Cougar hoops: Players are too nice, says Bone

PULLMAN -- Ken Bone has a reputation as a straight-talking, down-to-earth, genuinely nice guy. Now if he can just get his players to stop imitating him … "I'd like to see more aggressive play, more toughness. I think there's times our kids are just too nice," Washington State's new basketball coach said after practice Monday night.

"It's like they don't want to foul each other, they don't want to bump each other, sometimes literally don't want to touch each other.

"Basketball is a physical game. As I look at those banners up there (above Friel Court) of the schools in the Pac-10, some of the schools play pretty physical. Unless we step it up, we're going to have a hard time competing just physically."

The Cougars' lack of inside muscle -- along with the fact that senior guard Nikola Koprivica is the lone upperclassmen -- is the biggest question facing WSU as the team approaches its Nov. 13 opener at home against Mississippi Valley State. The Cougars play an exhibition game Nov. 9 against visiting Lewis-Clark State.

DeAngelo Casto, a 6-foot-8 sophomore who is WSU's heaviest player at 231 pounds, says he's figured out a strategy to offset the lack of bulk inside.

"We've got to go with quickness," Casto said. "We're going to outwork people.

"I'm pretty sure no one is going to outwork me and Charlie (Enquist) and James (Watson) and Steve (Bjornstad) down below. We're going to do a lot of ‘powering up quick.'

"We're not really big and strong, but we lift (weights) hard and we're just as strong as the next guy. We just don't have a lot of meat on our bones."

Casto is still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery over the summer.

"There's a little bit of soreness," he said. "I'm probably 90 percent.

"At times I can make some real quick moves and I'm back to my old self, then at times I have to take a play off to get my legs under me. "There's still a little bit of scar tissue in there that's breaking up. It's just going to take a little bit more time."

Casto said he should be ready for the season opener. Bone, who estimates Casto is "closer to 80" percent, can't want to take advantage of a healthy Casto.

"He's a tough kid," Bone said. "He's not afraid to get there (to take a charge).

"He's a big-time defender … I wish we had more guys with that mindset where defense was a huge priority and they brought the energy that he brings."

Bone continues to harp on the Cougars to run, run, run after three years of being told to walk, walk, walk -- at least on offense much of the time -- by previous head coach Tony Bennett.

"Some guys -- myself, Charlie and Nik included -- we were really rooted into the Bennett style for three years," redshirt sophomore Abe Lodwick said. "I'm not saying it's harder for us than other guys, but sometimes we think it's OK to walk it up the court when really we should push it.

"That's when we get advantages against other teams. I think being a little bit more up-tempo can help us catch other teams off-guard."

The 6-7 Lodwick and 6-6 Koprivica are still listed as guards, but they're being asked to move inside more to set screens, with the option of being able to "pick-and-pop" outside for shots.

"It's a good option when you've got Klay coming off a screen," Lodwick said, "People ‘help' (defensively) on him, and that's a great way to get myself open.

"Obviously, Klay (Thompson) is going to be a key for our offensive team, but a lot of other guys need to step up."

Thompson, who averaged 12.5 points per game as a freshman last season, is WSU's only proven offensive force. Lodwick said Casto and freshman guard Reggie Moore are prime candidates to supplement Thompson's scoring in Bone's up-tempo offense.

"I feel DeAngelo improved a lot this summer," Lodwick said. "We knew last season he was a great defender and rebounder and all that stuff, but he's a great inside threat.

"He has a very good jump shot. And Reggie Moore is someone who can get his shot pretty much whenever he wants."

Bone said Moore is "a tough kid" who, besides Thompson and Casto, is the most likely opening-game starter.

Like Moore, Xavier Thames is a heralded freshman point guard. The two figure to play together at times, since Bone plans to run some schemes with a pure point guard and others with a two-guard front.

"Xavier has a good feel for the game," Bone said. "He lets the game comes to him.

"He doesn't rush too many things. He does a lot of little things to help his team do well when he's out there. It's not just scoring or rebounds, it's playing solid defense.

"Offensively, he's good with the ball, makes nice passes. I like his point guard skills on both ends of the court; the way he guards the point guard and the way he plays on offense."

Asked to name a player who has surprised him, Bone mentioned Koprivica. The Serbia native has been hampered by a series of minor injuries that have kept him out of some practices.

"l like his understanding of the game and his basketball instincts," Bone said.

Koprivica openly expressed a desire to be named a team captain, but players and coaches voted for Thompson, Lodwick and sophomore guard Marcus Capers. Those are hardly the only players whose attitudes and work ethics have impressed Bone.

"They're a good group," he said. "I think they're coachable.

"Any time you instill a new system with new coaches and new players, it's just going to take time."

Casto, who pushed Bennett and then Bone to grab Moore (who starred at Seattle's Rainier Beach High School and originally signed with Fresno State) out of a New England prep school, echoes Koprivica is hailing the past two recruiting classes as the best back-to-back classes in WSU history. Lodwick won't argue.

"Because we're younger," Lodwick said, "our energy has gone up and it needs to continue to go up. I feel like the talent level has also gone up with the recruits that we've got."

"The recruits coming in are quick and fast," Casto said.

"We need the freshmen to step in right away," Bone said. "At times they do good things, but they are definitely freshmen."

Casto, a key reserve as a freshman last year, said he already finds himself in a leadership role.

"I love the new coaching staff," he said. "I can communicate really well with them.

"I'm considered an older guy, so I get to talk to Coach about basketball and kind of see where his philosophies are going. I understand better than most guys on the team, so I can translate that over to guys off the court that don't understand it. Guys look to me for help."

Casto added, "I'm excited for the season. I'm excited for the way we're going to play. I'm excited for our freshmen.

"We've got quick guys and we're fast. At times we get lackadaisical. We lose that passion, but I think all those kinds of things go away during the game."

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