Seniors play significant role this season

CHRIS ARNESON | Evergreen columnist

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After finishing the last season with 17 consecutive losses, much has changed for the Cougars basketball squad.

Washington State’s record was historically bad in the 2015-16 season, since the team failed to win double-digit games for the first time since the 2002-03 season. In other words, it would be hard to go anywhere but up for our university, coming off a (9-22) record.

One thing that has not changed for this team are its top two scorers: senior forward Josh Hawkinson and senior guard Ike Iroegbu.

Hawk’s efficiency is down as he is attempting nearly one more three-pointer per game, while shooting three percent lower from the floor. Iroegbu’s numbers are nearly equivalent to last season while he is grabbing almost one rebound more per game and has seen his minutes increase by more than three.

As far as the supporting cast goes, freshman guard Malachi Flynn has stepped into the spot vacated by Que Johnson, who is now a senior playing at Western Kentucky. Flynn’s numbers are comparable to Johnson’s, although Malachi has been asked to play more minutes, while distributing the ball more.

Both players shoot the three ball well, hitting more than 40 percent of shots from beyond the arc. Flynn has attempted nearly five three-pointers per game this season, one and a half more than Johnson did last year.

In addition, senior forward Conor Clifford and senior guard Charles Callison have contributed more to the team than they did in 2015-16.

Callison, in particular, looks more comfortable on the hardwood than he did in his first season with the Cougs, as his effectiveness has improved. The senior guard is playing within Coach Kent’s system well, as he is astoundingly firing from beyond the three-point and making 43 percent of his attempts, up 11 percent from last season.

The 2015-16 Cougars basketball team simply did not possess the veteran leadership that this year’s team has. Forwards Junior Longrus and Brett Boese were the only seniors on the team and both played sparingly, which denied them many on-court teaching moments for the team’s underclassmen.

This year’s team, on the other hand, starts four seniors and relies on them heavily to get buckets and steer the ship.

Some may argue that it is easier to win in college basketball with a senior-laden lineup, since this is the last time many of these players will play basketball competitively. Being that most NCAA athletes end up going pro in something other than sports, these veterans have more invested in the team since their time with the program is on its last legs.

Programs such as the University of Kentucky, ran by a power-driven mastermind in John Calipari, rely almost completely on incoming, one-and-done freshmen. This philosophy sometimes works in college hoops, in which five players who have just met band together to run through March Madness. Typically, however, it’s teams like Villanova and Michigan State that have a few veteran leaders, as well as a McDonald’s All-American or two, who will win out in the end.

When juxtaposing the current WSU basketball squad with last year’s, the most significant distinction is the undeniable veteran leadership.

Looking ahead to next season, it will be difficult for Coach Kent to replace the majority of minutes being played by seniors. For now, though, the Cougs must gear up for a run in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas; their last shot at their “One Shining Moment.”

Chris Arneson is a senior sports management major from Bothell. He can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected]