WSU BASKETBALL COACH Tony Bennett sees shades of Washington State's stellar 2004 recruiting class in the crop of five that he signed today for 2008. He says, like their predecessors, they're high-character kids. They're also athletic and versatile -- two key elements as the Cougs prep for the eventual departures of Weaver & Co.

"We're very excited about this recruiting class because they're all young men of character. They all came from strong family situations with great structure and support -- much like our first recruiting class that's had a big part in building this program," said Bennett. rates the class among the top 40 in the nation and sixth-best in the Pac-10. Says analyst Dave Telep, "It's very difficult to break into the top tier, but there's an intangible element to WSU's class that makes it special. Other schools got bigger names. Washington State got the players they wanted."

Bennett's first recruiting class, when his dad was head coach, laid the foundation for last year's amazing run. That group included Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low, Robbie Cowgill and Daven Harmeling, as well as Chris Henry, now at full health after years of injury woes, and Josh Akognon, who transferred last year to Fullerton State.

With Low and Weaver set to graduate this year, and Taylor Rochestie the next, the clear need this class was for the backcourt.

"We felt we had to replenish our perimeter players and I felt we addressed those needs well -- we did a solid job with this class coming in," said Bennett.

As such, look for Bennett to focus more on the "bigs" in the 2009 crop. Still, he and his staff didn't ignore the frontcourt in this class.

With Ivory Clark now gone and Cowgill leaving at the end of this year, Bennett said there was a need for an athletic, versatile forward. They found their man in tiny Stringwater, Okla., a town of less than 400 people.

James Watson is a 6-8, 210-pounder rated a three-star prospect by Bennett says he has good ball skills, can defend, block shots and rebound.

Here is Bennett's fast break rundown on the rest of the class:

G Marcus Capers (Montverde, Fla.) 6-5, 175
Bennett: "He is a multiple position guard player who defends and slashes. He has a nice feel for the game."

G Michael Harthun (Medford, Oregon) 6-3, 175
Bennett: "Harthun is a high-level shooter who can play the 1 and the 2. He can really score."

G/F Klay Thompson (Santa Margarita, Calif.) 6-6, 190
Bennett: "Klay Thompson is a good-sized, multiple-position guard player as well -- he can potentially play three of the perimeter positions. He is very complete."

G Nick Witherill (Scottsdale, Ariz.) 6-3, 165
Bennett: "A hard-nosed competitor who can really shoot the ball. He was the first to commit to us this class."


Capers as a junior led his squad to the district championship game from the point, averaging 17 points, six rebounds and four assists per game. He earned the 2007 News Chief All-Area Player of the Year.

Harthun (pronounced Har-toon) helped lead South Medford to the 6A state title his junior season, scoring a team-high 24 points in the championship win. He averaged 20.0 ppg and 4.7 apg and was named first-team All-State on the season.

Thompson earned all-area second team honors as a junior after leading Santa Margarita Catholic to a second-place finish in its division and a second round appearance in the CIF Southern Section Tournament.

Watson led Stringtown to the Class `B' State Championship, averaging 8.6 points and 11 rebounds per game. The small forward upped his offensive numbers in the State playoffs, pouring in 18 points per game. Watson will become the first Division I athlete to come out of his hometown.

Witherill averaged 21 points per game as a junior, leading Saguaro to a 24-6 record and a berth in the State semifinals while earning first-team All-State honors. As a sophomore, the shooting guard averaged 17.5 points per game. He has transferred to Gilbert Highland for his senior year.

Bennett said the reason he places a high premium on character can be found in the '04 class -- their work ethic combined with buying into the Bennett system and philosophies is what made last year possible.

For some, perception is Washington State suddenly emerged in '06. Not so. It was a long process, one that began with the types of players in '04 -- and there were plenty of lessons learned and close losses in '04 and '05 before last year's thrill ride.

"They're all a little different," said Bennett of the players in this class. "They bring some nice athleticism, the ability to shoot the ball, defend and if they will develop as much as this previous group, the group that are seniors now, I think by the time they're upperclassmen it will be a real good group."

This group, said Bennett, might be a little more athletic than was the '04 class. And the ability to play defense, the signature of a Bennett coached team, is clearly evident.

"Capers is a heck of a defender and can really slash -- nice feel," said Bennett. "We do like when they're versatile and multi-position players. We definitely like that. And I think this group defensively can be a real good group. And that's obviously important."

Bennett said all the new signees are in solid shape academically.

"They're hungry kids that want to play at an elite level and that I think have a solid understanding of the game. And that they'll do what it takes to win," said Bennett.

CF.C Quick Hits
We'll dive into more detail over the coming months but a brief, early commentary: The highest rated of the class is Harthun -- and it's a ranking well deserved. But all of these guys have their senior year to play and this year's development -- and then the maturation process after they get in Pullman -- has yet to be authored. Keep an eye out for Thompson, he has the ability to develop into something special. Right around the time Mark McLaughlin de-committed, (he eventually went to Nevada), Thompson was blowing up in AAU ball. With that now open spot, Bennett and crew went after Thompson "as hard as we possibly could", landing his pledge over the likes of Michigan and Notre Dame. Watson is one of our choices to become an early fan favorite, as Cougar fans proved last year at Beasley just how much they love athletic, tenacious defense. And he's underrated offensively, says Bennett. Collectively, they can be as good -- or even better because of their athleticism -- than the '04 class. But the key to it all is they'll need to show that same kind of work ethic as the current group of seniors to get there, and to fully realize their potential.

The recruiting process
Recruiting is about gathering information, there are hours of film and watching AAU events -- and there are also a coach's contacts. Capers was talked up to Bennett by a friend of his from Wisconsin. "He's a guy who is very close to Kyle Weaver and he said, 'Hey I know how Kyle's done well and I love how he's developed. I have a player that I know of who I think can really be a good player,' and he's the one who told us about Marcus," said Bennett.

Recruiting tale from the road
Long hours, lots of different locales and plenty of frequent flier miles always make for great recruiting stories but this year had one for the books. When Bennett and assistant Ron Sanchez were driving to Stringwater to see Watson, they were about 10 miles out going through another small town when they saw a guy on a horse making a right hand turn down Main Street. And they say Pullman is a small town.

Cougfan Top Stories