PULLMAN – Everywhere you look there is something new surrounding the Washington State men’s basketball program.
The practice facility has been remodeled, with giant images of the players adorning the walls, a refurbished floor and the fight song ringing the courts.
There are new uniforms, a new scoreboard going up in Beasley Coliseum and new signage everywhere.
And, not to be forgotten, there are a couple new gaps in the lineup, where Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto used to be.
“It’s definitely going to be different,” WSU coach Ken Bone said Thursday about the upcoming season. “Any time you lose a couple players of that caliber, what they were able to provide for this program the last few years, it’s really, really hard to replace.”
The new accoutrements are fine with Bone, about to enter his third year as the Cougars head coach. But it’s the changes on the court that are really his responsibility.
With Thompson leaving after his junior year for professional hoops –he was taken 11th overall in the NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors – and Casto doing the same – he is playing in Turkey – WSU lost 33.6 points and 12 rebounds a game. And more.
“There is a level of confidence when kids step on the court and, when they look to their left or right, they see DeAngelo Casto and Klay Thompson,” Bone said. “That gives the other kids a tremendous amount of confidence going into battle.”
The process of filling the gaps has already begun, weeks before Midnight Madness and practices begin for real.
The Cougars, like every NCAA school, are getting together on a limited basis for individual and team workouts, all in preparation for the kickoff of practice Oct. 14.
“It is beginning to take shape,” Bone said of his new-look, yet battle-tested, team. “I don’t think we’ve spent quite enough time together yet but I do like what I’m seeing.”
The Cougars return starters at point guard in Reggie Moore (9.1 points, 3.4 assists), small forward with Marcus Capers (5.8 points, 4.4 rebounds) and power forward in Abe Lodwick (3.5 points, 4.1 rebounds), along with main reserves Faisal Aden (12.7 points) and Brock Motum (7.6 points, 3.0 rebounds).
“I’m not as concerned about being able to put the points on the board,” Bone said. “I think we’ll manufacture the points. But can we defend and rebound?”
Though Thompson was undeniable the star last season, when WSU went 22-13 and made the NIT semifinals, Bone sees Casto’s skills as harder to replace. The 6-foot-8 center led the Cougars in rebounding, blocked shots and defensive presence in the paint.
“The first guy people talk about is losing Klay Thompson,” Bone said, “but I think we’re fine at the guard spot. What DeAngelo Casto brought is really hard to replace.”
The 6-10 Motum will get first crack at the starting spot, with junior college transfer D.J. Shelton, also 6-10, and 6-8 sophomore Patrick Simon having to help as well. Still, Bone knows WSU will have to change the way it plays inside without Casto’s presence.
“We don’t have that big, strong, physical, aggressive type of player inside,” they had in Casto, Bone said. “Somehow we’re going to have to find out how to do that on the defensive end and rebounding.”
Replacing Thompson will be a team effort, though Bone has been impressed with the energy of Fresno State transfer Mike Ladd in practice.
“His effort every day is what we need,” Bone said of the 6-5 Ladd. “It’s infectious. Other kids just feed off of that.”
Bone also praised Aden’s improved work ethic on and off the court and likes what he sees from freshman DaVonte Lacy (6-3) and redshirt freshman Dexter Kernich-Drew (6-6).
There’s one other area in which Bone feels there have been major changes in the offseason. Last year, three Cougars – Thompson, Casto and Moore – were cited for marijuana infractions, causing untold team chemistry problems.
Bone made it an offseason priority to change the culture. The Cougars who spent the summer in Pullman not only did basketball workouts and weightlifting, they also volunteered for multiple community projects.
Though the coaching staff initiated the process, Bone said, the players ran with it.
“In probably any business you need good character to persevere,” Bone said. “We had some issues last year that we think we’ve done a great job of cleaning up.”