“It feels like our time is coming. But maybe just not yet,”
This is how I ended the last article I wrote about Washington State’s Men’s Basketball team. Was I right? Am I wrong? I’m not sure, Jenga! Regardless of my perception, one thing’s for sure. The Cougars’ run to Madison Square Garden concluded the best season WSU has had since Klay Thompson was on the Palouse. So much for stoned couch surfing in March. Here are my final three takeaways from WSU hoops this year.
Entering the season, everyone thought Noah Williams would be the Cougs’ best player. Williams was a preseason first-team all-conference selection, and if he wasn’t the guy, then maybe Efe Abogidi.
But this hasn’t been the case; it’s been a fifth-year transfer by the name of Michael Flowers.
Flowers has proven a shotmaker all year for the Cougs, but his most noteworthy game may have been in the NIT quarterfinals against BYU. He lit up the fake-Cougs scoring 27 points for Washington State, a night in which he also broke Thompson’s WSU record for most three-pointers made in a season.
He hit his 99th of the year with 10:56 left in the game to give him the top spot.
But maybe more impressive is how he’s handled himself on the court with Williams.
It feels like there’s some animosity between the two. Likely because Flowers became Hank from “King of the Hill.”
But Flowers proved undeterred, scoring in double figures in nine out of the Cougars’ last 12 games. His Monta Ellis type three-level scoring ability is a key reason why WSU made their run to the NIT semifinals.
Flowers’ play also earned him All-Pac-12 Second Team honors.
Not bad for a fifth-year from South Alabama.
Mouhamed Gueye (Gay) is a human kangaroo. Gueye’s rim protection combined with Abogidi is arguably the best in the Pac-12 and could prove one of the best in the nation next season.
They’re comparable to the college version of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who currently don Evan Mobley (Ex-Trojan) and Jarrett Allen.
Or, for throwback purposes, they’re reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs “Twin Towers” of David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
But enough NBA nostalgia.
When Gueye is in the lineup, the Cougs aren’t playing around.
Except for the semifinals loss to Texas A&M.
WSU ran through their first three opponents in the NIT, winning every contest by 12 points or more. He was in the lineup for all of these matchups.
However, during the Pac-12 Tournament, he was injured, and so was Washington State.
The Cougs scraped by Cal in what should be dubbed the “Ugliest Basketball Game in the History of the Life,” followed by a drubbing at the hands of UCLA.
He also played in the final game of the regular season, a contest in which WSU beat Oregon by 20.
His 6-foot-11 frame, octopus-like fluidity, and ever-improving jumper could land him a lottery pick in a future NBA Draft.
But for now, he’s going to have to live with Pac-12 All-Freshman-Team honors.
Like a third-generation wok, Kyle Smith’s flavor seems to be seeping into the program.
The run to the NIT Semifinals combined with a 22-win campaign is indicative of a team on the rise. The Cougs have also finished their last three seasons with a .500 mark or better, improving each year under Smith.
And this trend looks to continue next year as WSU only graduates one notable senior in Flowers.
But probably most important, Smith’s a real one.
Which he may have got from what he’s been through.
He has three sons, with his middle child Bo being diagnosed as “Non-Verbal Autistic.” Bo is 11 and has outbursts that include punching and kicking. He also cannot verbally communicate with the outside world, including his parents.
Essentially he will need to be under surveillance his entire life.
His condition became so severe that Smith thought about stepping down while coaching at Columbia to spend more time with his family.
One of the reasons he chose WSU is because of the level of care in the region. “It’s one of the reasons Kyle took the Washington State job: He and Katie decided the best thing he could do was to provide for Bo, to give him the best access to care and treatment.”
With all this going on, it’s no surprise that he’s a winning basketball coach because basketball isn’t his real challenge.