The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Wheatfield Underdogs: the story of the 2023–24 WSU MBB team

A look back on how the Cougs captured lightning in a bottle
Myles Rice and Isaiah Watts shrug after taking down UCLA, March 2, in Pullman, Wash.

The 2023-24 college men’s basketball season saw a team defy all preseason expectations and have one of, if not the best, seasons in program history. That team was the Washington State Cougars. 

WSU entered the season projected to finish as just the No. 10 team in the Pac-12, according to the Conference itself. Rather than put all their stock into what the media predicted for them, the team knew they had something special brewing. 

“It was just all about us. It wasn’t about what people thought. It was just about how we were gonna get stuff done. We all came in with the same goals and mindset and it really worked out,” freshman guard Isaiah Watts said. 

Playing with and for each other, a team of “crazy stories” bonded and defied all lackluster expectations. 

After starting Pac-12 play 1-3, the Cougs nearly completely ran the table and finished in second place in the Conference heading into the Pac-12 Tournament. Despite— an exit in the semifinals, the Cougs did enough to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, the first for the program since the magical 2008 season. 

Despite not a single “guy” in the traditional sense, WSU had six total postseason honors. Star freshman guard Myles Rice won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year while making the All-Pac-12 First Team and Pac-12 All-Freshman honors. During the season, Rice won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honor seven times, tying a Conference record with current NBA player and former USC forward Evan Mobley. 

Joining Rice in postseason awards, Kyle Smith won the John R. Wooden Pac-12 Coach of the Year, Isaac Jones made the All-Pac-12 First Team and Jaylen Wells was an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention. 

A group of guys, many of whom had not been on the team last season, came together to create a magical season. Therefore, the story of the ‘23–24 Cougs deserves to be told, said as such by members of the team. 

“I think we’ve all thought this season’s success needs to be talked about more with this great season kinda getting lost in the wash of everything happening after it ended,” student equipment manager Ethan Kramer said. 

But the story of the season starts well before the opening tip. 

The Calm 

Chapter 1 – Building the Team 

After finishing the 2022–23 season 17-17 and 11-9 in Conference play, the Cougs were set to lose their four leading scorers to a combination of the draft and transfer portal — TJ Bamba, Mouhamed Gueye, Justin Powell and DJ Rodman.

Four players went from program cornerstones to players with their time at WSU in the rearview mirror. With additional departures making the roster even thinner, Smith and the rest of the coaching staff got to work to build the roster, doing so with a myriad of overlooked players.

Center Rueben Chinyelu had only been playing basketball since 2018, playing in the NBA Academy in Africa before making the jump over to the States. Oscar Cluff, an Australian native, was a JUCO product. 

Isaiah originally committed to Seton Hall but decided late to make the change to become a Coug. Wells played D-2 basketball and the Cougs homegrown star in Rice had not played basketball in two years while recovering from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

One of the final pieces came locally. After playing at University of Idaho, Jones came over the border and decided to play his final season of college eligibility at WSU. 

“There’s a lot of different players that have a lot of different crazy stories on how they ended up at Division I. The way our team is compiled, we have something to prove, which is why I don’t think we ever get complacent,” Wells said. 

From top to bottom, everyone on the team had a collective hunger. Despite being a rag-tag group of different backgrounds and different experience levels, each player had to work up to D-1 basketball. 

“We all knew what that grind is like. We know what that hunger is. We know what that hustle was like,” Isaiah said. “When you hustle together and work together, you’ll shine together. That’s just, you know, that’s what we did.” 

Building a team on the fly and then working to make the team work well together is not new to Smith and his staff. He’s proven the ability to adapt to players’ specific skills and has garnered the reputation of being a fan of nerd ball. 

With the team set, the first seed had been planted. The foundation of a successful season has been set, but something out of the control of the team forged another seed. 

The WSU women’s and men’s basketball teams pose for a photo after ZzuMania, Nov. 3, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

Chapter 2 – Uncertainty of the Future 

In August, several teams announced their anticipated departure from the Pac-12, leaving just WSU and Oregon State as the final two programs. Starting the year, the Cougs only certainty came from the fact that they were playing for the final Pac-12 title. 

For the first month of the season, no one knew for sure where the team would end up going forward. 

Finally, a month into playing games, the West Coast Conference announced the addition of WSU and OSU as affiliate members for the upcoming two seasons. 

