Cougs land Aussie hoops star

U.S. IMPORTS FROM Australia have tended to hit it big over the years. And now Washington State basketball coach Dick Bennett is hoping another one, whom he outdueled Gonzaga and Utah to get, will follow that same path to fame. At 6-foot-10, Aron Baynes is taller than Russell Crowe. Odds are that he doesn't sing like Olivia Newton-John or wear a tank top as well as Nicole Kidman. But you can bet Mel Gibson doesn't clean the glass or dominate the paint like the kid from the Outback.

Baynes, a 6-10, 245-pound center out of Mareeba, Queensland., has signed a Letter of Intent to play basketball at Washington State , becoming the fifth member of the 2005-06 Cougar class.

Baynes had trimmed his list down to a final four, choosing the Cougs over offers from Gonzaga and Utah, along with heavy interest from St. Mary's according to an eastern Washington newspaper. The senior, from the storied Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, is considered raw with four years of hoops experience under his belt, but he also carries with him a ton of upside.

"The coaching staff (at WSU) is pretty established in what they've done with Dick Bennett," Baynes is quoted as saying in the newspaper. "I thought I could come in there and have an impact straightaway."

"It was a tough decision out of the four schools I had narrowed it down to. But in my heart, that's what I felt would be the best place for me over the next four years."

Through 17 games this season for AIS, Baynes has pulled down 99 rebounds and blocked 21 shots. He's averaging 6 ppg, shooting 48 percent from the field, at 40 of 83. At the charity stripe, he is 27 of 40 -- 68 percent. He currently ranks among the league leaders in blocks and personal fouls, averaging 3.5 fouls a game.

BAYNES' SIZE, aggresive play and 7-2 wingspan should serve WSU well in the paint. While the Aussie will need some polishing, his addition to the frontcourt along with Chris Henry at center, would allow Robbie Cowgill to move to his more natural position of power forward.

"We're trying to build our program and continue to get quality players that fit," associate head coach Tony Bennett told the eastern Washington newspaper . "The fact that he was recruited by some really good programs from some major conferences, from around here, that's always good because other people think he has a chance to be good.

Baynes' enthusiasm for banging down low was what apparently drew the Cougs to look south for their latest signing -- over 8000 miles south. Pullman shares some of the same attributes of his hometown -- a farming community of about 8,500 within the city limits and about 18,000 in the greater Mareeba Shire.

Washington State has one scholarship left they could conceivably use this class, or they could keep it for next year's class in order to spread out the numbers. Baynes' signing brings to five the number of WSU signees for 2005-06 -- two high school players and three JC transfers:

PF Caleb Forest (6-8, 215) Pagosa Springs, CO, Pagosa Springs High
PG Antonio Chavers (6-3, 190) Tyler, TX, Tyler JC
SG Rodney Edgerson (6-6, 195) Peoria, IL, Illinois Central College
SF Ivory Clark (6-6, 215) Midland, TX, Midland College

Aron Baynes profile

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