April 19, 2011 in Sports

At least Cougars have some replacement pieces

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Klay Thompson insisted his mind rarely trespassed to his impending, though not concrete, jump to the National Basketball Association as the recent college season hurried to adjournment.

Funny. Seemed as if those watching him play thought about little else.

As it does with virtually every early NBA aspirant, the taking – or, rather, imagining – of Thompson’s temperature grew into something of a cottage industry. Presuming to know the unknowable and then hypothesizing is somehow always better sport than dealing with the realities of the present, even as whipsawingly entertaining and eye-rolling as this last basketball season was at Washington State.

Of course, often as not what’s presumed comes to pass.

So Thompson is off to the NBA, or virtually. He still has the parachute of not having hired an agent, allowing him a never-mind between now and the no-return date of May 8, and said he “wouldn’t have a problem coming back” if he discovers he’s not as well thought of by the NBA intelligentsia as he thinks he should be.

There’s a pretty big gap between “wouldn’t have a problem” and “I get chills just thinking about it” – his take on an NBA future.

Some might interpret that to mean he doesn’t really need a first-round guarantee to go, and Thompson said “that’s not set in stone.” Then again, in fielding questions Monday, he showed off the same mix of decisiveness and finesse he exhibits on the court, so that communications degree he’s working on is being well earned.

In the context of his professional worth, it’s hard to see just how dramatically Thompson could improve his lot by returning to Wazzu, even should he fall out of the first round. Surely the talent hounds have seen enough by now to pigeon-hole him and while it’s nice to think he could drive himself up the rookie salary scale with another big season, there’s every indication the draft will be deeper in a season.

So there you have it. Three more weeks of knowing only incrementally more than we did before.

For the time being, let’s just presume that Pac-10 basketball will spend another season in mediocrity, and that the Cougars will be happy to be in the thick of it.

Some programs are built to handle an early defection to the pros, maybe even multiple ones. Wazzu is not one of those programs, even if the sidekick riding off in the sunset with Thompson is just a valued starter like DeAngelo Casto and not the franchise.

But Casto’s return was problematic anyway, for reasons personal (a child to provide for) and academic, as he revealed. And to hear coach Ken Bone tell it, the Cougars were prepared.

“It’s not like we haven’t planned for it,” Bone said. “The reason we brought in Faisel (Aden) is that we thought Klay might leave after his sophomore year, and Mike Ladd (a Fresno State transfer from Seattle) is a very good wing player who can help us out, too.”

As for Casto’s spot, Bone trumpeted more contributions from Brock Motum, who will not frighten any Pac-10 big man with his bulk, and Charlie Enquist, who will not frighten anyone, period.

And there is the newest signee, 6-foot-9 D.J. Shelton, nephew of old Seattle SuperSonics fave Lonnie Shelton, whose junior college numbers aren’t nearly as encouraging as the fact that in 2009 he played in the Just Say No Summer League.

Hey, maybe that’ll start a pipeline.

Sorry.

Bone, naturally, bid Thompson farewell with his blessing and a welcome to return, should there be a need. And he groped for a familiar silver lining.

“It says a lot about our program,” he contended. “It makes it easier for programs to recruit other kids, especially in his position, if they know guys like Klay have gone on to the NBA. I’m just looking at it as a win-win situation.”

It doesn’t hurt to aspire to that. Maybe in the company they keep, the Cougars have no choice.

But if Klay Thompson arrived in Pullman with NBA dreams, they weren’t shared by other Pac-10 programs that passed on him. That was their mistake, but also a reminder that Wazzu is served by being something very different than the early-entry express – not a supposed underdog mentality the athletic director is so hellbent to change, but a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality.

When the Cougars had it this season, they were at their best. When they didn’t, well, did you ever think there’d be so much giddiness over a run in the NIT?

At least Klay Thompson got them that far. Without him, even that seems chancy.

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