Washington State Cougars reject last place prediction

Washington State coach Ernie Kent isn't buying the media prediction that his Cougars will finish last in the Pac-12 this season.

''If we're the last-place team, this conference is going to be a really, really good conference,'' Kent said at Pac-12 media day.

The Cougars finished eighth in the Pac-12 in Kent's first season at the helm, and lost leading scorer DaVonte Lacy to graduation.

This year's team has three returning starters, led by Josh Hawkinson, who averaged 14.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per game last season. He led the Pac-12 in rebounds and the nation in defensive rebounds per game.

The 6-foot-10 Hawkinson is the team's go-to guy, but should have more help from a deeper team this year, Kent said.

''I know there's going to be a lot more guys behind you that can back me up and have the same type of production,'' Hawkinson said. ''I'm not worried about trying to increase what I'm doing or do too much. I'm just trying to stay even keel.''

Other returning starters are guards Ike Iroegbu, who averaged nearly 9 points last season, and Ny Redding, who averaged 3.3 assists per game. Other returning contributors are Brett Boese, Que Johnson and Junior Longrus.

Kent welcomed seven new players, including four junior college transfers.

He called this the best group of big men he has ever coached.

''I've got two 7-footers that are pretty big basketball players that are going to help us,'' Kent said. ''I've always had really good guards.''

The Cougars will feature an up-tempo game with a lot of scoring, Kent said.

''We're trying to do things to our game to speed it up, make it more entertaining,'' Kent said.

Some things to watch this season:

IMPROVEMENT: In Kent's first season, Washington State (13-18, 7-11 Pac-12) won four more Pac-12 games than the season before.

BYE, BYE LACY: Lacy graduated as the leading 3-point shooter in WSU history, supplanting Klay Thompson.

HAWK WATCH: Hawkinson averaged a double-double as a sophomore and was named the league's most improved player last season. He set school records last season with 20 double-doubles and 334 rebounds, breaking records that stood for 48 and 51 years, respectively.

ZAG WATCH: One nonconference game that is almost certainly circled on the WSU schedule is a Dec. 2 showdown with in-state rival Gonzaga in Pullman. Other nonconference foes include Portland State, Idaho, UTEP and Texas State. They play Oklahoma in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.

HOME SWEET HOME: Ten of WSU's nonconference games are in Pullman and one is in Moscow, Idaho, just six miles east.

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