“The narrative around the change in the conference — you know, I think we’re still a Pac-12 school, but obviously, we’re playing WCC basketball next year,” said Jim Crawford, WSU athletic communications assistant director. “I think that came with a lot of comments about what kind of team we were.” 

Playing with uncertainty, the team had to lean on each other even more to maintain a peak level of motivation, something that came naturally to a group that could connect over the aforementioned shared hunger. 

Chapter 3 – An Instant Connection  

“We are family,” Wells said

Instantly, a group of guys whose most common variable is having to fight their way to D-1 and having all sorts of journeys in getting there bonded. Like lifelong friends from the same hometown playing together on an AAU team, the team had fun playing. 

“It’s like a brotherhood. It’s a special feeling. I’ve never felt this way about any team that I’ve ever played on. It’s just this one big old family,” Isaiah said. “I know that everybody says that, but it’s actually true with us. We were one big family.” 

Wells and Isaiah said there were no cliques on the team. Everyone loved one another equally and everyone had that bond. 

It became evident to everyone around the team that there was something special about this group. Emma Decasa, MBB photographer and social media manager, said she could tell that the bond they developed was genuine from the instant she went to take photos at a practice.

“The first thing that I can tell from the first practice was they were all genuinely great friends. You could tell that they all liked each other and could have fun while working hard,” she said. 

Kymany Houinsou and Isaiah Watts dance after picking up a huge win over Arizona, Jan. 13, in Pullman, Wash.

It did not matter how things were going on the court. The team cared about each other off it. Even though he had been getting national attention for beating the odds and returning to the court for the first time in years, Rice stood out as someone who made sure the team’s dynamic never wavered. 

“Myles was always good at noticing what was going on with everyone else and supporting everyone else around him. Even though he was considered such a star player, he remained a team player throughout,” Decasa said. “They are supportive of each other and really just want to see each other succeed. They’re all really good at celebrating each other’s successes.” 

Like many other student-athletes across the country, several of the guys lived together, which had kept them together. 

“We have such a great group of guys, we love each other. We hang out off the court. You can see the connection we have on the court,” Jakimovksi said after beating Stanford. “That’s the beauty of this team. I think we’re getting better game after game.”

Kramer said it was impossible to pull the guys apart and the fact they cared so much about each other elevated their play on the court, something the players had even said about themselves. 

“We have great chemistry. All of us hang out off the court,” Jones said after the season opener. “We just click because everyone has the same intentions of being a great person.” 

Throughout the season, the wins kept coming. That made it easier to maintain positive vibes, but Wells said the guys also stayed positive because they took the time to care for each other and hang out without worrying about what was happening while on the court.

Rueben Chinyelu and the WSU bench emphatically celebrate a huge Cougs bucket, Jan. 27, in Pullman, Wash.Jan. 27, 2024 in Pullman, Wash.

When the team traveled to California for a Conference road trip, it was the first time in the state for many of the players. The team took the time to walk around the city and take in the fact they were in college and traveling to play basketball. 

Team bonding became natural as the guys spent every minute together but for the trio of Wells, Rice and Watts, the social media darlings of the season, it had not instantly been the case. 

Wells and Isaiah spent time together working with shooting Isaiah’s dad, Donald Watts, a former Washington player and shooting coach. They became like two peas in a pod, but on first meeting, that seemed impossible. 

On Isaiah’s first day practicing, he and Wells went one-on-one and the D-2 transfer easily had the upper hand. Isaiah said he had fallen so far behind he kept thinking to himself, ‘I don’t really like this dude.” 

But, putting his ego aside, the two began to talk and Isaiah started picking Wells’ brain. After bonding over their different walks of life, the two became close and with Rice in the trio, the three became a part of the greater brotherhood of WSU hoops.

Having his dad around made things even easier for Isaiah and the team; having Donald around meant someone readily available to give shooting tips to the players.

“My dad is still a young guy so he likes to feel like he’s still in college and hang out with the guys and stuff like that,” Isaiah said. “It definitely means a lot and I know that you know, my teammates soak up as much information as they can with him around, so he’s doing more than just being here for me.” 

WSU played for each other. They cared about each other doing well and that went beyond their play against other schools. Wells said he, and the rest of the team, have never played with a group so close outside of basketball. 

“Off the court, we’re the most connected we’ve ever been. It feels like we’re a family,” Wells said. “We always look out for one another.” 

