Bennett 'serves' up foundation of WSU hoops

THE WORD SERVANT isn't often associated with athletics. Yet it's top of mind for Cougar basketball players. Like junior guard Taylor Rochestie, who made national news by opting to turn himself into a walk on next year so WSU could use his scholarship to sign a prepster from Florida. Rochestie told Bennett, "you took a chance on me with a bad knee and now this is my chance to be a servant."

Bennett relayed that story in Seattle last week at his annual basketball preview dinner.

The word servant in Rochestie's commentary wasn't chosen randomly. WSU's program is based on five core values, Bennett explained. One of them is servanthood.

In the basketball sense, Bennett said, that is manifested by asking a rhetorical question: Will you work to make your teammates better?

For the guys on the bench, that means practicing as hard as possible, and cheering mightily during games, to bolster the players on the floor. For veterans, it means taking the younger players under wing -– a notion that observers of recent Cougar practices say is readily apparent in senior Kyle Weaver's interactions with Stephen Sauls, Charlie Enquist and other freshmen.

WSU's other four core values are humility, passion, unity and thankfulness, Bennett said. The list was originally distilled by his dad, Dick Bennett.

BESIDES BEING A SERVANT, Rochestie is a left-hander. So are sophomore Nikola Koprivica and freshman Abe Lodwick. And next month, during the early signing period for national letters of intent, the Cougars are expected to land southpaw Marcus Capers –- the kid from Florida who Rochestie made room for. In addition, Spokane guard Anthony Brown, who has committed to be part of the Cougars' 2009 recruiting class, is a lefty.

All this left-handedness prompted one attendee at the Seattle dinner to ask Bennett if he was making a concerted effort to pickup southpaws.

"My dream is to recruit a team of all lefties --- I just think they do a little better," joked Bennett.

You couldn't blame him if he was partial to going left. The all-time NCAA record-holder for 3-point shooting accuracy was a lefthander -- a point guard, way back when, from Wisconsin-Green Bay by the name of Tony Bennett.

BENNETT SHOWED A heart-pumping highlight video of last season's 26-win effort that stirred the Seattle crowd. He said he played the same tape for his team when official practices began two weeks ago. They went wild over it. When the tape concluded, however, he took it out of the machine, walked over to a garbage can and dropped it in. "Last season is over," Bennett told his troops. "Teams are going to be gunning for you now."

Being a pre-season favorite is new ground for the Cougs but Bennett said the underdog mentality that defined last season is intact. He also noted that the Cougs won't be strangers to the weight of expectation -– last season they were nationally ranked in 15 of the Pac-10 games they played, and went into the final week of the regular season with a chance for the conference title.

  • Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver are among the 50 preseason candidates for the John R. Wooden Award, the nation's most coveted college basketball award, "For Derrick and Kyle to be chosen as two of 50 preseason candidates for the prestigious Wooden Award is great recognition for them and the team," Bennett said. "There's probably not much time to think about it right now, but hopefully at the end of their careers, when they look at some of their accomplishments from an individual standpoint, they'll feel good about it."

  • Cougar season tickets are selling at a record pace and nearing the 4,000 mark. They can be purchased at Single-game tickets go on sale Oct. 27.

  • It's Cougar basketball and football -- both on Saturday. In preparation for its exhibition game against Lewis-Clark on Nov. 4, the Cougar hoops team will hold an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. at Bohler Gym. The scrimmage is open to the public, and fans are encouraged to swing by and take in some hoops action before heading to Martin Stadium to watch the WSU-UCLA football game at 3:30.

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