Tuesday morning Coach Ken Bone had positive things to say about the progress of Washington State men's basketball during the Pac-10 coaches teleconference. His Cougar team is off to an 8-2 start, so you'd expect to hear good things from the head man.
Though we're 10 games into the season, it's far too early to get a fix on how good the Cougs are going to be this season. But there are some signs this young team is going to be very competitive every time they lace 'em up and take to the hardwood.
The development of Klay Thompson as a scorer may have surprised some, but don't count Coach Bone among that number.
After the first ten games, Thompson is averaging 25.1 points per game, double his scoring production of last season. Then again, Klay has taken his game up a notch or two after being a key player on the USA U19 men's basketball team last summer.
Playing last year for Coach Tony Bennett , Thompson was basically a player who would come off screens, catch, and shoot. That system proved to be very successful for WSU, taking them to two NCAA appearances and an NIT berth the past three seasons.
When Coach Bone took over the Washington State basketball program last spring he saw Thompson as a potential scorer rather than just a shooter. With the graduation of Aron Baynes , Taylor Rochestie, and Daven Harmeling , the Cougs needed scoring to fill that void. No question which student-athlete on the WSU roster has the tools to put the ball through the hoop with consistency on a regular basis.
"(Klay Thompson) is doing a good job of looking to score. He’s in a situation right now with our team that he’s the best scorer. Not only does he recognize that, his teammates recognize that and the staff recognizes that. He has a green light to look to shot and if he’s not open we want him to try and attack and score more than just coming off screens and shooting. He’s averaging around 7 free throws a game, which we think is important. Last year he took 31 free throws on the year" —WSU Coach Ken Bone
Bone is pleased with Thompson embracing the challenge as well as his effort to look for ways to score. But then again, that's what most players aspire to. But when Coach Bone was asked if he expected Klay to be averaging 25 points a game, his response was matter-of-fact.
"I did, just because of the makeup of our team and the fact that we were going to try and get up and down the floor a little bit more. So therefore it doesn’t surprise me. I don’t think at the end he’ll be averaging 25 a game. We’re going to start facing some stiffer competition. I do think he’ll end up being our leading scorer and probably be in the low 20’s somewhere." —Coach Ken Bone
When it comes to getting up and down the floor a little bit more, well, Coach Bone believes that is the way every kid wants to play. Whether or not they can actually do that is another thing. Running and pushing the ball sounds great to just about any basketball player, but that's not a style everyone can play at a high level for the entire schedule.
The faster tempo the Cougs are playing this season is producing more point production. Most fans love to see their team score. Coach Bone is concerned his team is not just scoring more points; they are also giving up a lot more points on the defensive end of the court. Last year WSU led the nation in scoring defense. No chance of a repeat performance this year. With an up tempo pace, opponents are going to have more possessions and chances to score.
Along with the play of Thompson, Coach Bone expressed delight in the performance at point guard of true freshman Reggie Moore . One of the keys to Moore's early success stems from his care with the ball. Handling the ball on offense much of the 30 minutes he's averaging, Moore has committed just 23 turnovers. That's impressive considering the effectiveness of his distribution of the ball while averaging around 13 points a game. "I’m just really pleased with what he’s been able to accomplish," Bone said.
This coming Saturday, Washington State will face Portland State, Coach Bone's former team, in Kennewick, WA. Since Pac-10 teams have done very well against Big Sky teams this year, the expectation is the game will be an easy win for the Cougs.
"It’s going to be really tough. Being the coach at Portland State the last few years, I’m pretty aware of most every guy on that team. They hit 17 threes the other day against Pepperdine and set a record for that building. Phil Nelson hit 8 in one game and yet Phil isn’t even the best three-point shooter on the team. I know we’ve got our work cut out for us and people will understand that come Saturday." —Coach Ken Bone
Bone didn't miss a chance to praise the job Coach Tyler Geving is doing after taking over the Viking basketball program.
Then again, Coach Bone is doing pretty well with his new team.
Originally published in Lew Wright's column on Examiner.com