Teammates celebrate with game-MVP Isaac Jones after taking down Arizona, Jan. 13, in Pullman, Wash.

Being each other’s biggest cheerleader and celebrating each other’s successes made Crawford’s job easier. He said the guys bought into doing social content and very easily bought into the branding the team had chosen to pursue for this unit.

Thus, the Wheatfield Underdogs were fully born. 

Chapter 4 – Wheatfield Underdogs 

Born out of the Tony Bennett era, the saying Wheatfield Underdogs had been an internal thing. But, Crawford said WSU athletics as a whole recently decided to lean into the Palouse community and the surroundings of Pullman, which is the wheatfields. 

Last season, when Klay Thompson visited the team during their road game against Cal, he broke the huddle with “Wheatfield Underdogs.” 

Crawford immediately felt like he had something to utilize for postseason branding. Understanding the utility of branding, it became the slogan of the team for their short 2023 postseason run. But, as new players with crazy stories came to the Palouse, the phrase birthed new meaning. 

“It worked well for what we were doing as a team in terms of culture and what we were trying to build. We just kind of leaned into it and again, it was pleasantly successful,” he said. 

Players knew they were not expected to make noise. They were just a team in the middle of some wheat fields in Eastern Washington. They were a bunch of guys who had yet to prove they had been successful at the D-1 level. They were the only people prepared for what was coming. 

The Storm 

Chapter 5 – Early Success

Immediately, the ‘23–24 season had been of note. The Cougs played their opener in Pullman against Idaho, revitalizing a century-long rivalry that had taken the previous season off. 

“I think it means a lot for this small community. There’s so many fans that just enjoy watching basketball, it means a lot. It’s a great rivalry,” senior forward Andrej Jakimovski said. 

Adding to the history, the opener had been the first on-court action for Rice since his cancer diagnosis. 

“It’s kind of surreal. I’m staying true to who I am, being that energy guy for the team, being the guy who always has a smile on my face,” Rice said. 

Myles Rice hangs on the rim after the anthem plays, Feb. 15, in Pullman, Wash.

To commemorate the occasion, there was something special about the colors of his nails. 

On his left hand, he painted “AYN1” on his fingernails, standing for “All you need is one.” He coined that phrase and used it throughout his chemotherapy to keep himself motivated and to push through, painting it on his nails as a reminder while he played. On his right, he had four cancer ribbons to show respect to people close to him. 

WSU beat Idaho 84-59. On both sides of the ball, the team showed the ability to dominate. In what eventually became a theme of the season, associate head coach Jim Shaw’s defensive scheme prevailed. 

“I don’t think we’ve reached our offensive ceiling,” Jones said. “We’ve been hammering defense in practice and I’m proud of where we’re at.”

Winning is always sweet, but for Jones, the player who became a star for Whenachee Valley and one season at Idaho. it had internally proved that the switch over to the side of the Cougs had been the right one. 

WSU forward Isaac Jones dunks the ball during an NCAA men’s basketball game against Idaho, Nov. 6, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

Following their victory over the Vandals, the Cougs beat Prairie View A&M, Rhode Island, Utah Tech, Eastern Washington, Portland State, UC Riverside, Grambling State and Boise State while losing to Santa Clara and Mississippi State. 

They finished non-conference play 9-2 and scored at least 80 points in six separate contests. With consistent defense, the Cougs were beginning to get some eyes to pay attention to what they were building. 

Early success also came with a different-looking team. Wells had been averaging just 7.4 points per game and coming off the bench. This was also before the season-ending injuries of Joseph Yesufu and Dylan Darling, both players who had been projected to play significant minutes during the season. 

Nine wins in non-conference action had been impressive, but it had quickly become time to see if the Cougs had the talent to compete against Pac-12 teams on a weekly basis, something they struggled with to start. 

Chapter 6 – Pac-12 Slumping 

WSU started Pac-12 play with two games on the road. In the opener, they got punched in the mouth by Utah, losing 80-58. They followed that up with another loss, this time by a final score of 74-67 by the hands of the Colorado Buffaloes. 

Rice averaged just 7.5 points per game in that two-game span, and the defense had seemingly lost the identity it had built during non-conference action. 

