Entering his third season as head WSU hoops man, Kent was enthusiastic about what his team can accomplish this season. Part of his optimism is grounded in the foundation of the roster. Seven players return from last season with six new faces joining.
The Cougs are looking to rebound from a 9-22 campaign last season after going 13-18 in Kent’s first year in Pullman.
Washington State’s 10-day tour through Italy proved to be a great experience for the team and staff, Kent said, with the Cougs going 3-2. The time they spent together in a foreign land should go a long way toward blending new players with returners. No question the trip allowed Kent and his staff to get in solid work with all the players and begin the process of preparing for the Pac-12 basketball season.
Here's is Kent’s assessment of each returning player:
ROBERT FRANKS ( 6-7, 240-pound sophomore forward)
Last season averaged 2.2 points - 1.3 rebounds - 8.3 min per game - 0 starts
“I call him the missing link because if he ever figures it out he can make us so much better. He’s starting to do that now. He’s skilled. He’s got himself in much better shape than when he came in the door last year. He’s lost a ton of weight and his conditioning is so much better.
"We started him the last game (in Italy). He had 21-points going 9 of 12 from the field. He opened up the game 7 for 7 in the first 20-minutes. I hoping all of that continues because he can be the missing ingredient to this (team). He can stretch the floor because he shoots so well.
“There’s a lot of untapped potential sitting there that we’re tapping into now. When he figures it out, he just makes us so much better because he gives us so much more of a scoring punch when we get Josh off the floor. He gives us a guy that can really score without going small.”
VIONT'E DANIELS (6-2, 175-pound sophomore guard)
Last season averaged 2.5 points - 0.9 rebounds - 10.7 min per game - 3 starts
“He’s instant offense. (Daniels) was player of the year at his level coming out of high school and really started gaining confidence his junior and senior year(s). Then all of the sudden he went through the fires his freshman year (here). Here comes that second season. He’s got some things figured out. You can play more of your style and play with your confidence level. What he does well is he’s a really good shooter. A good defensive player that’s getting better and better all the time. We feel like he can be a guy who can give you quality minutes when called upon. He has a really good feel for the game. It’s a matter of getting stronger, bigger and understanding how hard it is to play at this level. That comes with experience and being in the system."
What part of Daniels game has shown the most progress over the off-season?
“I would say understanding the system. He was already a good athlete (last year) who was already in good condition. He just needed to understand the system and get a feel for when to go and when to slow. I think he’s gotten really good at that.”
DERRIEN KING (6-6, 185-pound junior forward)
Last season averaged 3.8 points - 1.8 rebounds - 12.5 minutes per game - 0 starts
"He is probably one of the most improved players to this point from last year. He’s really come back a different player, different confidence. He knocks down 3’s, drives and he can play the 1, 2, 3 or 4. We played a lot of small ball over there to guard the European teams because of their ability to shoot the three. With him we can switch everything and put him at the 4 and Josh (Hawkinson) at the 5.”
“He’s put on more weight and still needs to put on more, but we play so fast that’s not a factor. Even (when he’s) at the 4, we switch everything so he’s not getting beat up or anything like that. His defense has improved. His strength has improved. He’s confident. He’s really scoring the ball well for us. When he has open shots he’s knocked down shots and made plays.”
IKE IROEGBU (6-2, 195-pound senior guard)
Last season averaged 12.7 points - 3.4 rebounds - 30.7 minutes per game - 31 starts
“Ike had a very productive summer. A lot of that has to do with being a senior and has it all figured out. He understands the conference, understands the system and understands me. We have a great rapport with each other. He really played well (in Italy). His best game was 29 points and 10 assists. He played everywhere -- the 2, the 3, the 4 and the 1. We moved him all over the floor and he played all those positions and did a fabulous job.”
“I’m looking forward to a really good season from him. When checking the ball at half court when (we) have a 2-on-1 or 3-on-2, now he makes that next (pass) and that guy knocks down the shot. That’s what he’s gotten a lot better at. He has a much better feel for the transition game.”
CHARLES CALLISON (6-0, 185-pound senior guard)
Last season averaged 7.9 points - 1.6 rebounds - 24.8 minutes per game - 22 starts
“He’s one of those players that has to have a solid season this year. He’s primed to do that. With the minutes he got last year, gains in confidence, change in his body (and being) in better condition where he can get up and down in the speed of the game we want to play in. He’s playing at a high level now because he’s in Year Two. He’s already a good athlete.
“He’s already a player that had confidence at the JC level. He just needed to get confidence at this level. With the work we put in this summer, playing over overseas, his improvement has put him in a position to have a real solid season for us. He’ll get a lot of his minutes playing the 2-guard and 3-guard.”
JOSH HAWKINSON (6-10, 230-pound senior forward)
Last season averaged 15.4 points - 11.1 rebounds - 33.3 minutes per game - 28 starts
“Josh is on pace to have a spectacular season. I’ve challenged him to get faster, to get his conditioning better and to keep up with this fast team. This is the fastest team we’ve had here so far. I’ve challenged him to defend smaller players because we want to switch and do some things defensively. He’s a big piece of us being able to do that. But the reason I think he’s going to have a spectacular year is because the supporting cast around him is so skilled. They’ll be able to play in more of a rhythm, see and make more plays.”
“There was a lot of standing around (last year). This group seems to pick things up. The returners know (the system) and the new guys are picking it up a lot faster and our offense flows a lot easier now. The scoring comes a lot easier. I think he will benefit from all that immensely.”
CONOR CLIFFORD (7-0, 260-pound senior center)
Last season averaged 6.8 points - 2.1 rebounds - 14.1 minutes per game - 7 starts
“Conor continues to drop weight and get in better shape which is what we want him to do. The more he does that the better he gets. Conor is an automatic low-post scorer. With the skill we have surrounded him with, he’ll get more touches now because guys see and make plays better. It was frustrating for him to leave plays on the floor and we left them out there because we didn’t see them. We see them now.”
“In Year Two, understanding the system and the speed of the game, his conditioning is better ... and (he should) be able to stay on the floor longer. Defensively, he’s made some great strides in that area. Going overseas and playing against these teams that spread the floor, shoot the three...it shows us again that we’ve got to tweak these areas and get better. One of those areas was Conor continuing to come on with his conditioning.”
In Part Two of our talk with Kent, we'll bring you his breakdowns of the six new players on the roster. Kent also will offer his takeaways from the play in Italy and the all-important summer workouts.