Hoops underway: Still 'dogs says Bennett

PULLMAN -- Forget the lofty expectations and top 10 forecasts. As his team tipped off practices on the new season Friday, WSU basketball coach Tony Bennett told CF.C that the underdog mentality the Cougs brought to the court last year is alive and well. "Exactly the same," he said when asked what the philosophical outlook would be in light of all the national attention.

"The most important thing for us is understanding who we are as a team and that's why pre-season predictions last year didn't get us too discouraged," Bennett said. "We didn't buy into it too much because we knew we were close and we knew we had a chance.

"We're excited that the fans are excited and there are more season tickets and all that stuff, but as far as the predictions go, I think we know who we are as a team. We know what we have to do to be successful and we understand where we are in the realm of playing well and giving us a chance to be good.

"We don't put a lot of stock [in pre-season rankings] .... I think our mindset has to be the same [as last season]," said Bennett, last year's consensus National Coach of the Year.

Sophomore Nikola Koprivica, a slasher who averaged 4.6 points and 14.2 minutes a game last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury, says he feels great but will take early practices slow.

"Hopefully when we start playing games I'll be ready to play," he said.

Koprivica, from Serbia, said he went home over the summer to rehab his knee, working mostly on gaining back his strength.

"He's really progressed well, so this will be a big hurdle in his development in terms of just going through practice, getting confidence in his knee and continuing to strengthen it," Bennett said.

THE STARTING LINEUP when the Cougars open the season next month figures to look a lot like it did at the end of last season, Bennett said.

"There are six players who have all played a lot of minutes in starting roles," Bennett said. "But that's premature because we've got a lot of practice in front of us before the games start."

Those six players are senior Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and Robbie Cowgill and juniors Taylor Rochestie, Aron Baynes and Daven Harmeling. First off the bench will be Koprivica, junior Caleb Forrest and second-year freshman Thomas Abercrombie.

NOTABLE NOTES:

- The first chance for fans to see the team in action will be Nov. 4 at 4 pm in an exhibition game against Lewis-Clark State on Friel Court.

- The first regular season game is Nov. 9 at home against Eastern Washington at 6:30 pm.

- Season tickets sales are at 3,547 so far. Last season there were 2,308 season tickets.

- Walk on guard Jan Burris, the son of early 80s WSU wide receiver Sam Burris, didn't practice Friday. He is awaiting clearance from the NCAA. If he doesn't receive it, he won't be able to practice until next season.

- One of the top West Coast guard prospects in the 2009 class -- 6-3 Jared Cunningham of San Leandro, Calif. -- told Scout.com analyst Greg Hicks that he'll be taking unofficial visits to WSU and Gonzaga at the end of the month.


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