After finals break, WSU back building toward future

• Well, we're finally back in Pullman. I won't bore you with death-defying travel stories (though the slide show will be available for purchase in the spring, as soon as the snow melts enough for me to find my camera), but suffice to say it took me longer to travel the four blocks of my Spokane neighborhood than it did the remaining 80 miles. Anyhow, we have WSU news and notes.

• Before we get into the links, and there are a couple, I had some thoughts I would like to share. They were triggered by watching basketball practice Friday night and center around building future success.

Basketball is a game where each participant has to make innumerable decisions under intense pressure throughout each contest. The great ones make the correct decision almost every time, often without even knowing they are making a decision. For example, the most iconic play of Michael Jordan's career, to me, was a drive to the hoop in which he thought a defensive player was going to challenge a dunk, so he switched hands with the ball in mid-air for a soft layin. Just think how many decisions he made from the moment he attacked with the ball, and all of them were right.

The ability to make decisions without thinking, to just know they are right, that's mental toughness. To put wrong decisions behind you, that's mental toughness. To just even want to make the decisions, that's mental toughness. It's a key element of success for any basketball player – any athlete for that matter. And, unlike a jumper, you don't build mental toughness alone in the backyard. You build it playing. And you build it by being pushed, and pushing back.

Right now, the Cougar coaching staff is trying to build mental toughness in its younger players. It's an ongoing process, like learning how to play the Pack defense or how to run their Top/Bottom offense, and it's one that sometimes takes longer than those other aspects. It's also just as important, maybe even more so. Some players will succeed and become tough, just like some succeed at defense. Others won't. Some will succeed right away, others not until they are juniors or seniors. Those that learn the lessons will be the foundation of any future success.

• OK, enough of my rambling. I just wanted to give you a glimpse of what's going on in practice beyond the usual "So-and-so made a great play" or "The Cougars ran this drill" stuff. Though the Cougars didn't practice Sunday, Monday or Wednesday of finals week, when they have practiced, they have gone hard. As one of the Pac-10 coaches said on this week's conference call, the conference games are sneaking up fast. WSU opens in two weeks here in Pullman against UW, a key game if the Cougars want to make a third-consecutive NCAA appearance. The pressure during conference games is intense, and so it's starting to be mirrored more in practice.

• Now on to the links. We have coverage of the Cougar women's fifth consecutive victory, a 66-48 second-half pounding of Hawaii. The teams will meet again Sunday, a strange schedule necessitated by another school dropping out of a scheduled three-team round-robin in the Islands. Speaking of Hawaii, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin is reporting the football game with the Cougars is set for Sept. 12 in Seattle. That means the 2009 WSU schedule must be about done. When I asked earlier this week, one game was still up in the air. Speaking of football,'s Ted Miller finished up his Pac-10 reviews with this one about WSU.

• A couple individual notes. Linebacker Lewis Bland was named to the Phil Steele freshman All-American third team, the only Cougar picked. And senior point guard Taylor Rochestie, who will have his hands full Sunday with former Cougar Mac Hopson, being named one of the 30 final candidates for the Lowe's Senior CLASS award (and yes, the CLASS is uppercase because it stands for something real hokey). The Lowe's award is one built around staying in school, getting good grades and playing good basketball. My guess is it will be given to Tyler Hansbrough.

• Finally, there's this short advance of Sunday's Idaho game in the P-I. Our advance will appear in tomorrow's paper in the form of a feature about former Cougar Mac Hopson, who will make his first appearance against his old school in the 5 p.m. contest. We'll post it here later today. Till then …

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