Washington State coach Ernie Kent isn’t buying the media prediction that his Cougars will finish last in the Pac-12 this basketball season.
“If we’re the last-place team, this conference is going to be a really, really good conference,” Kent said at Pac-12 media day.
The Cougars finished eighth in the Pac-12 in Kent’s first season at the helm, but showed progress as the season continued, winning four more Pac-12 games than they did in Ken Bone’s last season at WSU. With that improvement came a glimmer of hope for what this season may bring, even if last year’s leading scorer, former Curtis High School star DaVonte Lacy, has graduated.
WSU starts its regular season Nov. 13 at home against Northern Arizona.
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This year’s team has three returning starters, led by Josh Hawkinson, who averaged 14.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per game last season. He led the Pac-12 in rebounds and the nation in defensive rebounds per game. He also set school records last season with 20 double-doubles and 334 rebounds, breaking records that stood for 48 and 51 years, respectively.
The 6-foot-10 Hawkinson is the team’s go-to guy, but should have more help from a deeper team this year, Kent said.
“I know there’s going to be a lot more guys behind you that can back me up and have the same type of production,” Hawkinson said. “I’m not worried about trying to increase what I’m doing or do too much. I’m just trying to stay even keel.”
Other returning starters are guards Ike Iroegbu, who averaged nearly 9 points last season, and Ny Redding, who averaged 3.3 assists per game. Other returning contributors are Brett Boese, Que Johnson and Junior Longrus.
Kent welcomed seven new players, including four junior college transfers.
He called this the best group of big men he has ever coached. “I’ve got two 7-footers that are pretty big basketball players that are going to help us,” Kent said. “I’ve always had really good guards.”
The Cougars will feature an up-tempo game with a lot of scoring, Kent said. He made sure to note, however, the team has two solid scoring options in true freshman Robert Franks and former Federal Way High School standout Viont’e Daniels.
“I’m not going to redshirt anybody — they’re both going to have to play. They both bring something different to the table,” Kent said. “Viont’e is a tremendous shooter, plays with tremendous energy getting up and down the floor and I think there’s going to be nights where we need his energy, we need his shooting.
“Robert is another big that is very skilled, that can score inside, can score outside. Down the road those two players are going to really be good, but I think they can help us out of the gate right now.”