Cougar basketball’s future is looking optimistic

CHRIS ARNESON | Evergreen columnist

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The outlook for next year’s Cougar basketball just got a lot brighter as the team picked up Roberto Gittens, a four-star recruit and Tacoma native.

The 6-foot-5-inch guard was named the Associated Press’ State Player of the Year and led the 2A State Champion Foss Falcons with 22 points per game in 2017. WSU signed Gittens after he decommitted with Boise State, the university he signed with back in October.

Gittens will likely be thrown into the starting lineup for the Cougars in the fall as the team loses four of its top five scorers to graduation. Head Coach Ernie Kent will have to replace the offensive output from former forward Josh Hawkinson, guard Ike Iroegbu, guard Charles Callison and center Conor Clifford who led the Cougars to a (13-18) record this season.

The Cougars also signed a couple of junior college recruits for the next season from Tyler Junior College in Texas. Kwinton Hinson, a 6-foot-5-inch guard, and Davante Cooper, a 6-foot-11-inch center committed to WSU basketball in November. If Cooper can get some playing time, he will especially bolster the Cougar frontcourt that will sorely miss Hawkinson’s rebounding production. Hawkinson grabbed about a third of the boards for WSU this season.

Looking ahead to fall, it is certain Kent will immediately throw his star recruit Gittens into the starting mix, where the new Coug will get major minutes as well as his selection of shots. Along with Gittens, freshman guard Malachi Flynn will look to avoid the sophomore slump as WSU mans the backcourt.

The frontcourt will be more of a conundrum for Kent, as he must restore the production of big men Hawkinson and Clifford. The head coach will look to do so with the help of 6-foot-7-inch junior forward Robert Franks, who will likely see his minutes double from the 16 and a half he played this past year.

In addition, 6-foot-9-inch sophomore forward Jeff Pollard will probably see his playing time go up threefold, as he played just eight and a half minutes on the hardwood. The Cougars will likely be forced to go small with three guard lineups because of the team’s lack of depth up front.

WSU will need a lot of production on the boards from these two players if the Cougs are going to have a chance at a winning record in Pac-12 play in the upcoming season. Kent also hopes Cooper will step into the lineup right away and provide rim protection as well as boards.

On a lighter note, new signee Gittens defeated future NBA lottery pick Markelle Fultz in a dunk contest at the 2015-16 Les Schwab Invitational. If that competition is any indicator of his potential on the basketball court, Washington State basketball fans will be in for a treat.