PULLMAN – Having spent the last two years of his childhood away at an East Coast boarding school, the last thing Ike Iroegbu thought he wanted when he arrived at college was a roommate.
So, Iroegbu secured a single room as a freshman. He did not spend much time there, however.
Iroegbu came to Washington State to play basketball, but got inconsistent minutes his first year on campus. Fellow freshman Josh Hawkinson did not play much, either, so the two of them would stay and shoot hoops in Beasley Coliseum or the extra gym in Bohler long after the day’s game or practice had ended.
The two have lived together, and been key starters for the Cougars, ever since.
They will play their last home game at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday against Washington. While Hawkinson and Iroegbu probably envisioned more wins during their college careers when they were rebounding for each other during those late freshmen nights, there have been highlights.
“With both of those players I can’t remember a day that I’ve been here where they’ve not had smiles on their faces, they’ve not come to practice to work hard, they’ve not brought energy and everything else,” Kent said. “That’s huge. Particularly having gone through what the two of them have been through here.”
While Hawkinson did not play much as a freshman, over his next three years he emerged as perhaps the most productive player to play for WSU. He has recorded at least 10 points and rebounds in the same game 54 times, and every double-double he gets from now on will add to his school record.
Last year his individual success did not translate into team success. More than 700 college basketball players transfer every offseason now, and few fans would have begrudged Hawkinson for spending his last college year with a program that was expected to make a deep tournament run.
But even as WSU’s prospects seemed to dim during the offseason as other teammates players transferred, Hawkinson never waivered in his desire to finish his career in Pullman.
“I just don’t think that’s the type of person I am,” Hawkinson said. “I’m the type of person to stick through the process. I’m all about this program and this university. I love the people and I wanted to continue to put the effort in to get this program up to the top. “
Iroegbu has stepped up his game as his time at WSU dwindles. While consistency was an issue earlier in his career, Iroegbu has scored in double-figures in eight of WSU’s last nine games.
In the team’s last game he nearly had a triple-double, scoring 17 points, collecting eight rebounds and dishing out seven assists to help the Cougars beat Arizona State.
“I’m savoring this moment with my guy,” Iroegbu said. “Now that it’s coming to an end, that’s wild. But we’ve got this one last game here and we can’t look past it.”
Hawkinson and Iroegbu are not the only seniors who will play their final homes games in Beasley on Sunday. Charles Callison and Conor Clifford both transferred to WSU from junior colleges last season, and have become integral parts of the team.
The pair have both started almost every game this season for the Cougars, and have some of the team’s best individual performances. Callison is one of two Cougars to score 30 points in a game this season (Hawkinson being the other), as he took over the game against Colorado on offense to secure a win for WSU.
Clifford nearly got there with 29 points against Creighton, and his efficient scoring has been key in several of WSU’s best games. Not only does the 7-footer astoundingly have the best free-throw shooting percentage in school history (85.7-percent), he ranks No. 3 all-time in field goal percentage (60.7-percent).
But this is a story about the two Cougars who came to Pullman four years ago and led their team through tumultuous seasons, a coaching change and the unexpected departures of several teammates.
“To me they are already successful, even though they don’t realize it yet,” Kent said. “Because they have programmed themselves to handle adversity, to put themselves out on display for the public to see in the middle of that adversity, take their shots on social media at times and to weather all that with their character, to lead and to give everything they have in tank to make this program successful. They are a success story in my book.”