The Cougars begin the season this week with a young but deep roster that just happens to also be the most diverse one coach June Daugherty has ever compiled. WSU’s roster features more players of different nationalities (seven) than players from different U.S. states (five).
Louise Brown vividly remembers the disappointment at the end of last season when the Washington State women’s basketball team found out had been left out of the NCAA tournament.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Brown, a sophomore forward. “We knew where we stood, and it was ever so devastating to be the first team out.
“It gave us a whole new level of motivation for this season.”
Keys to the season
Replace the senior leadership
WSU lost Tia Presley and Lia Galdeira to graduation. Look for senior forward Mariah Cooks to try and fill the leadership void.
Embrace the new system
Presley and Galdeira combined to account for almost 54 percent of all points WSU scored last season. This year, the Cougs are going to distribute the ball more evenly all over the court.
Find new sources of scoring
Cooks, Taylor Edmondson, Dawnyelle Awa and Louise Brown all saw significant minutes last year, and now they will be trying to duplicate Presley and Galdeira’s scoring production.
The Cougs struggled with rebounding last year, finishing 11th in the Pac-12 in rebounding margin.
Recruiting class has to live up to billing
WSU signed three highly touted freshmen. Bulgarian forward Borislava Hristova was ranked the No. 1 international recruit and MVP of the 2014 FIBA U-18 European Championship, while Portuguese center Maria Kostourkova is the third-best international prospect. Guard Alexys Swedlund was named South Dakota’s best girls’ basketball player.
The Cougars enter the 2015-16 season hoping to top last year’s 17-16 finish and WNIT berth, and they’ll have to do it with a young but deep roster that just happens to also be the most diverse that coach June Daugherty has ever compiled.
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WSU’s roster features more players of different nationalities (seven) than players from different U.S. states (five).
The Cougars have players from Romania, Australia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Portugal and Greece, and that includes the first- and third-ranked international recruits of the most recent freshman class — Bulgarian forward Borislava Hristova and Portuguese center Maria Kostourkova.
WSU’s international recruiting success can be attributed to the contacts Daugherty has made over the years, all the way back to when she played and coached professional basketball in France after graduating from Ohio State in 1978.
Between Daugherty and her assistant coach and husband, Mike Daugherty, who played in Argentina, WSU has contacts through most of Europe and Argentina, but the Cougars have in recent years also tried to make inroads in Australia.
June Daugherty sends an assistant to Australia two to three times a year to recruit, network and take notes on training tips, and the Cougars now have two Australians on the roster — Brown, from Melbourne, and Krystle McKenzie, from the Gold Coast.
Brown got on WSU’s radar after she put up a profile of herself on a basketball recruiting website during her final year of high school.
Female basketball players in Australia typically aspire to play at home in the Women’s National Basketball League, and Brown said that’s something she might still do after she finishes school.
But she decided to play college ball in the U.S. in large part because she was attracted to the idea of getting a free education while developing her basketball skills at a high level.
Three big games
Vs. Gonzaga (Dec. 8): The Cougs beat Gonzaga, 59-58, in Spokane last season. An upset again at home would be a big victory over a quality opponent.
At Stanford (Jan. 31): WSU took Stanford to OT in Pullman in January, but couldn’t clinch a win.
Vs. Oregon State (Feb. 7): The No. 10 Beavers are the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12.
“The level of basketball is higher in the States,” Brown said. “You’re coming up against better competition every day.”
Even though the Cougars have so many different nationalities in the locker room, everyone seems to have meshed well, says senior Mariah Cooks, a California native.
“This is one of the most selfless teams I’ve ever been on,” Cooks said. “It’s all about the team instead of me ball, and we have chemistry on and off the court.”
Of course, there was an adjustment period. International players generally take a while to adapt to U.S. basketball, and the women have had to get used to one another’s accents.
“Sometimes the accents get a little thick, but for the most part, it’s totally fine,” Cooks said. “And we all learn the little phrases of (other) languages.”
The language barrier “kinda makes it fun,” Brown said, laughing. “A lot of the Europeans have immaculate English, they have more trouble understanding Krystle and I sometimes because of our (Australian) accents. There have been times when, if I’m running down the court yelling something to a European, they have no idea what I just said.”
Ivana Kmetovska, a junior from Macedonia, has taken it upon herself to help the newest European members of the team understand everyone.
“She takes them under her wing and helps to translate when the coaches talk to them or we try to talk to them,” Brown said.
Daugherty takes pride in her staff’s ability to unearth gems all over the world and then convince them to come play in Pullman.
Plus, it’s a two-way street. She says she and her coaches never leave a foreign country without picking up something useful to bring home with them, whether it’s a new practice drill or training method.
“Basketball is global,” Daugherty said. “We learn a lot out there.”