PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State coach Ernie Kent is promising his third season will see an improvement in the Cougars’ talent level.
That would be good news after a forgettable campaign last season that saw Washington State finish 9-22 overall and just 1-17 in the Pac-12.
There was lots of roster churn after the season, and this year’s edition of the Cougars also took a tour of Italy to hone their basketball skills.
“With the talent level coming in the door, I think people should be pleasantly surprised when they see this team play,” Kent said. “Much improved shooting, passing and defense.”
A better team may also help increase the average of 2,800 fans at home games last season.
The Cougars have some bright spots.
Most notable is Josh Hawkinson, who averaged 15.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season and led the Pac-12 in rebounding and with 20 double-doubles. The 6-foot-10 forward is now a senior and was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention last season.
Hawkinson said he must do more to help the team.
“I’ve got to step up more defensively,” he said. “I can be more of a distributor.”
Also back is senior guard Ike Iroegbu, who averaged 12.7 points and 3.6 assists, and guard Charles Callison, who recorded 7.9 points and 3 assists per game.
Kent promised an up-tempo game last season, but didn’t have the athletes to deliver. He believes the six newcomers on the roster are more suited to faster play.
“This team will be able to score more so we can speed the game up again,” Kent said. “There’s a different talent level, and a different energy coming in the door that allows us to play at a higher level.”
Among the newcomers is Malachi Flynn, who had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds during WSU’s final game in Italy. Freshmen Jeff Pollard, Milan Acquaah and Jamar Ergas are also expected to contribute.
Iroegbu said everyone has to contribute this season.
“It can’t just be me and Josh.” Iroegbu said. “That’s what Italy was for.”
The Cougars have not made the NCAA Tournament since the 2008 season under former coach Tony Bennett.
COACHING CORNER: Kent, the former Oregon coach, led WSU to a 13-18 record, including seven conference wins, in his first season. Last year was quite a drop-off. Washington State did manage to beat No. 25 UCLA at home, then lost 17 games conference game in a row.
ECHOES IN BEASLEY: A low-wattage non-conference schedule won’t do much to raise attendance at Beasley Coliseum, which averaged 2,800 fans per game last season. No teams from Power 5 conferences are playing a non-conference game in Pullman this year. But fans can see three teams from the Big Sky.
QUE CHECKS OUT: Que Johnson, once a highly touted recruit, transferred to Western Kentucky for his senior year, taking his 11.3 points per game with him. Center Valentine Izundo, guard Ny Redding and forward Brett Boese are also gone.
THE HAWK: Hawkinson led the team with 33 minutes a game and ranked 11th in the nation in rebounding. He had a streak of 11 consecutive double-doubles.