If you’ve ever been a fan of a struggling team, you know the routine. Lose, lose again, maybe steal a victory before ultimately being defeated ten more times in a row. Somewhere in that mix is also a disillusioned sense of false hope that your squad will be better next year. But rarely does this happen for our favorite basement dwellers. Sometimes, however, things do begin to change, which may be the case for Washington State University Men’s Basketball team.
My favorite team by an extra-large bowl of pho is Washington State men’s hoops. The only problem is, well, problems… Is the fact that they’ve been historically bad for about as long as I can remember.
From 2012-13 through 2018-19, the Cougs rung up seven consecutive losing seasons. They complemented this feat by losing ten consecutive Pac-12 Tournament games in a row, only snapping the streak with an opening-round victory against Colorado in 2020. Before that, they hadn’t won a conference tourney game since 2008-09.
But here’s the kicker, WSU hasn’t made the “Big Dance” since 2008 and only has six appearances in its program’s history. They’ve been playing basketball for over 100 years!
They’re so off the radar that when I typed in “WSU NCAA Tournament Record” into google, Dr. G returned with West Virginia’s resume. I thought maybe I misspelled something. I didn’t.
However, after a century of mediocrity, things may be changing on the Palouse, and this is primarily because of third Head Coach Kyle Smith. In Smith’s first two years on the job, the Cougs finished with a .500 record in 2019-20, and dare I say it, a winning record last season. This was their first mark over .500 in nearly a decade.
But what may be considered more impressive is the talent he’s accumulating in the Southeast corner of Washington State.
Last year the Cougs finished with the 5th best-recruiting class in the Pac-12, good for 38th Nationally. Before that, WSU had not had a recruiting class ranked higher than 10th in the conference since 2011. A four-star recruit in Andrej Jakimovski highlighted the 2020 class. The program’s first since 2012.
And while it’s too early in the off-season to factor in this year’s recruiting numbers. Smith has continued to attract talent to Pullman via the transfer portal.
In the approximately month and a half since WSU’s season ended, they’ve already brought three promising new prospects into the program. The most notable may be Michael Flowers, a 20 plus-point per game scorer from South Alabama. Flowers chose the Cougs over USC, Colorado, and Texas A&M. Maybe he doesn’t know where Pullman is?
In all seriousness, he said he chose WSU because “The coaching staff showed a great interest in me and my goals.” He then added, “I like the way coach Kyle Smith allows his point guards to make plays and helps put players in position to be effective.”
Along with Flowers, Washington State added Kim Aiken Jr., who had initially committed to Arizona from Eastern Washington. Still, after the Sean Miller firing, Aiken Jr. decided to transfer one more time, ultimately joining the Cougs in Pullman. He should prove an immediate impact player for WSU. Last season he was named the Big Sky’s 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and was a pivotal piece for Eastern in their run to the NCAA Tournament.
He should also have a sense of familiarity with the region because EWU and WSU ‘s respective campuses are only 67 miles apart.
Rounding out the trio is Tyrell Roberts, a transfer from UC San Diego and a Division II all-American two seasons ago. Roberts adds another scoring option to the Cougs attack; he averaged 19.2 points per game in the 2019-20 season. He opted out last year due to Covid. He chose WSU over San Diego State, Creighton, and Arkansas.
Whatever’s happening in Pullman is something I can get behind. The addition of three notable transfers combined with returning talent could prove a recipe for success. And while it’s important to note that the Cougs did finish 10th in the conference last year, the vibe feels different.
But hey, maybe this is my own disillusioned sense of false hope.