Four Cougars gain experience internationally

July, 14, 2009
The options for Washington State players are limited by logistics. There are pickup games in Pullman and on the campus of the University of Idaho in nearby Moscow, but that's pretty much it.

"That's the best we've got: three nights a week, sometimes our place, sometimes theirs," new Washington State coach Ken Bone said of rotating games between Wazzu and Idaho. "That's what the rest of our guys were doing. But it's not as great an experience as the other four guys had."

The four guys he was referring to are the four Cougars who played around the globe this summer. It's unlikely any other program had what Washington State had in early July -- a third of its team playing high-level basketball on international squads. And maybe no other high-major program needed something like that more, considering the school's remote location. Teams in major metropolitan areas, even higher-profile college towns, have better luck finding quality games than what the Cougs traditionally get staying on the Palouse.

Klay Thompson, one of the top freshmen in the Pac-10 this past season with 12.5 points a game, was a key member of the gold medal-winning American team at the Under-19 World Championships in New Zealand. Thompson averaged 7.8 points and 4.4 rebounds a game.

"It showed he can play at a high, high-caliber level and be successful," Bone said. "It's not like he wasn't confident before, but it gave him an understanding that he can do a great job against any caliber of talent, not just here, but around the world."

Forward DeAngelo Casto, one of the strong men for the Americans, suffered a slight tear in his lateral meniscus on the trip and played in four of the nine games before leaving New Zealand early. He averaged 6.2 points and 3.2 rebounds before leaving.

"Physically, he did a great job from when I watched at the trials in Colorado Springs," Bone said. "He was a beast in the paint. I'm not sure he can be a Jon Brockman [the former Washington forward], but his work ethic and strength and explosiveness should give him a good presence."

Brock Motum, who will be a freshman at WSU, led the Australians in scoring at 13.6 points a game.

"We'll need him immediately," Bone said. "I'm hoping that he's gained confidence, that he can compete at a high level and be successful."

The 6-9 Motum should be one of the top freshmen in the Pac-10 this season.

Rising senior Nikola Koprivica, who averaged 3.1 points per game this past season, was a bench player for the gold medal-winning Serbs at the World University Games. He averaged only 1.9 points in 8.3 minutes a game, but he still served a key role on the squad, a leadership position that Bone is hoping will transfer to Pullman.

"He's our only upperclassman," Bone said. "We don't have any juniors, and he'll be our only senior. We need his leadership. He has the most experience of any player on our team playing in the Pac-10 and at Washington State. Even though he didn't get a lot of minutes, it was a big lift for him to be on that team. It was an absolute honor for him to be a part of that national team."

All four will enter the fall oozing with confidence. Would they have improved as much staying in Pullman, playing in the other Moscow? Maybe, but it's unlikely they would have felt as tested. Tony Bennett's decision to leave for Charlottesville to coach Virginia was a long-term move. But it's becoming even clearer over the offseason that he left the program on stable, sturdy ground for Bone to inherit.

• Bone said he's still awaiting word on the final two teams in the Great Alaska Shootout. Bone said he was told that joining Washington State would be Oklahoma, Houston, San Diego and host Alaska-Anchorage. The tournament needs three more teams, with Buffalo being one possibility. Wazzu has two significant road games -- at Kansas State in the Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood Challenge and at Gonzaga in the traditional rivalry game. The Cougars also will play LSU in Seattle, a credit to Tigers coach Trent Johnson, a Seattle native.

• Want another reason Cal should be picked as the favorite in the Pac-10? The Bears return the core of their team, led by the best backcourt in the West, Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle. But if a seldom-used reserve is one of the top players for his native country at the World University Games, that's another reason to feel good about the Bears. Max Zhang, who averaged just 1.3 points, 0.6 rebounds and 0.9 blocks a game as a freshman this past season, averaged 18 points and 17.3 boards for China in the WUG event in Belgrade, Serbia. Zhang, a 7-3 center, had 34 blocks for the 2-4 Chinese. He led the Chinese in rebounding in five of six games, including getting 22 boards twice. If Zhang is suddenly a significant contributor off the bench, especially defensively on the boards and in shot-blocking, Cal's defense will be even more improved under Mike Montgomery in his second season. Montgomery has a history of being a big-time big-man coach at Stanford.

• Rutgers needs something positive to occur this season. If Mike Rosario can duplicate this summer's scoring exploits next winter, maybe the positive karma will transfer to Rutgers. Rosario led all scorers at the Under-19 FIBA World Championships with 24 points a game, including a stunning 54 against France. This past season, Rosario averaged 16.2 points a game for the Scarlet Knights, who were 2-16 in the Big East, 11-21 overall.

Austin Daye is long gone, attempting to make an impact with the Detroit Pistons after two seasons with Gonzaga. But there's no reason to cry for the Zags. Two of their newcomers played well for Team Canada at the U-19. Mangisto Arop, a shooting guard, led the Canadians with 16.2 points a game, while small forward Kelly Olynyk averaged 11.2 points a game. Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said he was concerned about decision-making (i.e., turnovers) but was overall pleased with the production. Lloyd said he expects both players to be in the rotation next season. The one newcomer who might create the most buzz, according to Lloyd, is Elias Harris. The 6-7 German national is expected to be declared eligible through the NCAA's eligibility center and have a major impact on the Zags. Gonzaga returns the backcourt of Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson, as well as big man Robert Sacre.

• In 34 hours, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, fresh off winning the gold medal with the Under-19 team, made it to Augusta, Ga., for the July evaluation period recruiting event called the Peach Jam. He went from Auckland, New Zealand, to Sydney, Australia, to Los Angeles, to Charlotte, N.C., to Augusta.

"I feel good," Dixon said by phone while watching games at the tournament. Dixon was still on a high over winning the gold medal, the first for the Americans since 1991.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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