Men’s basketball prepares for fresh start

Inexperienced Cougars will lean on guards, new leadership to make it back to NCAA tournament


KIERA CLUBB | The Daily Evergreen

Redshirt freshman guard Milan Acquaah sits courtside as he watches his teammates practice for the upcoming season Monday.

AVERY COOPER, Evergreen reporter

WSU men’s basketball is hoping to improve this season after finishing 13-18 overall and 6-12 in conference play last year, which was last in the Pac-12. After the loss of multiple seniors, younger players will look to step up and fill the void.

With more losses than wins, there are some returning athletes that received increased playing time on the team last year. Sophomore guard Malachi Flynn started all 31 games last season as a true freshman, something uncommon for this program as the last player to do it was Klay Thompson during the 2008-2009 season.

At the Pac-12 media day, Head Coach Ernie Kent called Flynn “one of the best point guards in the West.” Kent also noted that Flynn should fully expect to be a “leader of this team” after guard Ike Iroegbu graduated following last season.

On the topic of guard play, Kent also highlighted redshirt freshman guard Milan Acquaah, who was forced to sit out last season due to a knee injury. Kent spoke highly of Acquaah, calling him a really good guard.

“He has an opportunity to get spelled by moving off the ball with that other great point guard [Flynn] in our program right now,” Kent said.

Acquaah said he feels “much better physically,” and that this team’s mentality is different than last season, noting specifically that the guard play has improved.

“We’re not taking losing for an answer this year,” Acquaah said.

A major difference in practice this season has been the use of a 12-second shot clock. Kent said he tried to use this in the past.

“We threw the ball all over the place,” he said. “Our skill set was not as good as this team here, and our shooting. This team is an excellent shooting team, so it gives us an opportunity to shoot for a lot of points playing with that kind of speed.”

During the media day, Kent also commented on junior forward Robert Franks, saying that the success of this year will ride on Franks and Flynn, due to their impressive off-seasons.

Franks, who finished last season with 6.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game on average, said he feels great.

“I’m in the best shape of my life right now,” Franks said. “I focused a lot on eating better, and all types of workouts. I’ve been getting even more conditioning with the 12-second shot clock.”

The team’s emphasis seems to be speed, something that Kent used a lot in his coaching days at Oregon. They used a 10-man rotation for running up the floor to score quick baskets. Kent said that he expects the same for this team.

“Conor [Clifford] and Josh [Hawkinson] are gone, they were bigs that you had to get the ball in the post,” Franks said. “Now everybody on this team can shoot it.”

Acquaah agreed.

“We don’t have slower bigs that we had last year,” he said. “I feel like we’ll be better all around.”

As Acquaah emphasized, the goal for this team is to compete in the NCAA tournament. With more speed, skills and better guard talent, the Cougs believe they can achieve that goal.

The team will no longer have to rely on the experience of the big forwards. The players can now spread the ball evenly throughout the floor with their guard play. If this team wants to succeed this season, they will have to use their ability to score quickly.

Kent has supplied what the Cougars need with the 12-second shot clock. Now all that awaits is the exhibition opener at 1 p.m. Nov. 5 in Beasley Coliseum against Saint Martin’s University.