WSU hoops notebook: Blocks, recruits and more

A QUICK LOOK AT THE Cougar stat book this year vs. last shows remarkable consistency. The numbers for points, rebounds, assists and turnovers were either exactly the same or very close to it. One area, however, didn't match up. And Ivory Clark fans know it. We asked WSU assistant coach Ben Johnson how that void might be filled next season.

The Cougars blocked 102 shots this year (2.9 per game) compared to 155 (4.6) last season. The difference between the two seasons is 53 – the exact number of blocks that Clark collected last year.

"Our defense missed that presence in front of the rim this season," Cougar assistant coach Ben Johnson told today. "Ivory made up for sins committed on the perimeter. He could clean things up for us."

That rim-protecting presence also allowed perimeter defenders to be more aggressive because they knew Clark was there to back them up, Johnson noted.

So what about next season?

It's too early to tell which of the Cougars' incoming freshmen will be in line for playing time, Johnson said, but the tallest member of the class – 6-8 1./2 forward James Watson of Stringtown, Okla.-- has the potential to be an athletic, Clark-like rim protector.

WATSON THIS WEEK was named to the all-classifications All-State team in Oklahoma after leading Stringtown to its second-straight Class B title. This season he averaged 20.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.6 steals and 3.2 blocks per game.

Watson isn't the only member of the Cougars' incoming recruiting class with a brand new state title on his resume. Klay Thompson of San Margarita High in Orange County had a huge senior season, which he capped off with a mythic performance in the state Division III championship game. He scored 37 points and set a California state-finals record with seven 3-pointers in his team's 72-55 win over Sacramento. Thompson, the state D-III player of the year, finished 2007-08 averaging 21 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.

The three other members of the recruiting – Michael Harthun, Nick Witherill and Marcus Capers – didn't win state title this year but all played on teams that made nice playoff runs.

"We did a nice job in this class of identifying kids who are winners," Johnson said. "Having that winning attitude is half the battle at this level."

THERE IS A CHANCE this recruiting class could grow. Johnson can't comment on players who haven't signed letters of intent, but recent reports in Pacific Northwest newspapers have suggested the Cougars are pursuing Portland's Paul McCoy of Oregon state Class 6A champion Grant High and Spokane's DeAngelo Casto of Washington state Class 4A champion Ferris High.

The spring signing period for basketball letters of intent starts April 16 and runs well into May.

McCoy had inked with Pepperdine in the early signing period back in November but asked for and was granted his release when the Waves made a coaching change. He is believed to be entertaining offers from a host of schools across the nation. Casto isn't believed to have any written offers in hand, given academic hurdles that must be cleared, but is reportedly hearing from WSU and others who like his shot blocking and rebounding.

If the Cougars did add another member to the new recruiting class, a scholarship would need to be found. Right now, all 13 scholarships for the 2008-09 are accounted for. Speculation is that Cougar guard Stephen Sauls, out of action since early in the season with a concussion and back home in Houston, won't return. Johnson said nothing definitive can be said about Sauls' future given his ongoing issues with headaches.

ASKED ABOUT HEAD coach Tony Bennett's future with the Cougars, given speculation that he could be a target of LSU, Cal and others, Johnson was matter of fact: "The plan is for all of us to be back next season."

DERRICK LOW AND Robbie Cowgill are headed to the Final Four in San Antonio. Low has been selected to participate in Thursday's three-point shooting contest and Cowgill has been tabbed to play in the all-star game Friday for graduating seniors. And that's just a fraction of the wide-ranging news on current and future Cougars.

Kyle Weaver won't be in playing in the all-star game. Word out of Pullman is that he's got tunnel vision right now. He's hell bent on wrapping up his degree by May and working hard to catch up on the three weeks of school that were turned upside down by the Cougs' March Madness run.

NBA scouts are telling the WSU coaching staff that both Weaver and Low are being looked at right now as late first- or early second-round picks in the upcoming NBA draft.

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