• Cougars 2009-10 schedule, 2008-09 results, more
PULLMAN – Stone-faced, soft-spoken Klay Thompson generally shows all the emotion of a clam.
It’s just his way. His calm, cool manner serves him well on the basketball court.
Off the court, even Thompson lets his guard down on occasion. When a reporter recently informed Thompson that he had been named the top NBA prospect in the Pacific-10 Conference by Lindy’s College Basketball magazine, Thompson made no attempt to hide his delight.
“Really? Wow. I can’t believe that,” the Washington State sophomore gushed.
Of course, the modest Thompson was quick to ask, “It means it’s a down year?”
If the truth be told, the Pac-10 is expected to take a step backward this season after sending a horde of players to the NBA the past two years. Thompson, however, would be a quality player in any conference. Anywhere, anytime.
Still, new Cougars coach Ken Bone is pushing Thompson to expand his game.
“I’m hoping he becomes more of a scorer than just a shooter,” Bone said.
Care to explain, Coach?
“Instead of being a shooter and avoiding contact, now we’re asking him at times to embrace that contract,” Bone said. “Get to the (free-throw) line. Put the guy in foul trouble. He’ll back off even more.
“There’s a lot of advantages in being guarded by a guy that’s in foul trouble, which doesn’t always mean four fouls with 7 minutes to go. I mean, a guy can have two fouls with 15 to go in the first half. He’s in foul trouble. Now he’s either on the bench or he’s guarding you but doesn’t want to get close.”
Bone describes Thompson as “a prolific shooter,” but the coach said it’s “unbelievable” that Thompson shot just 31 free throws in 33 games last season. Bone, like Tony Bennett before him, is encouraging Thompson to drive to the basket more frequently.
“He’ll get there,” Bone said. “He’s a great kid. He wants to be really good. I think it’s more of a change in the mind-set than anything else.”
Thompson, the son of former NBA star Mychal Thompson, started every game last season and finished a close third in scoring on the Cougars behind then-seniors Taylor Rochestie and Aron Baynes. Thompson averaged 12.5 points and shot a team-high 41 percent from 3-point range.
“Klay is the best shooter I’ve ever seen,” said WSU freshman point guard Reggie Moore, a former Rainier Beach High star and a cousin of Houston Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks.
Thompson started and played well on the U.S. team that won the World Under-19 Championships last summer in New Zealand. Thompson said he welcomes the pressure that comes with being The Big Man On Campus for a team with just one senior and no juniors.
“I’m excited,” the 6-foot-6 wing said. “I want to get all-league, but most importantly, as a team I want to make the postseason. Just like last year (an NIT appearance), if not better.
“It’ll be exciting to face the team’s best defender, hopefully. Obviously, I’ll get better and it’ll be fine.”
Nikola Koprivica, WSU’s lone senior, said Thompson has been impressive in the preseason.
“He looks good, like always,” Koprivica said. “Klay is Klay. Hopefully, he stays healthy.
“We expect a lot of him. ... I just hope the pressure doesn’t get to him. He stays clear, focused. He’s really smart guy. I think he’ll do the right thing: Just focus on things that are ahead of you, just do what you do, and everything will come with that.”
A big season by Thompson would seem to be essential if the young Cougars are going to better than last season’s 17-16 record. Lindy’s picks WSU to repeat last year’s seventh-place finish in the Pac-10, but Thompson wants more.
“The Pac-10 isn’t as good as it has been the past few years, I don’t think,” Thompson said, “but there are some real good teams like Cal and Washington that are favored to win. Postseason play is definitely our main goal.”
WSU opens the season at 7 p.m. today at home against Mississippi Valley State.COUGARS PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
33 DeAngelo Casto
Last year’s numbers: 4.4 ppg 4.0 rpg
1 Klay Thompson
Ladera Ranch, Calif. (Santa Margarita)
Last year’s numbers: 12.5 ppg 4.2 rpg
3 Reggie Moore
Seattle (Rainier Beach; Brewster Academy-N.H.)
Last year’s numbers:* 13.0 ppg 10.0 rpg
0 Marcus Capers
Winter Haven, Fla. (Monverde Academy)
Last year’s numbers: 1.7 ppg 2.3 rpg
31 Abe Lodwick
Bend, Ore. (Mountain View)
Last year’s numbers: 0.8 ppg 1.0 rpg
*High school statistics
13 Steven Bjornstad, C, 6-10/217, fr., Vancouver, Wash. (Columbia River)
2 Anthony Brown, G, 6-4/206, fr., Spokane (Shadle Park)
40 Charlie Enquist, F, 6-10/222, so., Edmonds (Kings)
30 Michael Harthun, G, 6-3/181. so., Medford, Ore. (South Medford)
4 Nikola Koprivica, G/F, 6-6/221, sr., Belgrade, Serbia (Sport Grammar)
12 Brock Motum, F, 6-9/205, fr., Brisband, Australia (Institute of Sport)
11 Xavier Thames, G, 6-3/186, fr., Sacramento (Pleasant Grove)
THE COACH: Ken Bone (first season). Fact: Bone holds a 335-167 record in 17 years as a head coach, including 12 seasons at his alma mater, Seattle Pacific
3 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE COUGARS
Who will score?
New coach Ken Bone has ditched WSU’s walk-it-up-the-floor offense and installed the fastbreaking style he coached at Portland State, an NCAA tournament qualifier each of the past two years. One potential problem: Only sophomore Klay Thompson has ever averaged more than 4.6 points per game in college.
Where are the leaders?
Nikola Koprivica is the only senior on the team, and he’s not one of the three team captains. Thompson is the Cougars’ only marquee player, and he’s soft-spoken and reserved.
Will Bennett’s shadow loom?
In three years under Tony Bennett, the Cougars twice tied the school record of 26 wins, went to back-to-back NCAA tournaments for the first time and played in national postseason tournaments three consecutive years for the first time. Bone inherits an athletic but inexperienced roster with a glaring lack of inside muscle.
Howie Stalwick, For The News Tribune