Seen & Heard on Planet Coug 10/13

PULLMAN -- The Washington State basketball team has yet to name captains, but Nikola Koprivica would like to nominate someone. Namely, himself. "I definitely feel like I'm the one who's got to lead these guys and show them the right path, because I've been to the NCAA and NIT tournaments," Koprivica said.

Koprivica, the lone senior on the Cougars, is the only player left from the NCAA Sweet 16 team of 2008. The 6-foot-6 guard helped his native Serbia win the World University Games last summer after serving as captain of Serbia's gold-medal team at the 2008 World Under-20 Championships.

"We have a bunch of young guys," Koprivica said. "I'm the only senior, no juniors -- it's a pretty unique situation.

"I enjoy working with these young guys and trying to help them get better and in the next couple years do significant things."

Koprivica is excited about playing in new coach Ken Bone's up-tempo offense after three years in the deliberate offense and defense-is-second-only-to-God-and-country system of Tony Bennett.

"I think I'm going to have more freedom than I did last year," said Koprivica, who averaged 3.1 points as a part-time starter. "The confidence I was struggling with last year, the last couple years -- I think I'm getting it back.

"I think Coach Bone is really supportive of me. I think that's going to help me a lot. I feel I improved last summer. I'll be a different guy this year.

"I just didn't feel right last year. I struggled with Tony's system and everything. We weren't on the same page. A couple missed shots and all that, and with Tony's system, it's really difficult to have a lot of room with taking shots because we were so defensive oriented."

THE COUGAR MEN'S AND women's basketball teams will kick off the first official day of practice this Friday, Oct. 16, with "Midnight Mayhem" following the WSU volleyball match against USC in Bohler Gym. The public is invited. Cougar fans are encouraged to attend the volleyball match, which begins at 7 p.m. and the stick around for the women's hoops team's 3-point contest, and the men's dunk contest and scrimmage. Following the scrimmage, posters will be available and both teams will be on hand to sign autographs. The event wraps up around 11:15 p.m.

THE COUGS WILL be counting heavily on young talent this season, and one of the Cougars' most heralded freshmen resumed working out with the team Monday. Xavier Thames, forced to sit out the past few weeks after his high school transcript was questioned by the NCAA Clearinghouse, rejoined informal practices with the rest of his Cougar teammates after being cleared by the NCAA. ranked Thames the 26th-best college point guard prospect among high school seniors last year. The 6-foot-3 Thames averaged 20 points, four assists and two steals per game at Pleasant Grove High in suburban Sacramento, Calif. WSU star Klay Thompson said he's seen enough of Thames to know he can help the Cougars right away. "Xavier can play," Thompson said.

FORMER WSU TEAMMATES Derrick Low and Aron Baynes are now rivals in Lithuania. Low, who turned pro last year in Australia and France, had 10 points, four assists and two steals in 26 minutes in his debut with Siauliai. Baynes had six points, three rebounds, two blocked shots and four fouls in 26 minutes in his first game with Lietuvos Rytos.

Taylor Rochestie, playing for Goettingen, recorded six points, one steal and no assists in nine minutes in his first game in Germany's top pro league. Like Baynes, Rochestie is a rookie pro.

Former Cougar forward Jeff Varem, a veteran of the foreign pro basketball scene, is averaging 15.7 points, 14.7 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.7 blocked shots after three games with Barako in the Phillipines. Varem is shooting just 25 percent from the field and 53 percent at the free-throw line.

Another Cougar from the late Graham/early Bennett era, guard Thomas Kelati, played 16 minutes and scored four points in the Los Angeles Lakers' first two NBA exhibition games. He's playing with a non-guaranteed contract. The Walla Wall product has played in Europe since his college days.

ESPN GAVE THE COUGAR football team a little bit of love and a little bit of grief last week. The weekly tradition of having fans wave the WSU flag in the background during ESPN's "College GameDay" football program inspired a humorous television commercial. And then on ESPN Radio Friday, Ryen Russillo and Scott Van Pelt briefly discussed the Cougars' fortunes on the field. "I feel so bad for those kids, I'm not even going to make fun of them," Van Pelt said.

WASHINGTON STATE, LIKE many schools around the country, has felt the downturn in the economy at the football turnstiles. Saturday's crowd of 26,010 was the largest of the year in Pullman, but that still left more than 9,000 seats vacant for Homecoming. A losing record in recent years hasn't helped matters at the gate, of course. Season ticket sales of 11,419 rank fifth in WSU history, but that's some 2,200 below last year's 13,232. Popular draws Washington, USC and Oregon did not come to Pullman this year after making the trip last season. The Cougars have sold 10,500 student all-sports passes, and more will be sold by basketball season. Last year, a record 11,346 passes were sold.

FORMER COUGAR GRIDDERS Wale Dada and Derrell Hutsona played in the inaugural game of the United Football League last Thursday in Las Vegas. Dada started at cornerback for the Las Vegas Locomotives, who defeated the California Redwoods 30-17. No individual defensive statistics were provided, but Hutsona gained 7 yards on five carries as a reserve running back for the San Francisco-based Redwoods. Three former Cougars were cut in training camp by UFL teams. Florida let go of defensive linemen Rien Long and Mkristo Bruce, and offensive lineman Patrick Afif failed to stick with New York. The UFL, billed as a minor league designed to groom players for the NFL, drew approximately 5,000 fans to 40,000-seat Sam Boyd Stadium for the first game.

VIKKI ZIMMER, THE the wife of early 90s Washington State defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, died last Thursday at age 50. Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis presented Zimmer with a game ball after Sunday's win at Baltimore. Zimmer, who has coached in the NFL since leaving WSU after the 1993 season, is in his second year as defensive coordinator of the Bengals. The Zimmers were married 27 years and had three children.

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