There are nine freshmen on this year's Cougar basketball team.
None stand to make more of an impact than Klay Thompson.
Thompson is best known outside the world of WSU athletics as the son of Mychal Thompson, who was the first overall pick in the 1978 NBA Draft. He was selected by the Portland Trailblazers, but is best known for his time in Los Angeles where he won three NBA championships with the Lakers. The elder Thompson also went a long way to quell some of the anxiety about Tony Bennett's possible departure to Indiana last season, by doubting it on his radio show.
But throw out a lot of the comparisons to his Dad - Klay is his own player, and a very good one at that. At 6'6" he brings more height to the table than your average guard. In addition, he already displays more athleticism than a number of more seasoned players in the Pac-10 conference. His shooting form is excellent. In a year where the Cougars need to replace sharpshooter Derrick Low he becomes even more of an asset. Klay shows the ability to create his own shot, and can make baskets from any spot of the floor. We'll need him to be aggressive on offense, and his teammates have already given him the green light:
"If I have an open shot, I'm going to take it," Thompson said. "I think that's what the coaches want, the other players want me to do."
"I know you asked him, but we're all fine with Klay shooting whenever he touches the ball," senior Daven Harmeling interjected. "He's that schooled. He's that good."
Hat tip to Grippi and the Spokesman for that quote.
And so, already, you see a large number of attempts for Klay. He connected on 3 of 10 in the exhibition, and 3 of 7 against MVSU on Saturday. The low percentages, at least from my standpoint, are due to poor shot selection and nothing else. I wouldn't panic. As Klay integrates himself into Bennett's offense he'll learn from Taylor Rochestie, Daven Harmeling, etc. when to shoot and when to pass. And he can pass - dealing out four assists in the exhibition game and showing a good feel for Tony's modified flex offense. He can also handle the ball well - that will be key with Taylor Rochestie being the only returning Cougar who is skilled in that regard.
As I see it, there are a couple of possible outcomes for Klay this year. And whether he suceeds will ultimately depend on how well he makes the transition to college. He could very well lead the team in scoring this year. Taylor prefers to help the team through setting up the offense, and Baynes, while talented, will be the focal point of many opponents' interior defense. Klay could also be more of a role player - facilitating the offense, getting the ball to Aron down low, and playing good defense.
And defense, when it comes down to it, will really decide how much Klay plays this year. Shooting guard is perenially one of the most loaded positions in the conference. And while he won't be lining up against OJ Mayo or Jerryd Bayless, Klay will have to be ready to react to some of the most talented players in college basketball. He'll also have to find ways to score against teams that are far superior defensively to any of the opponents we'll see in the first two weeks.
Klay Thompson, of all the players on the WSU roster right now, has the best shot at success in the NBA. It's hard to believe the son of a #1 draft pick could be underrated by the mainstream sports media. Klay is, and it's going to be fun to watch him prove some people wrong.