With Southern California and 6th-ranked UCLA invading Friel Court this week, Kevin Eastman hopes the recent weirdness surrounding his Washington State men’s basketball team has played out.
Ankle sprains, pulled muscles, even minor disciplinary problems like the curfew violation that prompted the suspensions of point guard Donminic Ellison and forward Tavares Mack for a road loss to UCLA three weeks ago are problems that most college coaches expect to encounter.
But in his first year at WSU, Eastman has endured some of the strangest player ailments and incidents imaginable.
“They say you experience a lot of different things coaching out west,” said Eastman, who took over the Cougars program last spring after four seasons at North Carolina-Wilmington. “And they’re 100 percent right.
“This has been just unbelievable.”
The oddities started even before the school year when freshman recruit Steve Slotemaker, a 6-foot-8 prospect out of Hillsboro (Ore.) High School, decided to enroll at WSU but not play basketball because of undisclosed personal problems.
Eastman has since said he still believes it is in Slotemaker’s best interest to not attempt reviving his once-promising basketball career.
Ellison and Mack, as it turns out, were suspended for breaking curfew, even though they were reportedly next door to the team’s hotel visiting with Ellison’s older brother, who is a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy.
A week later, following a 77-75 home win over Oregon State, freshmen Chris Griffin and Carlos Daniels were arrested by Pullman police and cited as minors in possession of alcohol.
Eastman refused to discuss details about the incident, but insisted his players acted responsibly under the circumstances. He balked at suspending either player, but neither played in the Cougars’ 106-59 win over California State-Northridge later that week.
Then came the real clincher - the loss of Ellison to a severe case of chicken pox.
The sophomore floor leader came down with the ailment a day after leading the Cougars to a 74-73 win over Washington and did not accompany the team to Arizona last Thursday.
Griffin, who had started at the point against UCLA when Ellison was suspended, was examined that same day for a lingering case of bronchitis. There had been come concern that Griffin’s heart might be abnormally enlarged, but the examination showed no such problem and he was cleared to play.
Ellison underwent a follow-up examination for his chicken pox last Friday and was unexpectedly cleared for competition. He rejoined the team in Tucson, Ariz., last Friday night but played only 11 minutes in Sunday’s 87-60 loss to Arizona State.
And Tuesday afternoon, Eastman revealed that junior shooting guard Shamon Antrum had suffered severe migraine headaches Saturday night prior to the ASU loss.
“At the shoot-around that (Sunday) morning, I thought he looked horrible,” Eastman said. “He said at that point that he still had bad headaches but that they were playable.”
Antrum, who entered the game averaging close to 13 points and five rebounds, made only 1 of 9 field-goal attempts, grabbed just one rebound and turned the ball over twice.
“Some of it could have been fatigue,” Eastman admitted, “and some of it could have been the headaches. I’ve never had those types of headaches, so I don’t know … but they say they’re unbelievable.”
Just like everything else that has happened to the Cougars recently.
“Dreaded Sundays,” Eastman mused. “Something has happened every Sunday, it seems like, for the past three or four weekends. We’ve never had a continuity of personnel.
“I mean of all things, chicken pox. Think of something else, but chicken pox? When is it going to stop?”
Fortunately for Eastman’s mental state, everyone practiced Tuesday afternoon and Ellison and Antrum appeared healthy.
“I’m hoping the oddities are over,” Eastman said.
WSU expects a large crowd for Thursday night’s 7:30 game against USC and a near-sellout for Saturday’s 3 p.m. matchup against UCLA.
School officials estimate Saturday’s game could draw more than 10,000, and they are asking fans to plan accordingly.
Gates, which normally open 90 minutes prior to tipoff, will open Saturday at 1 p.m. But those who plan to attend are urged to give themselves extra time to find parking, walk to the arena and get to their seats.
Many of those in the unexpectedly large crowd of 11,019 that showed up for last year’s regular-season finale against California missed the opening tipoff because of scarce parking close to Friel Court and the long lines waiting to get in.
Did you know?
USC’s Jaha Wilson is the only Pac-10 player averaging double figures in scoring (13.7) and rebounding (10.1).
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