Playing Oregon State in the Pac-12 home opener, the Cougs finally got in the win column. Beating the Beavers 65-58, they were finally starting to look like themselves. But, with the eventual Pac-12 champs Oregon Ducks coming to town, that momentum quickly got snuffed out. 

The Ducks beat the Cougs on their home floor. Little did they know that until the very last game of the Pac-12 regular season, Beasley would be defended with the player’s lives. 

Chapter 7 – Home Dominance  

From Jan. 6 to March 7, no one else won in Beasley in men’s basketball other than WSU. Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Cal, Stanford, USC and UCLA all became victims of the Cougs. 

Four of those victories came by double-digits and no matter what, the Cougs knew defending home court would be the most important part of a successful season. 

WSU fans celebrate a win over USC, Feb. 29, in Pullman, Wash

Overall, this stretch of the middle of Conference play had been the best of the season for the Cougs. After all, they won 13 of 15 contests, but their play in front of their fans had been awe-inspiring.

Each game had a different player stepping up. Sometimes, it had been Jones down low in the post. Others, Isaiah or Wells hit a massive three-pointer in the clutch. In a couple of games, Jakimsovksi or Rice took control late. The Cougs were full of five or six guys that could pull the weight of the team and will them to victory. 

Chapter 8 – America’s Team 

The Cougs defended their home court well. They went to Seattle and won the Apple Cup in the midst of a stretch of dominant games. They went to Eugene and got revenge on the Ducks, who at that point had been the only other team to win in Beasley. 

Finally ranked within the AP Top 25, there was something new mounting for the Cougs. Something that had been well over a decade since they’d felt it. There was pressure.

Pressure to make the NCAA Tournament. 

“Obviously, there’s pressure — pressure is a privilege,” Smith said.

Nationally, people were starting to pay attention to the Cougs. Constantly, fans were taking to social media to boast about just how wrong the 10th-place projection had been, boasting about the copious amounts of talent and personality the team had and celebrating what had already been such a successful year. 

The historic 2008 Sweet 16 run was the last time the Wazzu men went dancing. It had been 302 weeks since the last time AP ranked them as a top-25 team. But finally, it happened again. 

Everything had been going right. Wells had his figurative coming out party as the Cougs got their revenge on the Ducks. In a defensive slugfest, the Cougs took down Oregon on their own hardwood 62-56, led by Well’s perfect 4-for-4 shooting from deep and Rice’s 21 points. 

“At Oregon was insane. Jaylen’s performance was crazy and just looking at him play then, it was the first time I was like, ‘Okay, he’s a pro,’” Isaiah said. 

One game put the Cougs even further into the spotlight. After winning one specific game, 12,200 posts on X featured “Washington State” as of 11:43 p.m., the ninth most-trending phrase in the United States. “Arizona” trended at No. 5, “Jaylen Wells” sat at No. 6, “Kyle Smith” got some love at No. 10 and finally, “Wazzu” rounded off the Cougs top-15 trend at No. 13.

Several ESPN and Sportscenter personalities were posting about the Cougs. They had made it to the national spotlight. 

That game had been, simply, The Jaylen Wells Game. 

Chapter 9 – The Jaylen Wells Game 

Feb. 22, 2024. 

After pulling off the upset of the Arizona Wildcats already once at home, the Cougs now had the opportunity to pull off the rare sweep of the head of the Pac-12 table. There were stakes at play to control the destiny of the regular season Pac-12 title and it was scheduled for Neon Night and, “No one wins in Tucson on Neon Night.” 

No one expected the Cougs to pull it off again, especially on the road. They had somehow beaten the Wildcats in Arizona last season and at home this season already, so it seemed unlikely they would do it again. ESPN analytics had given the Cougs just a 6.8% chance of winning, but the Cougs were confident. 

“We were confident, like, we already beat them once and we honestly knew we could probably beat anyone in the country if we play our best,” Kramer said. 

All eyes were on Rice, the guy who had been the best freshman in the Pac-12 by far and had led the team to their highest highs of the season. However, he was struggling. 

Wells stepped up. He scored 27 points and shot 60% from deep. 

“Jaylen Wells masterclasses. That Arizona game was just so crazy,” Isaiah said. 

His 27 points easily led the team, but one shoot will be remembered in Cougar lore for years to come. 

Wells caught the ball with :26.5 on the clock, time ticking down, the Cougs were behind 74-71 in the most hostile environment in college basketball and 39 minutes into a tough and gritty back-and-forth game. With a defender rapidly closing in, Wells rose from the left corner and shot the ball. 


