It's Jan. 1, 2009, and the new year is here. Most of us will pause to reflect on the past year before anxiously anticipating what '09 might hold.
For much of Cougar Nation, the year past was memorable for both WSU basketball and football.
Under the strong leadership of Coach Tony Bennett, once again the Cougs were invited to the NCAA tournament. That is a goal on every college basketball coaches list of accomplishments. Without the invitation, there's no shot at a national championship.
For many Cougs, the talk of a national championship in basketball failed to blip on their radar. That has changed since the arrival in Pullman of Coach Dick Bennett and his son Tony.
The elder Bennett built a no-nonsense foundation for an excellent college basketball program. Coach Bennett, the younger, stands on the shoulders of his father and has Cougar basketball reaching for new heights.
Last year was a second consecutive 26-win season capped by WSU winning their way to the Sweet 16.
That was then. What about now?
Washington State is one of the youngest teams in the nation. That said, they still have a solid core of team leaders. Only one of the many freshman is a starter, the brilliant young man from southern California, Klay Thompson.
With one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the history of WSU basketball, Coach Bennett and his staff have been working with their young players focused on a couple of things.
First, they are teaching Division I basketball. One of the toughest things for a young player to adjust to is that at this level, every team is stocked with good players. Where they might have been a star in high school, at this level it's a battle to get off the bench and into the game.
The other major lesson being taught is Bennett Ball. Few high school players have been coached defense first and offense second. As tough as that lesson is to learn, the young men committed to playing for WSU and Coach Bennett are sponges soaking up as much teaching as possible.
Dreaming of a basketball national title has never been closer to reality for Cougar Nation.
For Cougar football fans dreaming of a bowl game last year, their reality became a nightmare.
First-year Coach Paul Wulff took over a football program that was adrift. Five-win seasons were becoming the norm. The only way to change course was to go back to basics and rebuild the program from the ground up.
No one expected Washington State to earn just two wins last year. Then again, few knew how thin the football roster was.
No one expected Washington State to lose their top three quarterbacks on the depth chart to serious injury.
No one wants to hear any more about last year!
It's premature to dream of national championships for Cougar football, but this year, it's time to dream of postseason bowl once again.
Coach Wulff and his staff look to bring in the best recruiting class in the history of Cougar football. How can that be when the season record for WSU in '08 was 2-10?
With a foundation formed, Coach Wulff has things in place to assure talented high school players that playing football at Washington State will be an outstanding experience.
It's long been the conventional wisdom that no one can convince top players to bring their game to Pullman, WA. WSU has been the brunt of a myriad of jokes. "How do you overcome the location of Pullman? Drive kids there blindfolded."
The stigma attached to moving to the Palouse is moving to a proper place in the big scheme of things. Stigma? Pullman is one of the best college towns in the country. Might be a long drive to get there, but it's well worth it for the opportunity to join the Cougar family.
High-school recruits are measured by scouting services on potential success at the Division I level. The best are ranked from one to five stars with the latter being a "can't miss" label.
There is about a month before high school grads will sign on to play football on athletic scholarship. Where does WSU measure up?
Based on last season's record, most would expect WSU to rank at the bottom of the Pac-10 with the UW. Yes, the Husky football program has sunk further than the Cougar program. But that's for others to wax on about.
Presently, Washington State ranks fifth in the Pac-10, just a shade behind Coach Bellotti at Oregon. That's right folks. Fifth and climbing.
That's what you can expect this coming year.
Washington State is moving forward in a very positive fashion.
This is going to be a good year!
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