Bennett: Baptism by fire for his youngsters

TONY BENNETT SAID on Tuesday in a chat session that Martin Stadium isn't the only venue in need of a new scoreboard. He also said this year's hoops team will undergo a baptism by fire and he's looking for Charlie Enquist, Abe Lodwick, and Fabian Boeke to be successful without the benefit of Pac-10 experience.

It doesn't look to be in the cards for this season but Bennett said a new basketball scoreboard, one with video replay and hung directly above the Beasley Coliseum center court -- similar to what most Pac-10 venues have -- is what's needed most to enhance the Cougar Basketball game day experience.

"We are making improvements slowly but surely thanks to President Floyd, Jim Sterk, and the generous contributions of Cougs. Hopefully, this upcoming season you will see some minor changes to the interior of Beasley Coliseum," Bennett said in a chat session on the school's website.

WASHINGTON STATE has brought in a highly regarded freshman class and some will be counted upon to figure in prominently this season, Bennett said. Center Aron Baynes and point guard Taylor Rochestie are givens to start but with five players who helped power a two year NCAA Tournament run having graduated, Bennett expects the competition this year to be wide open.

"You would like to lean on your experience but I feel this year more than any other there will be great competition for a starting position and playing time," said Bennett.

And with the loss of go-to-guys Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver, he said the 2008-09 vintage will have to be more unified than last year's team -- which by all accounts was a very cohesive group.

"They'll have to do it collectively on both ends of the floor because we won't be able to rely on a Derrick or a Kyle to take over a game," said Bennett. "The leadership of the returning players, and a few of the first-year players, besides the freshmen -- this includes Charlie Enquist, Abe Lodwick, and Fabian Boeke -- will have to contribute without any game experience.

"There will be a learning curve but I think our preseason schedule will show us where we need to improve to be ready for Pac-10 play. This will be our most competitive non-conference schedule since I have been here so it will be a baptism by fire for our young kids."

BENNETT DECLINED TO predict the number of wins this season, saying it depends on staying healthy, the leadership contributions from the veterans and how significant the contribution is from the incoming frosh. Speaking of youth, the entire incoming class enrolled early at Wazzu last week. By taking classes at WSU, this allowed Bennett to see the group as a whole for the first time.

"We just finished our weekend advanced camp that our incoming freshman participated in, and our coaching staff was able to work with them. We like what we saw. We feel it is a recruiting class that has a variety of strengths in different positions. The key for them will be their development over the next few years; their toughness, and how well they gel. From a character standpoint, they have been great to work with and are cut from the same mold of our past and present players," said Bennett.

HIGHLY TOUTED players from the state of Washington and the Northwest had not given Wazzu the time of day in recent years when it came to recruiting commitments but Bennett said that tide is turning.

"When we first arrived, players from the Northwest had very little interest in us so we just wanted to find kids who wanted to be part of playing in the Pac-10 and trying to rebuild a program," said Bennett. "As our basketball team has had success over the last two years there seems to be more interest from players in the state and the Northwest."

At the same time, Bennett's recruiting strategy for WSU is not limited to the geographic boundaries close to home.

"I believe Washington State is a school that has to continue to cast a wide net in recruiting both nationally and internationally to try to find hidden gems," said Bennett. "But we are excited with the additions of our in-state student-athletes: DeAngelo (Casto), Enquist, and (walk-on) John Allen, and our players from Oregon: Lodwick and Michael Harthun. Hopefully, there will be more to come in future years."

  • The Cougars have beaten the Huskies seven straight and the latest victory was a special one for both father and son. "The fashion in which it played out was like a Hollywood script," said Bennett. "I couldn't help but laugh when I watched the video replay of the camera shots of my father (Dick Bennett)...He said, `As the game wore on, I kept thinking it just wouldn't be right for those seniors to not win this game. So I tried to give some constructive criticism in the process to the officials and some of the players. I realized pretty quickly I was too old for this.' The topper was when, after the game, the Huskies' plane had mechanical difficulties and they had to fly in a different plane to take them back to Seattle. The plane they brought in was the Horizon plane that had the Washington State colors painted on it with the Cougar logo on the tail.
  • Bennett said given the choice, he would take a less talented athlete with high character than an exceptionally talented athlete with character deficiencies. "When you are building a program you cannot take a short cut on character. When you do, more times than not, it will end up hurting your program in the long run," said Bennett.
  • He wouldn't hazard a guess where Kyle Weaver will be drafted but Bennett said he's pulling for the first round. " My hope for Kyle is obviously that he gets drafted as high as possible, but equally important is that he lands with a team that he can develop with and get an opportunity to play early on. The first round will be great," said Bennett.
  • The Cougs spent this past offseason on an international tour through Australia and New Zealand. The next one, however, won't be available for some time. "The NCAA allows you a foreign tour once every four years. Since we took ours last year, we have to wait until the summer of 2012 for our next foreign trip. Europe and Australia are your two main options so we will decide when that time approaches," said Bennett.
  • Final word: "Let me take this time to express my gratitude for the opportunity Jim Sterk gave me to coach here at Washington State. I had no Division I head coaching experience and was unproven, but he saw enough in the direction of the program to give me the chance to continue what my father started. Besides that, my family loves Pullman and many players, former and current, and our coaching staff have invested a lot to put Washington State basketball back on the map," said Bennett.

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