In the game-deciding shot, Wells did not see the rim. He had no idea it went in at first. Either way, it’s the greatest regular season WSU MBB shot in their history

“I caught the ball, I shot it. I didn’t see the rim,” Wells said. 

Even more than making the NCAA Tournament, this game is the common denominator in the favorite memory for everyone around the WSU basketball team. Justifiably so, as not every team has a crazy, memorable and clutch three-pointer from one of the most personable guys on the team in an environment like Tucson.

“There are very few teams that get to throw Gatorade on the ceiling of the McKale visiting team locker room. And to be able to do that in back-to-back years was pretty awesome,” Crawford said. 

Chapter 10 – Utilizing Social Media 

Crawford’s role in the success of the popularity of the WSU basketball team cannot be understated. The talent and winning of the players on the court brought the national eyes, but the brand’s social media presence kept eyes glued.

With the Cougs winning, Crawford said he tied back to the narrative at the beginning of the season. The Cougs’ uncertainty about a conference had slowed down, so he began tagging the future homes of the teams the Cougs dominated.

‘It was surprising in a pleasant way to see the response from Coug followers and fans that like, appreciated that somebody on an official account had been fighting for them,” Crawford said. 

Always looking for new ways to engage with the fans to keep them bought into the team and coming back to the social accounts, there was always room to try new things. Given free rein of what would be posted, with some guidelines, Crawford said he would think of something relatively on the fly to post to social. 

The most infamous of which had been a post that read “Hot Cougs in Bio.” 

The copy of the post parodied bot posts on X and featured a picture of Loyola-Chicago superfan Sister Jean.  

It had been the perfect post, getting reactions from other major sports accounts on X and becoming a craze for a short 24 hours. 

“The hot Cougs in bio one was probably over the line in retrospect, but that’s also the reason that it popped out the way it did,” Crawford said. “The attention it got, I don’t think it would have worked any other way.” 

It would not be the only time that a post that Craford oversaw became a point of contention.

When the Cougs made the NCAA Tournament, their destination would be Omaha, Nebraska, to take on Drake in the first round. Trying to take advantage of the Wheatfield Underdogs moniker, athletics photoshopped the stadium in a wheatfield with the players towering over it. Nebraska fans hijacked the post, thinking it had been a dig on their state. Blindly calling out the Cougs, posts had questioned what is even grown on the Palouse.

The Palouse grows wheat. It grows wheat better than anyone. 

Crawford said his dry response to Nebraska fans had been one of leaning into what made the Cougs in Bio post so successful. 

Eventually, he decided to create a quick graphic to continue poking fun at the seemingly meaningless mini-beef between the Cougs and Nebraska natives.

“I just couldn’t stand the continuing idiocy of it. I just leaned into it. I’m like, ‘Let’s just be completely blunt humor with this.’ And so I threw together the Google graphic. I didn’t tell anybody about it. I just did it,” he said. 

Crawford’s use of social media added to the personality of the team, helping add more community engagement and having more people stay interested in the team. 

Chapter 11 – Community Buying In 

The players also did their fair share of getting people interested. Whether they play on the court or their own social media presence, people were interested in the lives of the players behind the most successful players at WSU in over 15 years. 

But one player took a different approach to personal fan interest. 

Chinyelu is from Africa and has a heavy, sometimes tricky to distinguish accent. He never got asked to do postgame press conferences, leading to him to take the initiative to ask if he could do one.

Coming to the podium next to Smith after a win, he had an immediate aura about him that enamored him with fans. 

‘The shades and these long-winded, metaphoric answers about the crowd and ZZU CRU  just worked. And people just loved it,” Crawford said.

Crawford said that beyond basketball, that moment when Chinyelu asked to be a part of the press conference is his favorite moment from the season, as it had been the perfect combination of something he had not expected and something the fans loved.

Chinyelu talked about the fans, he talked about the bond with his teammates and throughout, his fascination with tying everything together to brooms became clear.

“When you’re in a unit, it’s going to be very difficult to break down just like a broom. A single broom can be broken, but one is in bonds. It’s very hard to break,” Chinyelu said during the press conference. “Basketball is a game that brings people together. Creates that family atmosphere.” 

