This season, I have a hunch, you're going to be hearing a lot more from -- and about -- this 6-10, 222-pound forward from Edmonds. Charlie is scrappy and FIESTY. He plays hard, period. Although his frame is still a work in progress, he plays much stronger than he appears. His game is awkward, but effective. He's extremely active and he's a very good rebounder.
Charlie is a consummate team player -- almost to a fault. I think he needs to learn to assert himself more and, quite honestly, to be a little more selfish because he can really help this team climb the ladder.
Although he doesn't look the part of a great athlete, Charlie will surprise you every now and then with a rim-rattling finish. And battling Aron Baynes every day for the past two years tends to make you pretty tough. He has the potential to play an important role for the Cougs this season. I should note that we're lucky to have Charlie. He paid his own way through school last year and could have secured a scholarship somewhere else if he wanted to pursue it. Rightfully, he's back on scholarship at WSU.
OK, enough on Charlie. Here's my run-down on the rest of the team's returning vets:
Sophomore guard Klay Thompson (6-6. 200. Ledera Ranch, Calif.):
Unquestionably the team's most talented player and one of the finest in the Pac-10. One of his biggest assets is his confidence, which is required for a guy that will be counted on to provide much of the scoring. Klay must learn to get to the rim more, and subsequently the foul line. By all accounts, he has gotten better in those areas. If Thompson can carry that over into the season and get to the line several times a game (just 31 attempts last season), you're looking at a dynamic scorer who could take his game to the next level in the future.
A true No. 2. Has the ability to score in bunches, but in the past has struggled to get to the rim. Without question, Mike will benefit from playing in Coach Bone's system. He's a high-level shooter who must learn how to get his shot off against taller, longer, more athletic 2s. A big motor guy, and perhaps the best conditioned athlete on the team. Desperately wants to win. If you ask the players who has made the most progress since last season, Harthun is a name you'd hear more times than not.
Sophomore guard Marcus Capers (6-4. 172, Winter Haven, Fla.):
His length and, more importantly, his pride in playing defense makes him valuable on a team that is desperate for guys who are dying to play defense. On offense, Marcus shot thousands of jumpers this summer -- will that carry over into this season? From the first time I saw Marcus play, I've always felt he had a ton of upside. Now is the time for him to unleash his athleticism, to beat guys to the rim, and finish. He provides excellent leadership along with Abe Lodwick. Capers has the tools. Now we need to see if he's ready to use them.
Third-year sophomore guard Abe Lodwick (6-7, 200, Bend, Ore.):
Very tough mentally. Toward the end of last summer, Lodwick and I would run "The Hill" at Sunnyside Park on weekends so we'd have a leg up on the rest of the team when we started running the Hill together as a team in the fall. During the rest interval at the bottom of the hill, between sprints, we strapped on boxing gloves and traded 50 blows each -- 25 body, 25 head shots (there's a reason I invited Abe and not Baynes). The kid's desire to win is second to none. Lodwick, when playing with confidence, can shoot it as well as anyone in the Pac-10. Without question, in my mind, he's the team's leader. Abe is always trying to get everyone else to talk on defense, which is hard to do but imperative for an effective D. If Lodwick can guard 3s and 4s, his potential to have a break-out year greatly increases. Although ball-handling/play making must improve, he is capable of 20-point games.
Senior guard Nikola Koprivica (6-6, 221, Belgrade, Serbia):
The team's lone senior, Nik is the only player who has truly been through the fire of competitive teams, seasons, and situations. He has a knack for back-cuts and certainly brings another aspect to the floor. Earlier I mentioned my concern over how the Cougs were going to get to the rim; although Nik won't get there off the bounce too often, he somehow seems to find himself in scoring situations around the rim frequently. The squad will need Nik to have his best season as a Coug.
Sophomore forward DeAngelo Casto (6-8, 231, Spokane):
A relentless competitor. Obviously, the issue with Casto is how that knee will be this season. If healthy, I'd take Casto vs. any power forward in the league. Although his post development in terms of scoring moves needs to improve, he had success as a freshman basically just catching and finishing. His hands must also improve, but this kid is a MAN on the boards. He never backed down from Baynes in practice and isn't afraid to play against ANYONE. Ultimately, he is the type of guy you love to have on your team because you know what you're going to get. Casto probably takes more pride in his defense than anyone else on the team, but he must learn when to concede a hoop this year and avoid foul trouble because the team figures to be thin on the front line. Definitely a continuous player. Has gained 10-15 pounds from last year and is freakishly strong.
Second-year freshman forward James Watson (6-7, 213, Atoka, Okla.):
Lots of ability. If the mental can match the physical, Watson could develop into a key piece for the Cougs in the future. He recently suffered a concussion and neck injury as a result of a nasty spill on the court and that could slow him down a bit out of the chute. Once he's medically cleared to play, he experience last year as a redshirt could help him assume his potential very soon. If Dick Bennett was still on the Palouse, I know he would be telling James that he must realize what he can and can't do, and play within those boundaries. When he plays within himself (being a terror on the glass and accept being on the finishing side of plays rather than the making side), James is a huge contributor. When he doesn't, he hurts himself. For him, less is more.
Stayed tuned next week for my preview of the Pac-10. And if you missed my rundown yesterday of the Cougars' freshmen class, CLICK HERE.