PULLMAN – Tony Bennett didn’t ride into Beasley Coliseum on a Harley, as Michigan State’s Tom Izzo once did. There wasn’t a slam-dunk contest or cheerleaders or television commentators or even fans.
No, Washington State’s first official basketball practice of the 2008-09 season didn’t have any of that.
It was just another blue-collar practice for a blue-collar team, heavy on the defense.
Make that an inexperienced blue-collar team.
“We have some things that have to be addressed every night, and soon our young kids will understand that,” said Bennett, starting his third year as the Cougars’ head basketball coach, of the defensive bent to Friday’s season-opening practice.
There is no Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low or Robbie Cowgill, three players who helped turn WSU from a Pac-10 also-ran to an NCAA Sweet 16 team in just two years. In their place is a seven-person freshman class.
All that youth – there are also three redshirt freshmen – will be looking to senior point guard Taylor Rochestie, senior center Aron Baynes, who sat out with a sprained foot, and senior forward Daven Harmeling for leadership.
“I still have flashbacks to my first practice,” Harmeling said. “I just remember being scared.”
DeAngelo Casto, who helped Ferris High to the last two State 4A titles, didn’t look scared. He made his own memories, showing his defensive skill with a quick block of senior Caleb Forrest’s close-range jumper.
“The speed of the game,” Casto said when asked the biggest difference he had to face. “And I would have to say the discipline, discipline on the floor and off the floor.”
Klay Thompson, a freshman from Orange County, Calif., whose dad, Mychal, played for 12 years in the NBA, knows the first day was just the beginning of his educational process.
“You can’t take any plays off on defense and you have to give it 100 percent on every play,” he said. “That’s taking some getting used to.”
A start, yes, but Bennett, who has posted a 52-17 record in two years, knows there is a lot that needs to get done before the Cougars’ first game Nov. 15 at home against Mississippi Valley State.
“I just want them to understand we have so much work to do, such a long way to go,” he said. “And it’s a little daunting when you watch it. But I only know one way and we’re just going to go full steam ahead with it.”