FROM PULLMAN -- As I conducted interviews this week with each of WSU's outgoing seniors, I realized the insights and memories they shared were just too good not to print. And there's no way I'm getting everything they said into my story for Saturday's newspaper. So I decided to dedicate a blog post to each of them leading up to Saturday's home finale against Washington. We'll start with Marcus Capers.
It is somewhat remarkable that Marcus Capers is the only member of WSU's seven-man 2008 recruiting class who actually wound up playing four seasons here.
Mainly because Capers wouldn't have been here in the first place if not for the graciousness of a Cougar player who was already on the roster during Capers' recruitment.
It's a well-known story. Former WSU coach Tony Bennett wanted Capers, but had no available scholarships. Until point guard Taylor Rochestie volunteered to pay his own way as a walk-on, allowing Capers to become a Cougar. A native of Winter Haven, Fla., Capers said he wanted to play for the Florida Gators but they never offered him a scholarship.
Rochestie and Kyle Weaver hosted him on his official visit to Pullman, and he was sold.
"When Taylor called me and told me he was going to give me his scholarship, his exact quote was: 'I don’t necessarily know how you’re going to play here, but Tony and the coaching staff got a lot of confidence in you. So if they do, I do.'
"If it wasn't for that phone call, I wouldn't be sitting here."
Nobody else from that class is sitting anywhere near Pullman. Klay Thompson left to become an NBA lottery pick. DeAngelo Casto is playing overseas. Highly-regarded guard Mike Harthun transferred to Portland State after the 2010 season. Guard Nick Witherill transferred to Grand Canyon College in 2009. Forward James Watson left after the 2010 season and wound up at Kansas State after a stop at a community college. And walk-on John Allen also jumped ship in 2010, landing at Western Washington.
That leaves Capers as the last man standing. And even he wasn't sure what the future would hold for him when Bennett took the head coaching job at Virginia following the 2008-09 season, and WSU hired Ken Bone shortly after.
Capers knew Bone had recruited guards Reggie Moore and Xavier Thames (who wound up transferring to San Diego State). That made him wonder whether Bone, who was about to implement an entirely different system, would still want him around.
"When he first got here, he let me know – I had a good game against St. Mary’s (in the 2009 NIT), and he remembered that -- he was just like, 'we’re going to try to do something with you.' He liked my athleticism. He wouldn’t have took this job if he didn’t like the team that was here. I appreciate him for that.
"As far as basketball, coach Bone’s the only coach I’ve had for more than four years. I had four different high school coaches in four years. ... He dealt with people that he didn’t recruit and he found ways to make it work. A lot of coaches in situations like this just don’t really find ways to make it work. I felt like he did a pretty good job with everyone he’s had here.
"He’s bringing in better players. We’ve got Que Johnson coming in, Richard (Peters), and a couple solid other kids. ... If he would have came in and said, 'I don’t want you at all,' I probably would have left. But he was pretty open to all of us and he let me know right off the bat. I guess he'd seen leadership qualities in me that I was going to have to help him out.
"At the time, I didn’t see it, but I’ve been a captain here for three years. He believed in me. I appreciate him for that more than anything."
Capers insists he's a better shooter than most believe -- "A lot of people don’t think I can shoot. I can shoot, it’s just who shoots better, Marcus or Klay? Who shoots better, Marcus or Faisal?" -- but has forged his identity at WSU on the defensive end, as well as the boards, fitting in where he can.
True, he hasn't been an outstanding offensive player. But his career averages -- 4.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 24.9 minutes -- don't illustrate his value. Saturday, Capers will start his 100th game as a Cougar. He's started every game in each of the last two seasons.
Asked for his favorite WSU memory, Capers cites a conversation he had with Milford Hodge, WSU's student-athlete mentoring coordinator. Hodge told Capers that he was one of the most athletic players he'd ever seen at Washington State. Capers didn't believe him at the time, but he's got some proof now that Hodge wasn't just blowing smoke.
"I’m just rel appreciative, because if I wasn’t so athletic, I probably would have just been riding the bench the whole time I was here," Capers said. "Luckily, I was able to play pretty much all the games since I’ve been here."