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Cougar hoops: Ernie Kent sees size, depth and surprises

IF EARLY INDICATIONS are any measure, Cougar fans might become very well acquainted with true freshman wing Viont'e Daniels out of Federal Way this season at Washington State.

At the Pac-12 basketball media day, Kent pegged Daniels as the Cougs' biggest surprise with a little less than a month remaining before the Cougs'  season opener.

Daniels went from second team all-league as a junior to the Associated Press 4A Player of the Year his senior season. There’s a long way to go between now and the season opener on Nov. 12 but Daniels has done enough in early offseason practices to turn Kent and the staff's heads. 

Daniels (6-2, 163), who averaged 24 points, six rebounds and four assists his senior season, earned a bevy of honors as a senior, including: AP 4A Player of the Year, Tacoma News Tribune 4A Player of the Year, Seattle Times 4A Player of the Year, Coaches Association 4A Player of the Year, 4A State Tournament Player of the Year, All-Area Player of the Year and first-team All-State.

WSU HOOPS FANS will be hoping Ernie Kent winds up being prescient about the 2015-16 Cougs, and for the media to have egg on its face.

At the Pac-12 basketball media day, the media poll slotted the Cougs dead last in the Pac-12. The cherry Kent, however, had lots of positives, including what he sees as talented depth despite having seven new faces on the squad. 

With that depth, Kent said, the Cougs will be more like his St .Mary’s/Oregon teams in terms of style and he expects better defense than last season as well.

“Certainly with our numbers, we can play a lot faster and be more effective at running numbers at people,” said Kent.

Josh Hawkinson (6-10) accompanied Kent to media day.  The third-year junior said he wasn’t concerned on if he wouldn’t be able to sneak up on anyone this year after becoming the only Pac-12 player to average a double-double his sophomore season (14.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg).
 
Meanwhile, what Kent wants to see from Hawkinson this year is improved range.

Calling him a ‘European Stretch 4’, Kent said he wants to see Hawk drain more 3-pointers with the increased size the Cougs have in 2015-16. He also said the coaches haven’t noticed Hawkinson scoring as much in offseason practices with so many others who can shoot it. That should, Kent said, in turn translate to teams not being able to focus on Hawkinson, who excels at playing in space.

ONE OF THOSE Kent is counting on to excel from the outside is Ike Iroegbu.  Kent said he should be the go-to scorer from the outside with DaVonte Lacy having graduated, but Kent was quick to add he has a team full of guys who can score.

More intriguing, Kent said he believes Iroegbu can improve just as much this year as he did last season.

With Conor Clifford (7-0) and Valentine Izundu (6-10)  joining Hawkinson, the Cougs should better defensively this year due to their size on the back line, Kent said. WSU struggled mightily at times last year down the stretch when it came to defense, something Kent previously pointed to as a major offseason focus. 

A sold out student section would help the team's efforts too, Kent said.

“If we can get student body back to where Tony Bennett… had it, Pullman is a very tough place to play,” said Kent.

ON BEING PICKED last in the Pac-12 media poll, Kent mentioned a few times that if WSU is a last place team, then the Pac-12 is going to be a really good conference.

At the same time, Kent said he expects growing pains early in non-conference play, and again when league play starts.

Kent likened his second season at WSU to a prize fight, saying this is Round 2 and the Cougs “just need to find ourselves (in preseason).”

“I've got seven new players and any time you have that there's a transition,” said Kent. He also said, several times, the basketball team had a  3.2 GPA this summer.

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • Kent, as he’s said before, mentioned the new 30-second shot clock shouldn’t affect WSU since they like to get up and down. He did envision more defensive pressing by teams in backcourt.
  • There wasn’t much news from Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, but he did say the idea being bandied about that the college basketball season should start in January and end in April should be explored and is intriguing. That said, Scott was concerned about tinkering with the uber-successful March Madness.
  • Scott said the Pac-12 basketball tournament has been a big success in Las Vegas the past three years and he sees continued success there. He also said the recent legal rulings support the Pac-12's view that stipends beyond the full cost of attendance are not called for because they see them as students, not employees.
  • Scott also said he’s been in favor of measures designed to speed up game of college basketball and increase scoring – and he warned fans that there may be more whistles and fouls in the early going as teams won’t be used to some of the rules.


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