The Cougars – who feature seven veterans, six scholarship rookies and a walk on – are going to get up and down the court and they’re going to shoot better. That’s the logical conclusion after recently sitting down with Kent in his Michael Jordan- and Kyle Weaver-adorned office to analyze the Italian tour in which they went 3-2 and tallied between 95 and 109 points in four of the games.
Sixty minutes of summer tape – with Kent starting and stopping multiple times to explain the action on the screen -- can’t spell out the future. But look for the Cougars to get out in transition in a major way. The team is faster than it was a year ago and the newcomers appear to have gelled quickly.
Chief among the fresh faces is point guard Malachi Flynn, who was the state player of the year last season. He averaged 30 minutes a game in Italy and the tape Kent shared with Cougfan.com and other media outlets suggests the 6-1, 170-pounder from Tacoma's Bellarmine Prep is a mature floor presence who can get the team moving.
The benefits are multiple, Kent said, noting that Flynn allows senior Ike Iroegbu to get out on the flanks and attack in transition as well as in the half-court.
He said Josh Hawkinson and senior center Conor Clifford – two guys who know how to score – are in the best shape of their lives and that will help the Cougars’ run game.
Kent believes all his new players possess a high basketball IQ and natural feel for the game. The result, he pointed out, is that they see and make plays. The Cougars’ consistently high scoring output in Italy is a reflection. Kent said all his freshmen have shown the ability to make the right adjustments in real time, and that they are Pac-12 equipped.
Perhaps the most telling portion of Italy tape that Kent broke down occurred in Game 2 against Cusground Pisa, a strong, physical team that fits the stereotype of the banging, holding and pushing of international basketball. They mix that brawn with good speed and excellent execution as well, so the Cougs were on their proverbial heels in the early going.
WSU responded, though, in a way that leads Kent to believe this year’s team is mentally and physically stronger than the Cougar team that finished 9-22 and 1-17 in conference play last season.
Cusground Pisa jumped out to 7-0 lead and was up 20-15 with 35 seconds to go in the first quarter when the Cougars started banging back – and getting out in transition – and reeled off 12 unanswered. The Cougars won 95-80. Hawkinson and Iroegbu notched double doubles, making shots in traffic and in space. Flynn, K.J. Langston and Derrien King hit double figures in scoring.
ON DEFENSE, IT’S CLEAR the Cougars don’t have a shot blocker, but in Italy they looked aggressive on defense and that triggered transition baskets which led to the high scoring output. The Cougs will need to tighten up in every phase of D – man, zone and press – given the point totals they surrendered (114, 92 and 80) in three of the overseas games.
The bonding that took place on the 10-day trip will prove invaluable to the Cougars this season as they blend a team fully 50 percent comprised of new players, Kent noted. Here's the complete roster.
- Kent said he’ll need to redshirt someone this season but the decision won’t be made until the season nears.
- Touted true freshman guard Milan Acquaah, out with a knee injury since July, is expected to be ready for full participation in mid November.
- The Cougars open the season Nov. 6 with an exhibition against Carroll College and then begin the true season at home against Montana State on Nov. 11. They’ll play Central Washington in Kennewick on Nov. 15 and then head to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam Nov. 18-21.
- Pac-12 Media Day was held in San Francisco on Friday and media members picked the Cougars to finish 12th in the conference. The complete order went Oregon, Arizona, UCLA, Cal, Colorado, Washington, USC, Utah, OSU, Stanford, ASU and WSU.
- Steven Shpreyregin, a Nathan Hale/Seattle product who played the last two seasons at Skagit Valley College, is a walk on with the Cougars. He's a 6-1, 180-pound guard.
- Hawkinson last week was one of 20 players nationally named to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award watch list. He was one of 10 finalists for the award last year. He currently is No. 3 on WSU's all-time double-doubles list. Two other Pac-12 players are on the watch list: Chris Boucher of Oregon and Thomas Welsh of UCLA.
- Kent recently landed his first verbal commit for the 2017 recruiting class: 6-4, 175-pound JC transfer Kwinton Hinson.