Nothing heralds the start of Pac-12 basketball season like the first weekly Pac-12 coaches teleconference.
Below the jump I've transcribed Washington State coach Ernie Kent's remarks, as well as the relevant comments from the coaches of WSU's first two opponents, California coach Cuonzo Martin and Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins.
WSU coach Ernie Kent
Q: What makes Josh Hawkinson such a good player and particularly a good rebounder?
Ernie Kent: I think the fact that he's had the opportunity to play a lot more minutes, I think our style of play and system is tailor-made for who he is. He worked really hard during the offseason to change his body and he can still make improvemetns in those areas. He does a very good job of finding space to create scoring opportunities for himself, be it a 3-pointer, or 18-foot (shot) or jump-hook. He's very good that way, very smart, very good feel for the game.
And so I would say, overall, that his skillset fits our style of play and it's given him an opportunity to really score and he's one of those rebounders that always looks to go pursuit the basketball, doesn't wait and let the ball come to him.
Q: What is it about your style of play that suits him so well?
EK: It's wide open. Guys that have a feel for the game really have a lot of freedom to go score and go make plays. There have been games he's gotten up 12 shots, there have been games he's gotten up 18 shots, there's been games he shot no 3s, there's been games he shots six 3s. So, it just gives him a lot of freedom to go play and not worry about a lot of structure in it. If you've got a feel for the game, how to move with out the ball, how to find open space, you tend to get a lot of opportunities to score. But you've got to have a feel and I think he becomes difficult to guard because it's not like – we run maybe one or two plays for Josh per game. That's it. The rest of it comes from him just feeling the game and it makes him difficult to guard because there's not really structure to say he's going to be here, he's going to be there, he's all over the place when he plays.
Q: How difficult is it for a freshman to play well at point guard in the Pac-12 and how has Ny Redding done so far?
EK: Well, it's extremely difficult to do that and he has worked extremely hard. When he came in the door here, I think eh probably went three weeks before he made a shot just because of the intensity of the game and how hard we play and, to his credit, he has spent a lot of extra time shooting the ball and gaining confidence to where he is a pretty good shooter now, one of the better free throw shooters on the team.
His demeanor on the floor, his competitive nature has allowed him to have some success in the preseason of conference play. But we all know that the conference is a lot different.
But it's still very difficult for a freshman to come in and have to handle the academics, new staff, new system, new basketball. He came out of this term having the highest GPA for this term, as well, on top of it so I would have to think the good parenting that has brought him to this point helped him through his first term here in college and put him in a position to be successful.
Q: How do the Pac-12 freshmen stack up nationally?
EK: I think if I were to put my analyst hat on, typically you'll see where there is a lot of hype and media attention paid to players and teams in the east but, at the end of the day, particularly as you start to get down to tournament play and that media attention shifts across the country, people come to recognize again that this is an excellent basketball conference with excellent personnel and a very strong class, group of young people that have come into this conference.
Q: Is the Pac-12 as difficult a conference as last season?
EK: Early on I would have said yes. There were a couple teams that stumbled here coming down the stretch. But there were some significant wins in the preseason in this conference and I think as the conference gets going and starts to grow, as long as we don't beat each other up too much, I think you will see there are some teams that get stronger as we get into conference play.
Sometimes when you have to reload personnel and things like that, it takes you the preseason to figure some things out. It will take you maybe the first half of conference before guys really hit their stride but I think there's some really good teams in this conference.
The separation might be Arizona and Utah right now, but if you look at Cal and how they've played, obviously Stanford has played really well, I think people are surprised at what Dana's been able to do at Oregon with the personnel that they lost, they still have a strong nucleus of players. I just thing again, from top to bottom, it's a very, very competitive conference that's going to force each other to grow up. You're going to force each other to play better because you're going to hold each other accountable, particularly when you go out on the road to play.
Q: Has there been any surprises since taking over WSU?
EK: Overall, it's been about what I expected from having worked for the Pac-12 and seeing this program quite a bit between the Pac-12 and FOX these last few years, I had a pretty good feel for personnel, watching them play, scouting them, analyzing them on game days and things like that. I often wondered why they did not shoot the ball well and that's the biggest area we've focused in, getting them their confidence.
It feels like, to me, that's starting to come where we've got several players who can make baskets, make buckets, and as long as your confidence stays high, they shoot the ball really well and if we shoot it well we have a chance. If there's anything that's been surprising it's been they've got some good shooters on this team as long as they have good confidence and take good shots.
Q: Has instilling confidence been a priority for you?"
EK: No question. I tend to always be optimistic with young people, I look at the brighter side of things with them. With this group I just felt like, again, at some point in time the majority of them were the best players on their high school teams, the best players on their AAU teams and a 3-pointer at that level is the same thing as a 3-pointer at this level, it's just handling pressure and having the confidence to shoot it. When you talk confidence, again, obviously you've got to be confident in yourself and strong enough and tough enough, mentally, but there's enough here for this team to have success if they play with a lot of confidence.
Cal coach Cuonzo Martin
Q: Do you feel like you have a team capable of making the NCAA tournament?
Cuonzo Martin: Oh, without a doubt. I think if we stay healthy, continue to get better, continue to strengthen our bench, continue to gain confidence I think we do have the tools to do it but we've got to stay healthy and continue to grow.
Q: What's Jabari Bird's status?
CM: Well, we went to the doctor today and we'll find out today where he is and just kind of go from there. Hopefully it's good news and we'll find out today here shortly.
Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins
Q: Can you give a scouting report on Washington State?
JD: In scouting Washington State, we just played last night so we're moving onto them right now. First of all, they have a terrific coach so I know they'll play with a lot of confidence. From what I've been able to see they play an uptempo style of basketball and it's a fun style. They have guys that have really improved from last year.
Looking at some of the numbers and stats I've been able to look at, it's remarkable, and some of the stats offensively. Field goal percentage and rebounding for a guy like Josh Hawkinson, I'm always excited to see that in young people and I love to see young guys develop and I think they do a good job and they're a very good basketball team.
Q: What have you seen of Josh Hawkinson and do you remember him?
JD: If you look at the numbers, both scoring-wise and rebounds, he's made significant jumps and it's incredible. I've seen a lot of guys improve but I haven't seen a young man improve that much in one season in quite some time. I give the staff a lot of credit for getting him to believe in himself and putting in the time with him to get him to that point.
He's one of the best big men in our conference and he's proven that day-in and day-out and he's proven that thus far this season. I've been impressed with what I've seen.