PULLMAN – Three Washington State men’s basketball players earned Pac-10 honors Monday, including senior guard Taylor Rochestie, who was named to the conference’s first team.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without him, that’s for sure,” said freshman guard Klay Thompson of Rochestie. “He holds the team together. … I don’t know what we would do if we didn’t have him.”
Thompson and DeAngelo Casto were named to the All-Freshman team, the first Washington State players to earn that honor since Marcus Moore in 2001. It’s also the first time WSU has had two players named to the team.
Arizona State sophomore James Harden was named conference player of the year and Washington’s Lorenzo Romar earned coach of the year honors. UW also earned two other major honors, with guard Isaiah Thomas the freshman of the year and senior Justin Dentmon named most improved. USC junior center Taj Gibson was tabbed as the defensive player of the year.
All Pac-10 awards are based on a vote of the league coaches.
Rochestie leads the Cougars (16-14 overall and 8-10 in Pac-10 play) in scoring, averaging 13.6 points, and assists at 4.7 per game. He is also sixth in the nation in free-throw percentage (89.1). He started his college career at Tulane, but transferred to WSU after his freshman season.
“I’m so happy for him because he’s had some adversity after his first year with Hurricane Katrina and then a pretty serious knee injury all at the same time,” said WSU coach Tony Bennett.
Bennett feels Rochestie deserved the honor because of what he’s meant to WSU’s recent success.
“I don’t know how the voting goes,” Bennett said, “but the last three years, his last three years of play at Washington State, certainly the previous two very successful and this year he’s made us very, very competitive.”
When asked what traits Rochestie displayed that caught the coaches’ eyes, Bennett didn’t hesitate.
“Competitiveness,” Bennett said. “He’s a gutsy, fierce competitor who has maximized his abilities. He has a lot of courage in his game.
“He’s not afraid to take a few risks here and there. I think that’s why he’s been able to have some success.”
The Cougars took a calculated risk on Casto, who was a late qualifier out of Ferris High, where he was part of back-to-back state championship teams.
The 6-foot-8 Casto started slowly, but came on in Pac-10 play, averaging 4.2 points and 3.6 rebounds. He also set a WSU freshman record with his team-high 38 blocked shots this season.
“He got better as the season went on and I like his improvement a lot,” Bennett said. “He’s had some nice performances in key games against good players and he didn’t back down. He’s changed some games defensively but he also showed a nice ability to make some post moves and some nice passes.”
“He brings intangibles, and not just intangibles like he’s going to dive on the floor,” Rochestie said. “He actually has the ability to jump above the rim and block shots, do some of the things us seniors can’t do.
“He can come in and really spark the defensive intensity. That’s huge.”
Thompson has started all season – he has played more minutes than any freshman in WSU history – and has been one of WSU’s top scorers throughout. The 6-6 shooting guard, who averages 13.1 points per game, leads the Cougars with 66 3-pointers, a record for WSU freshmen, and is shooting 43.1 percent from beyond the arc. He set a WSU single-game record with eight 3-pointers as part of a career-high 28 points in the Cougars’ upset of Arizona State in Tempe.
“He brings the offense,” Casto said. “He’s one of those more mellow guys who is not going to get too riled up in any situation. He’s always going to normally knock down the big shots because, as you can tell, he doesn’t show much facial emotions. He cares, but he doesn’t get rattled.”
WSU senior center Aron Baynes, an All-Pac-10 honorable mention selection as a junior, did not repeat despite raising his averages in scoring (from 10.4 to 12.0) and rebounds (from 6.0 to 7.4).
“Ya, I thought Baynes should have gotten something,” Rochestie said.
Washington State opens Pac-10 tournament play Wednesday in Los Angeles’ Staples Center against the Oregon Ducks. Oregon, which finished last in the conference with a 2-16 record (8-22 overall), was the only team without a single player honored in some way.