Cougar hoops: Ailing front court, tenacious D

PULLMAN -- A little less than two weeks away from its first and only exhibition game, the Washington State men's basketball team is missing a significant chunk of its frontcourt. Sophomore centers Robbie Cowgill (collarbone) and Chris Henry (knee, back) sat out Wednesday's practice, along with swingman Rodney Edgerson (shoulder). Despite the depleted front line, the Cougs were able to crank out a fast-paced and intense practice that was heavy on -- no surprise -- defensive instruction.

The 6-10 Cowgill, who started 19 games in the middle last season, will be out for about one month after fracturing his collarbone Oct. 22. When Cowgill does take the court, however, he will look a little different to those who saw him play as a freshman. The Texas native, who weighed a little under 200 pounds when he came to WSU, put on some muscle in the offseason and now tips the scales closer to 210.

The Cougars have a young roster that boasts four freshmen, six sophomores, three juniors and only one senior. That lone senior, guard Randy Green of Seattle, has been carrying himself like a bona fide Pac-10 player, especially on the offensive end of the court. Green broke out a plethora of crossovers, spins and jukes during Wednesday's session, and appears light years more confident in his scoring ability than he has been over the last several seasons, in which he was known for his bone-to-bone defensive pressure and vocal leadership but not his offense.

OF LAST YEAR'S TOUTED freshman class, point guard Derrick Low and off-guard Josh Akognon looked the most impressive on Wednesday. Low is fully recovered from a broken foot that slowed him as a rookie, showcasing the court vision and crisp passing that made him head coach Dick Bennett's prize recruit one year ago.

Akognon is known for his long-range shooting stroke, but displayed his improved all-around talents Wednesday, especially on the defensive end. Akognon was stripping ball-handlers, taking charges, cutting off penetration and even blocking shots, paying no attention to a large bandage on his right cheek. As far as the other sophomores who were in action Wednesday, forward Daven Harmeling knocked down his signature outside jumper with regularity and swingman Kyle Weaver looks to have put some muscle on his thin frame without losing his quickness.

AMONG THE NEWCOMERS, 6-foot-10, 247-pound center Aron Baynes is big, coordinated and has some decent post-up skills. The Australian import threw down a handful of dunks over defenders who were just physically overmatched. Six-foot-one unior college transfer Antonio Chavers is an athletic guard (he won the team's dunk contest last week).

Redmond High grad Steve Campbell is a scrappy guard. Chris Matthews can shoot and defend, but lacks one-on-one skills. Freshman forward Caleb Forrest is a 6-foot-8 banger. Frosh forward Ivory Clark is undersized for the four spot (6-foot-5, 212 pounds), but has the necessary muscularity, almost like a poor man's Jeff Varem. But Clark had trouble simply catching the ball Wednesday, which hints that he may have a long way to go before making the kind of impact Varem made for the Cougars.

The Cougars will play 12 of their first 13 games in Pullman, Spokane and Seattle. The only trip outside the state is to San Diego State on Dec. 10. They open the year with an exhibition against Lewis-Clark State on Nov. 15 and then start the official season Nov. 19 against UC-Riverside.

They'll play three games in Spokane and two in Seattle in that early going. They'll face BYU in the Spokane Arena on Nov. 22, visit Gonzaga on Dec. 8, and come back to the Spokane Arena to open the Pac-10 schedule vs. Arizona on Dec. 29.

They travel to Seattle for a home game against Utah in Key Arena on Dec. 22 and then return Jan. 7 to take on Washington at HecEd Pavilion.

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