NEW YORK – It really didn’t matter how the National Invitation Tournament ended for Washington State, because all seasons end.
Yet the way the Cougars’ 2010-11 season came to a crashing halt Tuesday night made the inevitable end-of-the-year questions that much more pointed.
But did the 75-44 beatdown by Wichita State in the NIT semifinals really change anything?
It’s hard to be sure.
Klay Thompson didn’t say anything after the game about his future prospects that he hasn’t been saying all season long – though he huddled in the Madison Square Garden hallway with his dad, Mychal, for quite a while after the game.
“I think it’s just too early to tell,” Thompson said in the postgame news conference. “(I’m) just trying to enjoy the time that I have with my teammates.”
Though no one is saying anything on the record, other than coach Ken Bone repeating this week he feels it’s 50-50 Thompson and/or DeAngelo Casto will return, the consensus around the program is Thompson will announce sometime soon he will test the NBA draft waters.
But, due to the uncertainty of the league’s labor situation – like the NFL, the NBA could be facing a lockout in the offseason – Thompson probably will not sign with an agent.
That gives him between April 28 and the NCAA’s mandated May 8 deadline to workout with teams, judge his worth, evaluate the labor troubles and decide whether to stay or go.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about what his dream is,” Mychal said recently. “You don’t leave just to leave, just for the cash. That’s never a good thing when it’s only about money. Money’s important, but when it comes to making a decision like this, you should make it about what you’re going to be most comfortable with and happiest with.”
Two prominent draft projections recently listed Thompson as either an early second-round pick or not drafted at all, so unless Thompson can change some minds in workouts, the payday may not be enough.
Klay, for his part, admitted this week he still has unfinished business in Pullman.
“Yeah, big time, because we thought we were an NCAA-caliber team (this year),” he said. “But there is still a feeling, especially watching the tournament, there are a lot of teams we should have been there over (them).”
But is that challenge of earning an NCAA berth enough to keep him in town one more year?
“Yes, unless another opportunity presents itself,” he answered. “That’s a whole other story.”
As for Casto, talking with people close to the situation – he has consistently deflected all questions about his future – the consensus is, given his family situation – he has a young son born last year – and his financial situation, he probably will make himself eligible for the draft, with an idea of an overseas paycheck as a fallback.
“I think DeAngelo will make that decision fairly quickly,” said someone close to the situation, not wanting to be quoted speaking for Casto.
With the possible loss of two key players from the recently completed 22-13 season, the Cougars will need help immediately in recruiting.
Just before the team left for New York, Citrus (Calif.) College’s D.J. Shelton, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward and nephew of former Oregon State and NBA player Lonnie Shelton, told Bone he would sign a letter of intent in April.
The Cougars already had two players signed, including 6-8, 225-pound Greg Sequele from Southern California, and 6-3, 180-pound guard Davonte Lacy, who helped Tacoma’s Curtis High to a runner-up 4A finish behind Gonzaga Prep this year.
But those three may not be the final signees when the April period ends.
Freshman guard Dre Winston Jr. saw action in just 26 games and averaged only 6.2 minutes while backing up sophomore point guard Reggie Moore. He is said to be contemplating his future.
And sophomore big man Steven Bjornstad hasn’t been healthy enough to play more than a few minutes in two years due to troublesome knees.
No matter what happens, WSU will have a core of experienced players, starting with Moore.
The 6-1 point guard struggled with a broken wrist to start the year, was one of three Cougars cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession (along with Thompson and Casto) and suffered an ankle sprain late. The injuries made mute much of Moore’s off-season work with cousin Aaron Brooks of the Phoenix Suns and led to Moore’s numbers declining in just about every category.
Junior college transfer Faisal Aden started fast and finished as the Cougars’ second-leading scorer (behind Thompson’s 21.6 points a game), with a 12.7 average. But Aden’s minutes declined midway through the season as he dealt with knee tendinitis and Bone expressed displeasure with his defense.
Both improved late and Aden regained his regular spot in the rotation coming off the bench.
Juniors Marcus Capers and Abe Lodwick started almost every Cougar game and will return, though the 6-4 Capers knows he must become more of an outside scoring threat (he averaged 5.8 points) and Lodwick, undersized inside at 6-7 and 208 pounds, knows he must improve his strength.
Sophomore Brock Motum showed flashes of offense late in the season, averaging 10.1 points over five games down the stretch, but, at 6-10 and 230 pounds, was still overpowered at times.
Two freshmen, 6-8 Patrick Simon and 6-5 walk-on Will DiIorio, had their moments – Simon early in the season, DiIorio later – and will return.
And there are two redshirts, Fresno State transfer Mike Ladd and Australian freshman Dexter Kernich-Drew, who took turns driving the starters batty on the scout team. Both showed the ability to put the ball in the basket.
But the player who scored the Cougars’ last two points of the season, junior walk-on Ben Loewen from Mead High, has decided to graduate, leaving a year of eligibility and hundreds of Zzu Cru chants on the table.