Fans on X and Facebook immediately liked Chinyelu. The freshman who went on to break the program record for blocks by a freshman also studies in the medical field, hoping to save lives beyond his time on the basketball court.  

Rueben Chinyelu hypes up the crowd, March 2, in Pullman, Wash.

Fans were fully engaged and locked into the Cougs season once things started getting going. When the team went to Tucson and pulled off the upset, they sat on the team bus and started to look at social media. 

Flooded with mentions and reactions from watch parties at several different bars, the players had the chance to take the support they had garnered.

“I looked at [Andrej] and said, ‘Bro, look at how many people are at the bar and look at all the people’s reactions,’” Kramer said. “I think it was so cool for the guys that they got to see that the school was behind us.” 

Watch parties were not the only ways fans showed their support. The fans started to pack the stands. 

WSU recorded a total attendance of 64,989 in their 17 home games, an average of just above 3,800 for each game. 

Against USC, 8,288 students and fans attended to watch the Cougs and Trojans battle it out. 

“We Are Wazzu” is spread across the WSU student section ahead of the Cougs bout with Arizona, Jan. 13, in Pullman, Wash.

Attendance late in the season became the highest total Beasley had seen since when Thompson returned to Pullman for his jersey retirement, with the fans packing the coliseum well before the opening tip. 

“I’m walking by Jaylen and he goes, ‘Dude, I’ve never seen this many people here 45 minutes before the game.’ I remember I told him that they did that. They got people in those seats,” Kramer said. 

With the fans behind them, the Cougs overcame some overall struggles to take down USC 73-70. They did not take the lead until the final minute played, but despite being tied or trailing for 39 minutes, the crowd stayed engaged. 

Support went beyond just during the games. Isaiah said fans always showed support if they saw him on campus or around Pullman and always showed the guys a lot of hope for the season. The Pullman community and Cougar faithful became a driving force in his decision to remain dedicated to the program for years to come.  

“Just the people, you know, they show a bunch of love and honestly, I don’t think I deserved it to be honest,” Isaiah said. 

The Cougs lost in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament, but they did enough during the season to earn a No. 7 seed in the 2024 NCAA Tournament. 

Chapter 12 – NCAA Tournament 

For the first time since 2008, WSU had a March Madness team. The bad news was the team had looked like they were slowing down. They lost the regular season finale at home to Washington, Rice had missed over 20 straight three-point attempts. 

Confidence never wavered. 

“I just got to trust the work I put in. If you’re making shots, you got to trust your craft. And if you’re missing shots, you got to trust your craft,” Rice said. “My teammates believe in me. My coaches believe in me. Washington State fans believe in me. It’s only going to be a matter of time before one drops and I believe the first one I hit is going to be a big one.” 

Beyond that confidence, the team had already begun to recognize just how fantastic the season had already been. 

“Really excited to be here. It’s been a wonderful season. Got a really good group that has really propelled this program over the last three years,” Smith said. 

In the first round, the Cougs got unlucky in the draw. They matched up with Drake, a team whose campus was under two hours away from the place the two teams were scheduled to play. Although there was a fair share of Cougs in attendance, they had been outnumbered, and with the Cougs struggling recently, things got off to a slow start.

WSU went into the half up 33-29, but barely looked like the better team. After some back and forth, everything changed when Isaiah caught the ball on the right wing. It had been a spot he had hit several shots before during the season, but no shot proved bigger than the one he took late against the Bulldogs. 

Down 59-58 with 1:53 left in the game, he caught the ball and, without hesitation, pulled the trigger. Two seconds of airtime later: Nylon.

“I wouldn’t say that’s my shot. It’s just like I just get those. I don’t know why I get those shots all the time and I don’t know why they go in all the time, but it’s just I just kept trying to shoot it since it was working,” Isaiah said. 

The Cougs never looked back, winning 66-61 and moving on to face Iowa State in the second round. Isaiah hit the big shot, but Jones had the best individual performance over all 40 minutes. He led the team with 20 points and snagged a game-leading 11 rebounds to finish with a double-double. 

Essentially another road game, the Cougs were playing a team with an even stronger defensive reputation in the Cyclones. Tied 27 at the half, it had the appearance that despite bad offensive play, Wazzu had a chance to pull off the upset. 

In the second half, it quickly got out of hand. Iowa State outscored the Cougs 40-29 and won by double-digits. The successful season had ended and it officially became a part of history. 

