Hoops: Comings, goings as WSU preps for 'Boys

PULLMAN -- Three games into the new season, it's been a series of comings and goings for the Washington State men's basketball team. Center Robbie Cowgill practiced for the first time in over a month on Monday, joining another recent returnee in guard Rodney Edgerson. At the same time, the Cougars are adjusting to life without forward Daven Harmeling, who will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.

Cowgill hasn't played since breaking his collarbone in a late-October practice. The 6-foot-10 sophomore started 19 games in the middle as a freshman, averaging 6.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and blocking a team-high 27 shots. On Monday, Cowgill not only looked to be in good shape, but was playing with a level of athleticism not seen in his rookie year. On one play, Cowgill darted into the lane from the elbow, leaped and caught an errant shot in mid-air before double-clutching a putback layup.

"He had some bounce to his step, which is nice," WSU head coach Dick Bennett said after practice. "Robbie brings us good flexibility. He gives us some diversity if we want to play a bigger lineup. He's also one of our smart field players; he knows how to play the game."

Bennett said he would consider starting Cowgill when the Cougars play Wyoming on Wednesday in Pullman.

Also returning to the court recently is Edgerson, a JC transfer who came to WSU expected to score for the at-times offensively-challenged Cougars. Edgerson, who had been immobilized by a spinal injury for the entire offseason, was finally cleared to play last week. He played 12 minutes off the bench in last Saturday's game against Idaho and scored six points.

Edgerson has so far looked tentative, but Bennett said the 6-foot-4 guard's biggest hurdle has been his conditioning.

"That's holding him back more than anything," Bennett said. "Robbie was at least been able to work out and stay in shape while he was hurt, but Rodney hasn't been able to do anything."

WSU also recently added walk-on John Rasmussen to the roster, a hustling forward from Yakima who played a couple of minutes against Idaho. Arlen Plaister, a walk-on last season, is no longer with the team.

Harmeling will miss the season with a dislocated left shoulder suffered in the season opener. Bennett said the 6-foot-7 sophomore is scheduled to have surgery at the end of the semester, in mid-December. The team will apply for a medical hardship redshirt for Harmeling.

After an easy win over UC-Riverside on opening night at home, the Cougars (2-1) lost to BYU at Spokane Arena before rebounding to blow out Idaho last Saturday in Pullman. Bennett juggled the starting lineup after the BYU loss: in the first two games, the starting five was made up of point guard Derrick Low, swingman Kyle Weaver, forward Ivory Clark, center Chris Henry and guard Josh Akognon. For the Idaho game, Henry was replaced by freshman Aron Baynes, while Akognon and Weaver were replaced by senior Randy Green and freshman Antonio Chavers.

Edgerson often ran with the first team during Monday's five-on-five scrimmages, along with Cowgill, Low, Weaver and Baynes. That lineup would put JC transfer Clark on the bench, despite the fact that Clark has arguably been WSU's most effective player early on. Clark is a raw, undersized power forward in the Jeff Varem mold. He leads the team with 12.7 points per game and is second on the squad with 4.7 rebounds per contest. He scored 23 points on 8-for-10 shooting against BYU.

Bennett had praise for Clark and Chavers (who tied for a team-high 10 points against Idaho) on Monday, as well as Low.

"Derrick has been pretty steady. His defense has been good, as has his assist-to-turnover ratio and his shooting," Bennett said. Low is averaging 11.7 points, 6.6 assists (to nine turnovers) and 2.0 steals while shooting 50 percent from the floor, 46 percent from long range, and 87.5 percent on the free throw line.

Another player Bennett had praise for was freshman forward Caleb Forrest, who saw his first action of the year against Idaho. Forrest scored four points and had four rebounds in 20 minutes.

"Caleb has surprised me. He was a clear redshirt candidate, but before we knew Robbie's situation, I felt we had to play him," Bennett said. "He responded well. He's got ability, smarts, and a natural toughness." Four players are averaging double-figure points for the Cougars, whereas only two players finished last season with such numbers (Varem and fellow senior Thomas Kelati). In addition to Clark and Low, Akognon (11.0) and Baynes (10.3) are also scored in the double digits. Baynes is making 73 percent of his shots from the floor. The team is averaging over 72 points per game, which is less a product of any change in Bennett's system and more a product of having played teams who like to run.

Of course, Bennett hasn't been totally pleased with his team.

"Saturday's game (vs. Idaho) was the closest to what we need to play like. But of course, Idaho helped us along because they really had an off night," Bennett said. "We're not rebounding well enough and we're not handling the ball. We can be quite a bit better."

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