Bone Ball has Cougar players talking tempo

PULLMAN -- Nikola Koprivica and Klay Thompson are grateful for what Tony Bennett brought to Washington State. Grateful for all the memorable victories. Grateful for the two straight NCAA tournaments. Grateful for the three straight post-season appearances. Grateful for the support and guidance. And grateful, in one way, that he's gone.

Koprivica and Thompson pulled no punches in declaring their love and devotion to new coach Ken Bone's up-tempo offense over Bennett's walk-it-up-and-set-it-up offense.

"I like it because it's so much faster," Koprivica said.

"Both (styles) are good," Thompson said, "but as a basketball player, you prefer this one, though Coach Bennett's style was great and obviously he proved you could win it with it.

"We can do the same with this one."

As the Cougars prepare for Friday's first official day of practice -- though workouts of some sort have been held since school began, with and without coaches -- major questions face the Cougars at the start of the post-Bennett era.

First and foremost, Koprivica -- a part-time starter as a junior last season -- is the only upperclassman on the team.

Secondly, WSU's inside players look like they're rehearsing for one of those old Wendy's commercials. You remember: "Where's the beef?"

Last and not least, who's going to score besides Thompson (12.5 ppg last season)?

"That's a very good question," Koprivica said, "because you never know until you see it. But I think everyone on our team feels more comfortable with an up-tempo style than a slow-paced style because most of these guys, in high school, they had the up-tempo and they did great."

Without trying to name everyone, Thompson -- the only returnee who averaged more than 4.4 points last season -- mentioned four candidates to help carry the scoring load. In no particular order …

Sophomore guard Mike Harthun: "He can really shoot the ball. He has a great shot and quick release."

Freshman guard Reggie Moore: "He can really go (fly)."


Freshman guard Xavier Thames: "Xavier can really play."

Sophomore forward-post DeAngelo Casto: "I'm excited to get DeAngelo back."

Casto, a high-flying shot blocker and dunker, improved his offensive game as the season wore on last year. He averaged 4.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots in 16.1 minutes. He joined Thompson (a 41 percent shooter on 3-pointers) on the Pac-10 All-Freshman team, and the two played together on the U.S. team that won the World Under-19 Championships last summer in New Zealand.

The 6-foot-8 Casto suffered a knee injury in New Zealand, but Bone said he expects Casto to be fully recovered from arthroscopic surgery by the Nov. 19 opener against visiting Mississippi Valley State.

Thompson said Casto lived up to his potential last summer when scrimmaging against college standouts on the U.S. team that played in the World University Games.

"He was going against the university team with (North Carolina's) Deon Thompson and the kid from Mississippi State (Jarvis Varnado) and some other great big guys and he was playing great," Thompson said. "He was posting them up and he was a huge presence in the middle."

Thames, the highest-ranked WSU recruit by (26th among senior point guards), missed a number of practices after the NCAA Clearinghouse raised questions about his high school transcript. He resumed practicing with the team on Monday.

The 6-3 Thames averaged 20 points, four assists and three steals per game last season at his suburban Sacramento high school.

Moore averaged 13 points and 10 assists for the Washington State 3A champions of Rainier Beach two years ago, then spent last season at a New Hampshire prep school hoops power. The 6-1 Moore is a point guard by trade, just like Thames, and he's taken advantage of Thames' absence.

"Reggie's doing a nice job," Bone said. "He can handle the ball. He's a well-rounded guard that knows how to score, but he also knows how to set up people for shots and I think he's got a decent defensive presence, too.

"As far as me knowing who's going to run the show, I haven't really had a chance to look at Xavier (a lot). I don't know if we'll really go a lot with a true point guard."

Bone said he's looking at a two-guard front because WSU lacks "the guy that's just really dominant down on the block. I think there's advantages to bringing a bigger guy out and utilizing his quickness.

"That's what DeAngelo and James (Watson) and some of our better big guys can do. Even Charlie (Enquist) has decent foot speed. They can shoot that mid-range (jumper). They can all get to the rim.

"I mean, we'll run enough other things where there's a guy on the block, but the two-guard front allows us to run something where that back side's clear, whether it's for back-door opportunities or just bringing the other team's post guy out."

Casto is the heaviest Cougar at 231 pounds. Enquist and freshman forward Steven Bjornstad are the tallest players at 6-10. Bone said Bjornstad, a late signee who weighs just 217 pounds, is a likely candidate to redshirt.

Watson, a 6-7, 213-pound forward, is a raw talent who redshirted as a freshman last year. Australian freshman Brock Motum is 6-9, but he weighs only 205 and likes to operate on the perimeter.

Bone, who guided Portland State to the NCAA tournament the past two years, said he's pushing the Cougars to become more aggressive at both ends of the floor. Despite the focus on the up-tempo offense, Bone is anything but lax when it comes to stressing defense.

"With Ken, you definitely want to play great defense," Koprivica said. "We still try to keep up as much as possible with Tony's defense because we had the best defense last year in the country."

The Cougars led NCAA Division I with just 55.4 points allowed per game, but that's partly due to the limited number of possessions created by Bennett's deliberate style of offense. Offensively, the Cougars ranked 314th among 330 teams with 59.2 points per game. WSU finished 17-16 (seventh in the Pac-10 at 8-10) and lost to Saint Mary's in the first round of the NIT.

Bone's defensive philosophy includes some of the "pack-it-in" techniques used by Dick and Tony Bennett to thwart inside penetration. However, Bone wants more pressure on the ball and on 3-point shooters.

"There's going to be a lot of reliability on the guy who's guarding the ball to keep in front, but there will also be help for you there," Thompson said. "You just have to trust each other.

"It's just a small change. It'll take some time, but we'll get it, for sure."

The Cougars will hold a full practice Friday before staging a dunk contest and short scrimmage that are open to fans free of charge at 9:30 p.m. at Bohler Gym. The men's and women's teams will be introduced, prizes and team posters will be given away, and the women will hold a 3-point field-goal shooting contest.

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