PULLMAN – The messages came from former and current players and fans, all intent on persuading a young, talented Australian man to honor his commitment and play basketball at Washington State.
Still, Brock Motum wasn’t sure. Tony Bennett, the coach who recruited him, had left abruptly for the head coaching job at Virginia just after the 2009 season. There was a lot to consider.
“We had a few phone calls,” said Motum’s mother, Leonie. “They just reiterated how good it was here, and what the program was like.”
WSU eventually hired Ken Bone to replace Bennett. Bone eventually boarded a flight with assistant coach Ben Johnson, a holdover from the Bennett staff and Motum’s main contact throughout his recruitment, and landed in Motum’s hometown of Brisbane.
The goal was to secure Motum’s commitment. Hours passed as Bone and Johnson pitched the program again to Motum and his family, explained what role they wanted him to play, assured him he was still very much wanted.
Before he left the Motums’ home, Bone told Brock he would prefer to have a decision from him before he headed back to the States the next day.
The coach’s phone rang as he was headed to dinner that night. It was Motum. He was in.
“We were ecstatic,” Bone said.
The end is near
Ultimately, Motum’s decision proved a precursor for what he did throughout his career at Washington State. The senior is a walking example for the virtues of sticking it out, staying loyal to a program and reaping the benefits in the end.
Along with fellow senior Mike Ladd, Motum will play his final home game Saturday afternoon at 3:30 against USC.
His accomplishments speak for themselves, but deserve mention as one of the most brilliant WSU careers of the modern era winds down. Motum will leave as at least the sixth-best scorer in school history, a spot he currently occupies just 25 points behind fifth place. He led the Pac-12 in scoring as a junior last season. He’s one of 12 WSU players to score 1,000 points and grab 500 rebounds in his career.
Those numbers had to seem so far away as Motum mostly sat on the bench during his freshman season, a time he calls “the toughest year of my life.”
But now, perspective.
“Things like that, as hard as they are at the time, they make you want to work harder and they make you want it more,” Motum said before practice Friday. “And then once you finally get to where you want to be, you appreciate it more.”
Perhaps that’s an attitude derived from his mother, who proudly lays claim to the honor of being the first to coach him.
“I’ve always said to him: You’ve got to climb the hill to start to go down the other side,” Leonie said.
That hill felt more like a mountain during Motum’s first year at WSU. He was homesick, his parents say, and the fact that he averaged just 6.7 minutes per game wasn’t helping.
Motum went back to Australia after the school year ended.
Refreshed and reenergized, he decided to return for his sophomore season with the hope that things would improve.
“I thought I’d give it another go, see how it goes and if it’s still not better I could leave,” Motum said. “If it improves or if I like what’s going on, I’ll stay here. I was lucky that year. We had a pretty good year as a team. Klay (Thompson) was my roommate and my best friend and things were a lot better.
“In my head, I thought sometimes, ‘Maybe I should leave, maybe I should leave.’ But in my heart I always thought I should stay, because this is what’s best.”
Instead of giving up, he got to work. Motum was listed at a lanky 6-foot-10 and 215 pounds when he signed with WSU in 2009. This roster checks him in at 245.
His game matured, too. With Thompson gone to the NBA after the 2010-11 season and 6-foot-8 forward DeAngelo Casto gone overseas, Motum stepped into the starting lineup as a junior and played the way he, his parents, and his former coach in Australia knew he could play all along.
He played 31.5 minutes per game and likely meant more to his team than any other player in the conference, averaging 18 points and 6.3 rebounds while making 39.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. He was a matchup nightmare for opposing teams, equally adept at finishing around the rim as he was shooting from the perimeter.
Those numbers made him a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, and he was also named the league’s Most Improved Player.
“We were waiting for him to get an opportunity to use the skills he had,” said Kirron Byrne, Motum’s coach from back home who trains him during the summers. “He just continued to refine them and worked hard on his shot and driving and different finishes.”
“Last year was no surprise to us, to be honest,” his mother said.
It’s been a frustrating senior season for Motum, though he’s still played well enough to merit first-team all-conference consideration. His scoring average is about what it was last year – down just a tad to 17.9 per game, good for third in the Pac-12 – but he hasn’t been nearly as dominant in conference play, handicapped somewhat by WSU’s lack of a true point guard or another dynamic scoring threat to help occupy the attention of opposing defenses.
Plus, the Cougars are 12-18 and 3-14 in conference play, and will need to achieve the miracle of winning four consecutive games in the Pac-12 tournament to help Motum to his dream of playing in the NCAA tournament.
“Brock’s going to have an opportunity to go on and make a lot of money playing basketball, and part of that has to do with the opportunity he’s been given here at WSU, because what he does best is score, and that’s what we’ve asked him to do,” Bone said. “I just feel bad that he’s going to leave here possibly never getting to the NCAA tournament.”
If Motum has any regrets, they’re all win-loss related. He’s made lifelong friends, though he didn’t get to spend as much time with all of them as he would have liked. His best friend as a freshman was Xavier Thames, who transferred. He grew close with Thompson, who left for the NBA. And friends and roommates Abe Lodwick (graduated), Charlie Enquist (graduated) and Patrick Simon (transferred) each left after last year.
The NBA dream awaits. Motum will stay and train in the United States once the season ends, and he plans to hire an agent and do whatever is necessary to make it to the league. That’s his primary focus, but he’ll play in Europe if that’s where his journey leads him.
Maybe that’s why the Cougars still haven’t quit. Motum is the face of their program, and he doesn’t seem to know the meaning of that word. Bone likes to describe him as “zero maintenance,” meaning he simply does what’s asked of him and doesn’t require any additional guidance.
Unlike others, Bone said, “Brock Motum kept working and working and working, and I think that’s why he’s having the success he’s having now and last year, because he continued to be driven to be really good.”
“If you know you have to work the whole time and it doesn’t just come naturally – (it’s) not just yourself, but I think fans can appreciate that, too,” Motum said.
Saturday is their last chance to do that in Pullman.