COUGARS • UPDATED: 3:30 P.M.
The basketball roster news that was announced at Washington State yesterday gives us an opening to exam a couple aspects of last year's team that we haven't written about before in depth. If you're interested, read on.
• When the Cougars recruited Fabian Boeke from Germany a few years ago, they did it with no illusions. The coaching staff knew Boeke was not a low-post center, despite being nearly 7-feet tall. No, he was quite possibly the purest 3-point shooter they would find for a while. And that proved to be true. Boeke could just plain stroke it. The problem was getting him on the court. He lost his freshman year when the NCAA decided playing with compensated players on a German club team – equivalent in some ways to our high school programs – tainted the eligibility of all the players on the team (the logic of this still eludes me, but whatever). While practicing during that season, Boeke's back started to bother him, causing him to miss time. It was decided he needed surgery to fix the problem and he went under the knife.
When last season began, Boeke wasn't 100 percent, but he was getting there. The only question was whether he could guard the post. At 6-11 and 225 pounds, Boeke wasn't the quickest guy on the team. So even if he didn't want to play inside on offense – and didn't need to – he would have to be able to guard a big. But before he could answer the question, his back acted up again and again. Bad enough, in fact, that his Washington State career is over before it really began. It's too bad because Boeke is a guy who loves the game and will miss playing.
And the Cougars missed his presence last year. If he could have been healthy and able to match up inside, he would have helped the WSU attack considerably. Believe me, there was no better 3-point shooter on the Cougar roster last year. Boeke would stand at the 3-point line and rain down shots (I counted 22 consecutive from different spots one practice before being distracted, so that streak could have been longer) while the Cougars ran through half-court drills. But it was not to be.
• The career of another Cougar is over as well. And I would like to offer a little perspective. About three years ago Russ Pennell was coaching an AAU team in Arizona. One of his players was a left-handed guard named Nick Witherill. At the time Washington State was coming off another losing season, the third and last for coach Dick Bennett. The Cougars were looking for players riding under the radar and Pennell told then-WSU assistant Tony Bennett he had one: Witherill. He was a perfect player for the Cougar program, Pennell told Bennett, perfect for the system, a good kid. The Cougars bit, offered and Witherill committed, the first member of the high school class of '08 to announce he was heading to Pullman. Others followed. Marcus Capers, James Watson, Mike Harthun, Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto eventually joined the group.
By the time the six arrived on campus, the Cougars were coming off back-to-back NCAA appearances. The bar had been raised. And, as the summer and fall wore on, it became obvious Witherill was going to struggle to play. In his own class he was stuck behind Thompson, Capers, Harthun. Xavier Thames was coming in and he was going to play. Privately, Tony Bennett admitted Witherill didn't fit. Though a great kid who worked hard, Bennett felt Witherill wasn't quick or big enough to guard Pac-10 guards. So Bennett felt Witherill would be better off transferring somewhere he could get minutes. The coach understood, after sitting on the bench in the NBA for a couple years, players want to play, not sit. And Witherill would struggle to earn minutes at WSU. The conversation was coming, with Bennett saying he would do everything he possibly could to find a school that would be a better fit for Witherill's talents. And a transfer would free up a scholarship Bennett knew he needed.
Then Bennett left for Virginia. And though he left before sitting down with any player, including Witherill, for a postseason chat, Witherill is still leaving WSU. New coach Ken Bone announced Monday the guard from Arizona had been released from his scholarship and was free to transfer wherever he pleased. An educated guess could be made Witherill will transfer to Grand Canyon University, an NCAA Division II school based in his hometown of Phoenix. The new head coach at Grand Canyon? That former AAU coach Pennell, whose own road to the Antelopes' campus included a stint as the interim coach at the University of Arizona. After all, if Pennell felt Witherill was good enough to play for WSU, he's got to feel the 6-foot-2 guard is good enough to help Grand Canyon. Right?
Now it's probably true the Cougars did Witherill a disservice burning his freshman year for just six games and 20 minutes. But he did get to play in a Pac-10 game, if only for a couple minutes. Is it enough compensation for losing a year of playing somewhere? No. If Witherill does transfer to say, Grand Canyon, he is eligible to play right away without sitting out a season. If he had redshirted last year, he would still have four years left at a Division II school. No matter where Witherill ends up, he's probably going to better off in the basketball sense than at WSU, especially since Bone signed another guard, Reggie Moore, during the late signing period. Bone said yesterday he has no plans to use the scholarship next year, but if the Cougars find a player they feel can help, don't be surprised if it doesn't go to waste.
• UPDATE: Sorry this wasn't up earlier, but thought I would pass on what DeerLake Ron alluded to in a comment below. WSU safety Xavier Hicks was cited Monday by WSU police for 3rd degree driving while license suspended. If you don't have a valid operating permit because, say, you didn't pay a traffic infraction or didn't respond to a traffic summons, this is what you are cited for. Typically in these cases WSU players are suspended pending the coaches investigating the matter and are punished by the Unity Council. However, Hicks has had some problems in the past - he was suspended for the first three games last year for previous run-ins with the authorities - so there might be more here. We're checking.
• That's it for now. As always, we'll be back as events warrant the rest of the week. Until then ...