HARMELING: Sizing up the Cougar freshmen

I RECENTLY MADE a pilgrimage to Pullman to catch a glimpse of the Cougar basketball team hooping it up before formal practices kicked off. I would love to report how great this team is going to be… that they are ready to make a run at the NCAA's… that they are ready to take advantage of a Pac-10 that figures to be down a bit compared with recent years. But I have a lot of questions.

And these questions need to be answered before I throw out any lofty predictions about the Cougs.

So if you're reading this thinking about the irony of an "insider" asking questions about this year's team rather than providing answers, I completely understand. But I'm a realist. Some people say realists are just pessimists who don't want to be labeled as such. I don't know if that's true, but it sounds like a debate for philosophy class, not an article on Cougfan.com.

So let's get to the heart of the matter. What I saw of the Cougs last week prompts me to ask five big questions. In no particular order, here they are:

1) Do they have enough size, strength, scoring, and depth down low to compete with physical teams?

2) Do they have enough players that can get to the rim to complement their outside shooting?

3) Do they still want to play defense?

4) Will another perimeter scoring threat outside of Klay Thompson emerge to take pressure off him?

5) Do they understand what it takes, and how hard it is, to win?

I wish I could have watched the team for a whole week and with the coaches, but all I had time to see was them scrimmage with no coaches for about an hour. I understood going in that their weights, conditioning and workouts have been extremely exhausting -- and that was evident as I watched them play. However, my depth of insight on the 2009-10 Cougars also extends to what I saw this past summer. So in the player evaluations I'm doing this week – one today and another tomorrow – the depth of perspective also extends beyond that one hour last week.

I'll start with the freshmen today, and then take a look at the returners tomorrow. And early next week, I'll offer up a quick glance at the rest of the Pac-10.


Guard Reggie Moore (6-1, 178, Rainier Beach/Seattle:
Freak athlete. Again, FREAK athlete. Two handed windmill? Easy. When focused, his passing can rival if not exceed Kyle Weaver's. Must improve shot selection. He's likely the only player who can make a living out of getting to the rim. My biggest concern with Reggie is whether or not he will learn to be what I call "a continuous player." What will happen when he turns the ball over? Will he casually trot back, or will he sprint hard and prevent the transition basket? He has the ability to be a great defender -- and I hope he understands how imperative it will be for him to bring it defensively every night. And if you can't make it to Beasley to watch him play, have your TiVo ready. You won't want to miss out. He has the ability to be a player you talk about in 20 years. What he does with that ability is up to him.

Guard Xavier Thames (6-3, 186, Elk Grove, Calif./Pleasant Grove):
Upside, upside, upside! X is very smooth and has a long wingspan that should help him defend on the perimeter. Has the ability to guard multiple positions. Range on his jumpshot is a work in progress, but he has a solid mid-range game that is more mature than most freshmen. Appears to have a competitive streak that some in this class could be lacking. X will certainly see the floor this year, but could be special in a couple years. Outside of Moore, he is perhaps the best candidate to answer question No. 2 from above.

Center Steven Bjornstad (6-10, 217, Vancouver/Columbia River):
Good size. Solid touch with either hand around the rim. Perhaps the biggest challenge for Bjornstad (as is often the case with freshmen, but especially so for him) will be adjusting to the physicality and athleticism of players his size. Will need to become better conditioned. If Steven can continue to develop his body and expand his post moves, he could be an asset for the Cougars in a couple years. He'll likely be redshirting this season.

Forward Brock Motum (6-9, 205, Australia Institute of Sports):
Solid player. Needs to improve his strength, but appears to be pretty versatile. If he proves he can become a consistent shooter from 15-17 feet, it will greatly benefit his game -- especially as his low block strength/post moves are in development. Although I wouldn't expect fireworks this year from Motum, he certainly will be a valuable piece of the Cougars' future. Appears to understand how the game is played -- very intelligent. The type of kid coaches love to have on their squad.

Wingman Anthony Brown (6-4, 206, Spokane/Shadle Park):
Appears to be the hardest-working freshman in the weight room. It will be hard for Brown to find time on the court this year as he would have to supplant Nikola Koprivica and Abe Lodwick on the wing. Although Brown is well-rounded, he has yet to find his niche. Must really elevate one aspect of his game before he will contribute. Great kid, tremendous character.

So there you have it –- a quick run down of the rookies through the eyes of an old war horse. Stayed tuned for my next report, on the wily old veterans of the 2009-10 Cougars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daven Harmeling was a mainstay on the Washington State basketball team – and a fixture on the Pac-10 All-Academic team – during the most successful three-year stretch in Cougar history. Part of Dick Bennett's stellar recruiting class of 2004, this Grand Junction, Colo., product completed his eligibility last season and now is in Vancouver, Wash., running clinics for Dan Dickau Basketball and working as a substitute teacher. He is writing a regular column for Cougfan.com this season.

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