Cougar hoops: Smoke billowing from their ears

PULLMAN — The smell of a freshly painted Beasley Coliseum interior permeated the air Friday, while smoke poured from the ears of the seven new faces on the Cougar men's basketball team. Figuratively speaking, of course. Cougar coach Tony Bennett put his troops through their first official practice of the season and said afterward that his youngsters have some adapting do, especially on defense.

"You can see smoke coming from their ears," Bennett joked. "Some of these young guys are kind of spinning right now.

The team spent the majority of its two-hour workout focused on defense, which is the cornerstone of Bennett Ball. "That's one of our staples, and I think our young kids have to understand how hard it's going to be to be competitive," Bennett said.

Freshman forward DeAngelo Casto, the state Class 4A Player of the Year last season at undefeated Ferris High in Spokane, was succinct in his assessment of the college game.

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"The speed of the game is really different," he said. "You've gotta know how to practice, you need to know how to condition, you need to know how to go to bed, you've even got to learn how to eat right," he said with a laugh.

And his introduction hasn't been made any easier by the likes of 6-10 senior center Aron Baynes, who isn't shy about throwing his 260 pounds around.

While Baynes sat out Friday's proceedings with a foot sprain, the 6-8 Casto said that the two have been bashing bodies under the hoop since summer.

"We go at it head to head," Casto said. "That's good for me, because you know that's a big body, there's no moving him."

Practice on Friday was also a time for the senior leaders to offer instruction to the newcomers.

"I think it's exciting, they've got some older guys they can look up to that have been through the program a couple years," said point guard Taylor Rochestie, who is one of four seniors on the team. The others are Baynes, Daven Harmeling and Caleb Forrest. There's also one junior, Nikola Koprivica, whose leadership skills found him captaining a Serbian national team over the summer.

Rochestie noted that the freshman class is laden with talent that should push everyone on the roster.

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"They've got to have the mentality that they can push us out of the way and take our spots," he said.

IN ADDITION TO BAYNES, 6-11 sophomore center Fabian Boeke didn't participate in the scrimmage portions of the practice. Boeke is dealing with back problems, but is expected back in regular action in a week, as is Baynes. Back issues kept Boeke from practicing for much of last season.

With the two big men out of commission, Casto and 6-6 freshman swingman Klay Thompson stood out in practice while playing alongside the upperclassmen during drills.

While they played solid defense at times, Bennett reiterated that only practice and repetition could tell which newcomers would see significant playing time this season.

"They all had their moments, good and bad," he said.

After practice, Rochestie said he is excited for the future of Cougar basketball.

"Teaching kids with more talent than me is fun, because then they are going to end up exceeding us, and being real good – being better – and that's really exciting," he said. "They are eager to play."

Besides Casto and Thompson, the crop of rookies consists of 6-3 guard Michael Harthun, 6-0 walk on guard John Allen, 6-7 power forward James Watson, 6-4 swingman Marcus Capers and 6-2 guard Nick Witherill.

The Cougars also feature three second-year freshman who have never played a minute of college ball: Boeke, 6-7 guard Abe Lodwick and 6-10 center/forward Charlie Enquist.

Stay tuned Monday for a photo essay of the Cougs' first practice.

NOTABLE:
The Cougars play their only exhibition game Monday, Nov. 10 at home against NAIA Division I Lewis-Clark State of nearby Lewiston, Idaho. WSU kicks off the regular season Saturday, Nov. 15 against visiting Mississippi Valley State.


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