Key Losses: G Thomas Kelati (14.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg), F Chris Schlatter (4.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg), F Jeff Varem (10.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg)
Cairns, Australia/Cairns State
Fort Worth, TX/Tyler (TX) JC
New Orleans, LA/Midland (TX) JC
Peoria, IL/Illinois Central JC
Pagosa Springs, CO/Pagosa Springs
Baynes could solve the Cougs' center problems. He comes from the Australian Institute of Sport, which also produced Andrew Bogut, the top pick in the NBA Draft. Long and athletic, Clark averaged 13.2 points and 7.1 rebounds in junior college last season. Edgerson is a shooter who averaged 24.6 points in junior college in 2004-05. Forrest was named the The Rocky Mountain News' 3A State Player of the Year in Colorado. Chavers is another scorer from the junior college ranks. Campbell is a walk-on.
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Everywhere he's been, Dick Bennett's teams have started to shine in the fourth year of his tenure. The problem at Washington State? This is just the third year in the Cougars' rebuilding process.
Last year, Washington State was at least competitive, finishing 7-11 and sixth in the conference, even shocking Arizona in Tucson.
But three senior starters from that team are gone, including the Cougars' best outside and inside players and leading scorers, Thomas Kelati and Jeff Varem. Yet Bennett is optimistic because this, historically, is the pivotal season when positive things happen.
"In the third year, the kids you've recruited make up the entire team," he says. "I think they're all good players. You blend and establish your system. I feel good about where we will be at some point this season."
An initial concern: WSU will be very young with six second-year players and five first-year players.
At center, the Cougs could be undersized, inexperienced or both. Bennett hopes that either one of two freshmen, Caleb Forrest or Aron Baynes, or sophomore Chris Henry can play in the middle. If one of the young big men emerges, Bennett plans to move Robbie Cowgill to his natural position of forward, where he won't be as vulnerable defensively against bigger players.
Cowgill could use a little more beef on his bones after playing last year at 6-foot-10 and 200. But he's an active and athletic player who occasionally sparked the Cougs last year.
Bennett went out of state to find the 6-8, 215-pound Forrest, from Pagosa Springs, Colo., and out of the country to sign the 6-10, 245-pound Baynes, an Australian from Cairns. Baynes should provide toughness (Bennett calls him big and rugged) and also has international experience.
At 6-9 and 248, Henry adds size but was a part-timer last year who played in only 14 games and averaged 1.5 points. Junior college transfer Ivory Clark, a long and athletic 6-6 forward from New Orleans, is expected to help right away.
Returning sophomore Derrick Low lacks flash but is a solid, steady player who effectively ran Washington State's offense from the point. He averaged 7.0 points and shot 87.1 percent from the line. Low should be a double-digit scorer this season, and the Cougars need him to find his range given their frequent inability to shoot last year.
Josh Akognon could be the Cougars' next 3-point threat now that Kelati has departed. He has the shot and confidence, and could triple his scoring average of 3.9 points last season. Akognon took, and narrowly missed, a 3-pointer that would have beaten Gonzaga.
Sophomore Kyle Weaver is an athletic wing player with plenty of potential, coming off a rookie season in which he averaged 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Two more junior college transfers, Antonio Chavers and Rodney Edgerson, will give the Cougs much-improved backcourt depth. Edgerson was a big-time scorer at Illinois Central College the past two seasons.
A holdover from the Paul Graham era, Randy Green is the only senior on the team. He averaged 2.0 points last year but can still put the ball in the basket when called upon.
It will be another so-so year for the Cougs, whose fans are patient and grateful that Bennett is in Pullman trying to turn WSU into another Wisconsin.
Bennett hasn't said as much, but he is expected to retire at the end of the year and be replaced by his son, Tony. "I like the direction it's going," Bennett says. "I didn't want Tony to sit through two or three hard years."
It's been more difficult than Bennett expected -- "much harder than any place I've been," he says. Top recruits in Eastern Washington go to Gonzaga; top recruits in Western Washington go to Washington.
"We have had to discover every kid we've brought in," he says. "It's a gamble when you bring in a kid who's not heavily recruited."