Don’t blink now but Washington State basketball is for real: They went on the road at Gonzaga, an established mid-major powerhouse and not only gave them their second loss ever in their current home building, but held them to 47 points in yet another great leap forward for a program that came out of nowhere last year to earn a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and get to the second round.
Where did these guys even come from in the first place? Upon first glance at their players, they look like extras from “Hang Time”. Upon further review however, they have themselves have a quality backcourt led by Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver, both of whom represented Team USA at the Pan-American Games this past summer while the front court is powered by Robbie Cowgill and Aussie superstar Aron Baynes, who should be noted for his quality impersonations of Eric Montross (see pic below).
Quite possibly the biggest reason however, for the Cougar’s great recent success has been quality coaching via Tony Bennett, who inherited the program from his famous father, Dick, who brought to the program his infamous “snail’s pace” offense along coupled with his strong emphasis on defense that earned him a Final Four berth at Wisconsin. Keep in mind that when the Bennetts arrived in Pullman, Washington back in 2003, the program was an absolute joke and a bottom-feeder in the Pac-10. Their last dance in the NCAA Tournament had been in the early 90’s when Kelvin Sampson was coaching them (and maintaining a reasonable phone bill), and they had a laundry list’s worth of futility streaks: They had never beaten UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, had a 30+ game losing streak to Arizona, and were in the midst of a double-digit Pac-10 road losing streak. That all changed though, once the Bennetts instilled some discipline and character into their players and began to recruit hidden gems that fell below elite program’s radars and look where they are today, #6 in the latest polls and undefeated at 8-0.
Now, some of you may be wondering: “Why in the world are you choosing to write about something as obscure as Washington State hoops? What’s gotten into you? Why don’t you talk about JoePa’s recent Hall-Of-Fame induction or something?” Well, it’s quite simple actually: Washington State is a giant “Fuck You” to all the people who claim that Penn State can never field a successful basketball program because we’re located in the middle of nowhere and because we don’t have any tradition.
I’ve got news for you people: Pullman, Washington is also located in the middle of nowhere, in the uppermost northwest state of the mainland United States. It’s a place that Wazzu’s rivals, Washington, have jokingly called “The armpit of the state.” and it’s one of the last places on Earth one would think of when talking about basketball tradition.
Bottom Line: If it can happen at a school like Washington State, it can happen anywhere. What Curley/Spanier really need to do now is take a good hard look at the current state of PSU basketball (Hint: It starts with the coaching staff) and ask themselves: “Are we really being the best we can possibly be with our quality facilities and sleeping dragon of a fanbase?” You know, if they truly care about fielding a winning basketball team…