for new recruits runs from Nov. 11-18 and the regular period is April 13-May 18. Kent said the plan is to fill the slots in November. As for Longrus and Boese, he said both are playing better than last year and both are outstanding role models “academically, socially and in leadership.”
The Cougars open the season with two exhibition games at home: against Lewis-Clark State on Oct. 30 and Pacific (of Oregon) on Nov. 6. The regular season also will begin at home, on Nov. 13 against Northern Arizona.