Tony Bennett: Equal parts Raveling, Walden

IN ADDITION TO WIELDING Big Bertha with a beautiful combination of distance and accuracy, rookie Cougar hoops coach Tony Bennett is no slouch when it comes to interviewing. While waiting for his turn Thursday at the 10th hole of the King County Cougar Club's annual golf tourney in Kent, Bennett packed enough information into a five-minute conversation to make George Raveling and Jim Walden proud.

Better yet, Bennett combines the warmth of Walden with the fact-focused style of Raveling.

It's easy to see why he's earned a reputation as an outstanding recruiter. His genuine demeanor is what every parent looks for in a coach and his youthful energy (not to mention his on-court bona fides as a former NBA player) is a natural draw for young athletes.

Bennett, who turned 37 yesterday, said the Cougars have just two slots to fill in the 2007 recruiting class. His aim will be to secure those new players in the early signing period this fall, but said waiting until spring -- when international players declare -- can have its advantages.

Bennett, in his three seasons as WSU's recruiting point man for papa Dick Bennett, is not shy about looking overseas for talent. Last year he plucked high-upside 6-10 center Aron Baynes out of Australia and coming on board this fall will be 6-6 forward Thomas Abercrombie of New Zealand.

ON THE INJURY FRONT, Bennett said 6-7 sophomore forward Daven Harmeling, who sat out all of last season with a bum shoulder, is progressing nicely and will back on the floor in July. Point guard Derrick Low, who missed a large portion of last season with a broken foot, didn't require surgery this off season and is now 100 percent.

Rodney Edgerson, the promising JC transfer whose first year with the Cougs was ruined by a stress fracture in his back, will not pursue a medical redshirt and is headed to Division II Kentucky Wesleyan, Bennett said.

He also noted that Steve Campbell, a walk-on guard this past season, will not be returning in 2006-07. The former Inglemoor High standout is debating whether to stay at WSU and focus exclusively on his studies or take a shot at playing for a lower-division school.

Another local product who walked on last season and redshirted, 6-3 guard Jeremy Cross, will be in the mix this season, said Bennett. "Jeremy earned a lot of respect in practices last season with how hard he worked, especially on defense. He's a tough defender and gives us nice depth at guard," Bennett said.

Cross was an all-league performer in 2004 as a sophomore at Division III University of Puget Sound. He started all of the Loggers' 26 games that season, averaging 16.2 points per outing and pulling down 91 rebounds. He's a natural combo guard who as a prep senior averaged 26 points and 9 rebounds per game for Rancho Buena Vista High outside San Diego.

Bennett is hoping another transfer guard gets on the floor for the Cougars this season: 6-1 lefthander Taylor Rochestie, a former standout at Tulane. He enrolled at WSU in January after Hurricane Kartrina wiped out the Green Waves' season. Rochestie is awaiting a waiver from the NCAA before he becomes eligible for the Cougs.

Rochestie, from Santa Barbara, Calif., averaged 10.9 points and 3.7 assists per game as a Tulane freshman in 2004-05. He was runner-up for the Conference USA Freshman of the Year award, Bennett said. That's no small honor when you consider that Conference USA includes the likes of Memphis, Houston and Alabama-Birmingham.

BENNETT SAID ONE OF THE of the Cougars' off-season priorities is to get 6-10 ½ forward/center Robbie Cowgill stronger and heavier. The strength part of the equation is coming along well, but the weight issue is a tougher road. Cowgill, aided by a steady flow of protein shakes, is consuming a whopping 6,000 calories per day but finding it hard to sneak past 210 pounds. Bennett said he knows the junior-to-be from Austin, Texas, has the genetics to bulk up, because his dad's a big man and his brother checks in at around 240.

Last season Cowgill did it all for the Cougars. He led the team in rebounding (5.1 ppg) and blocked shots (33), was second in scoring (9.2 ppg) and third in steals (23). He also was first-team Pac-10 All-Academic.

With sharp-shooting guard Josh Akognon's transfer to Cal State-Fullerton, Bennett termed 6-3 sophomore-to-be Chris Matthews a "very important part" of the Cougars' offense this season. "He's a deep-range sniper," said Bennett. As a true freshman last year, Matthews saw action in 18 games and started three. He scored 61 points on the season, with 51 of them coming from three-point range.

Asked if the Cougars might do a little more running this season now that Dick Bennett, legendary for his methodical offenses, will be in the stands rather than on the sidelines, Tony said he'll be looking at some new offensive wrinkles but said the Cougs will never try to run the way Arizona does.

And with that, the personable Bennett cut Big Bertha loose and then was off to find his ball, smack in the middle of the fairway 270 yards away.


Speaking to Bennett's recruiting acumen, just as this story was going to press national basketbal analyst Dave Telep reported that James Harden, one of the top-ranked prep basketball prospects on the West Coast, appears to be in the stretch run of the recruiting process. The 6-5 athlete from Lakewood, Calif., is eyeing official trips to five sschools, including Washington State. The others are USC, Arizona, Arizona State and Washington.

The King County Cougar Club golf tournment, which was co-sponsored by, attracted close to 200 participants. Among those playing were Bill Doba and much of his staff. An article or two based on interviews with each of them will be coming to the pages of CF.C within the next few days.

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