Robert Franks (USA Today Sports/Sylvanie)

Cougar hoops: Replacing Hawkinson requires a look at defense as well as offense

IT DOESN'T require a Ph.D to identify what will be one of the major off-season story lines for Washington State's men's basketball team: How do you replace the 15.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game of graduating double-double record-setter Josh Hawkinson? The answer, no doubt, will be multi-pronged.

Oddly enough, I think one of the first places you look to when filling the Hawkinson hole is defense. As good as Hawk was on offense, he couldn't move his feet fast enough to compete on defense with the Pac-12's top post players (and there were a bunch of 'em). Consequently, he -- like Conor Clifford -- surrendered some serious points down low. So in replacing Josh's production, you have to factor whether the Cougs can replace him with someone who is more athletic defensively.

Cut the defensive shortcomings in half and suddenly replacing his nightly double-double becomes much more manageable.

Enter incoming 6-9, 240-pound JC transfer Davonte Cooper -- who played at Bradley as a freshman -- and 6-9, 200-pound freshman Arinze Chidom who redshirted this just-concluded season. Both figure to get some of the minutes opened up by the loss of Hawkinson and both look to be far more athletic. Cooper is not a significant offensive threat and Chidom appears to be average on offense, but each has the agility and wingspan to make a difference on defense. In addition, Jeff Pollard, who played some nice minutes on defense in the second half of the season, will be in the mix.

Then there's Robert Franks (pictured above). He's 6-7, 240 pounds and will be a junior next season. He has shown glimpses of the outstanding during his time in Pullman. So much so, in fact, that ESPN Poet Laureate Bill Walton literally gushes about him whenever he calls a Cougar game. But can Franks develop the consistency to be a true difference maker? He averaged 16.4 minutes, 6.3 points and 3.3 rebounds this season and blocked 18 shots. Those are by no means eye popping, but double his minutes and extrapolate those stats and you have made a nice dent in the Hawkinson production on offense.

Now, here's the big wildcard for next season:

Coach Ernie Kent has three scholarship slots left to fill in this recruiting cycle and you have to think he wants to pen in two big men and a stout wing who can shoot. In the paint, I would wager he's only after big men who can contribute right now. That would tend to point to JC players and rising fifth-year seniors looking for a new school.

Bottom line, you don't have to replace Mr. Double-Double with one guy. You replace him with better athleticism on defense and several players picking up the slack on offense.

As for the backcourt, the Cougs lose Ike Iroegbu (12.6 ppg) and Charles Callison (9.7 ppg), both of whom turned in very nice senior seasons. But given the development this year of Malachi Flynn, Kent's sterling practice reports on redshirting Milan Acquaah, and the shooting chops of incoming JC transfer Kwinton Hinson, you have to think the Cougs are pretty well set. And don't forget Viont'e Daniels, who averaged 17 minutes in the 27 games he played this season.

NOTABLE NOTES:

• A re-watch of the Cougars' maddening loss to Colorado last week in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament reveals a stretch late in the first half -- when the Cougars' momentum was halted -- in which, by my count, nine consecutive suspect calls (or no calls) went against the Cougs. This was a combination of poor foul calls on the Cougs and no-calls-that-should-have-been on Colorado. I know -- woulda, coulda, shoulda. Yes,  the Cougs should have overcome adversity better than they did in the second half, but that many miscues by the officials in a compressed period truly changes the complexion of a game. And it did in this one.

• ICYMI, Hawkinson's mom and dad left a touching thank you note to Cougar Nation on the CF.C. basketball forum the other day. Here's the link.

• While Bill Walton seems to drive many Cougar fans to distraction with his color commentary, he appeared -- based on Twitter reaction -- to engender a whole bunch of crimson affinity Saturday night during the Arizona-Oregon Pac-12 title game. He opined that the winner ought be the No. 1 seed in the West bracket of the NCAA Tournament.  Gonzaga plays in a "Little Sisters of the Poor" league, he said, while the Conference of Champions is full of superior athletes. He was downright indignant that bracketologist Joe Lunardi would even consider seeding GU higher than a Pac-12 school.

• Speaking of Walton, he had a pretty entertaining nugget from Cougar history to share last week during the Colorado game. He noted that the man he considers the greatest college player of all time -- Lew Alcindor (aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- scored a Pac-12 record 61 points against the Cougs in 1967. After the game, Walton said, Cougar center Jim McKean was quoted as saying, and I paraphrase here, "I may be the player who gave up 61 points to Alcindor, but Marv Harshman is the coach who didn't think we needed to double team him." From the CF.C archives: Jim McKean's winding path to the WSU Hall of Fame.


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