"Last year, we could resort to past experiences when we were juniors together or sophomores together. But with a whole new team, we've got to start fresh and teach the young guys our mentality."
WSU's senior-laden, Sweet 16 squad of a year ago -- arguably the best team in school history -- has made way for a roster loaded with the most highly rated freshmen in school history.
"The talent they bring in, it's something new to our program that they have from Day One," Taylor Rochestie said. "I think our coaches have proven to be coaches that bring out the best potential -- kind of the ‘max out' -- of our players.
"If the young guys can get a hold of our system and play the Washington State way and play the Tony Bennett way, they're going to be real effective."
Rochestie, like Coach Bennett, has certainly been impressed with the early progress of WSU's seven true freshmen.
"The most impressive thing for me and for some of the other seniors is the way they've come on and looked up to us as seniors and looked up to the coaches and come with a hunger for learning," Rochestie said.
That's important, Rochestie maintains, because physical skill alone won't carry young players very far in the Pacific-10 Conference.
"With the Pac-10, it brings in so much talent, it's a matter of how they work and mesh with the team," Rochestie said. "There's a lot of kids who come into the Pac-10 with a lot of hype, and some of them weed out and some of them really rise to stardom."
The most heralded of WSU's freshmen are guard Klay Thompson and forward DeAngelo Casto. Thompson, a big-time scorer out of Southern California, is the son of former NBA star Mychal Thompson.
"He definitely shows some minutes and plays of brilliance," Rochestie said. "He's very gifted. He comes from a good program in high school. You can tell he's been coached well. "He's got a lot of things that Daven (senior forward Daven Harmeling) and I don't have: The genetics, the gifted athleticism, the ability to make plays at a different dimension than Daven I can make plays. So it's fun to watch.
"At the same time, I think being here is a perfect place for him, where Tony and the (assistant) coaches are really going to hone his skills and make him even better."
Casto, a long-armed, 6-foot-8 leaper out of Spokane prep power Ferris, was a dominant defensive player in high school. Rochestie doesn't expect that to change at the college level.
"He changes not only the thoughts of the guy he's going against, but the guards on the opposite team," Rochestie said. "He's a shot blocker, and he plays above the rim.
"Teams are going to know if they come in (near the basket), they're going to have to put the ball up really high or make a nice move."Bennett, of course, rates defense right up there with God, family and liberty and justice for all. Rochestie says the freshmen seem to be grasping that concept.
"Physically, they're there," he said. "They're very athletic. They have a lot of talent, so physically, they have the ability to play great defense.
"I think mostly with our team it's mental (the key to playing strong defense). It's being in the right positions, knowing where to be throughout the whole game and holding each other accountable on defense.
"As good as we can be individually, our defense is predicated on our team defense. That's how we get to the next level."
The Cougars have advanced to the NCAA Tournament and tied the school record of 26 wins two straight years. Rochestie, who joins center Aron Baynes as the only returning starters, wouldn't bite when asked if another NCAA trip is one of the Cougars' goals this season.
"My mom asked me the same questions," he said with a smile. ‘"How's the team looking? Are you guys ready for the first game?' All that kind of stuff. "I continue to tell her, ‘I'm going to worry about tomorrow's practice, and if I'm in practice, I'm worrying about today's practice and I'm worrying about the next play.'
"We don't have the luxury of looking ahead. We have a lot of work to do, and we know that.
"We could finish toward the top (of the Pac-10) and we could easily finish toward the bottom. I think it's a matter of how hard we work."
If you missed Friday's feature story on the start of official practices, CLICK HERE to catch up, and look here for all the photos ...