“I mean, it was a fun season. We performed really well. We blew everybody’s expectations out of the water and that’s all you can ask for,” Isaiah said.

WSU created a storm, and with the loss, the storm was taken care of. 

The Wake

Chapter 13 – Spiraling 

Following the end of the season, things quickly went into chaos. Smith departed from the program after a five-year tenure to take the job with Stanford. His departure became the first major division and eventually, 10 players entered the transfer portal and Wells declared for the NBA Draft. 

Rice, Oscar Cluff, Chinyelu, Jakimovski, Kymany Houinsou, Yesufu, Jabe Mullins, Darling, AJ Rohosy and AJ LeBeau are all in the portal and are likely not going to be a part of the team next season. 

Rice has already announced his new destination. He will play for Indiana next season. Darling will play at Idaho State. Finally, Cluff announced he will go to South Dakota State. The other seven players have yet to choose their new home so they could return, but there is no guarantee that anyone on the court in ‘23–24 beyond Isaiah will return.

Like Smith before him, new head coach David Riley will need to build a team with minimal roster turnover, something this year’s team proved to be a difference maker. 

Whether a player, equipment manager, photographer or any part of the success of the team this season, the “Wheatfield Underdogs” will have a place in history and in the minds of those who accomplished so much.

“I will never, I’ll never forget this season and these moments in my life. It’s been a pretty, pretty cool opportunity. And I mean, I’ll talk about it forever,” Kramer said.

Although the team will look different and there is no guarantee that any of the players will ever play together again. Isaiah said the bond they immediately built is one that will last a lifetime.

Chapter 14 – Support in Departure 

Isaiah said the bond created by the guys on the team is stronger than one that can be broken by not playing on the same basketball team. 

“They’re my brothers for life. If we bond, you’re not my brother for six months or however long my season is. You my brother for life,” he said. “I respect that decision to do what’s best for you and will honor that.” 

Instead of taking energy to feel bad about players leaving the program, Isaiah said the success should be celebrated even harder. 

‘What we did this year needs to be celebrated. You know, I’m saying that people did a really good job of celebrating us but we can continue to do so,” Isaiah said. 

All of the Cougs success comes back to their bond. Isaiah said they rooted for one another while teammates and they will continue to do so despite their parting paths. 

“Your teammates want you to win, you want them to win, [we’ve got] that brotherly love,” Chinyelu said. 

Chapter 15 – ‘Ballad of the Palouse’ 

Kramer said there is one simple tradition he will miss like no other. 

After every game, win or loss, the Cougs stood in a circle and began to sing a little tune. From the brain of Smith, a “Ballad of the Palouse” made the team remember to play for each other and to play for the name on the front of the jersey.  

“It’s kind of a corny thing to do, but it’s been really fun I’m actually really gonna miss it,” Kramer said. 

Getting athletes to buy into something as potentially corny as a ballad after every game can be a difficult task, but Kramer said the Cougs, who had sung the song for four years, always buy in. 

“It just really shows you the pride you have in your school and you’re excited about winning the game and just the fun of it,” Kramer said. “Seeing your coaches and some of the players get out of our comfort zone a little bit is a lot of fun.” 

To remember the ‘23–24 Cougs, the “Ballad of the Palouse:”  

“Been around the wheat fields twice,

Winter on the Palouse cold as ice,

Learned a lot of lessons in PEB 142,

Like closing out and yelling ‘Loose!’

Never missed a line on my conditioning time, 

Ain’t nothing I can’t do. I’m on my hustle stat,

People like to call us nerds, and that’s Okay by me,

‘Cause coach always says, ‘Pull that 3!’ 

Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing, 

Moderations is for Huskies and Bruins and Wildcats, 

When the game gets tough, no one will ever forget 

We’re from Pullman … Pullman … Pullman, we don’t care,

I would rather be from Pullman than a chump from anywhere. Go Cougs!” 

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About the Contributors
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.
COLE QUINN, Evergreen Sports Photographer
Cole Quinn is a photographer and columnist for the Daily Evergreen. Cole primarily shoots sports for the Daily Evergreen and writes album reviews in his spare time. Cole is a junior broadcast production major and sports communication minor from Snoqualmie, Washington. Cole started working for the Evergreen in the fall of 2020 as a photographer. Cole was the Photo Editor during his sophomore year and Deputy Photo Editor for the fall 2022 semester.