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An open letter to the WSU freshmen

Dear freshmen --

First of all, let me take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Jeff Nusser, and if you haven't been a frequent visitor to CougCenter, you might not know that I've been one of your biggest supporters this year. At every turn, I've stumped for your increased playing time, believing that we needed your superior athleticism on the floor to compete with the Pac-10's best night in and night out.

I even went so far last week as to call one of the most revered men in all of Cougar athletics -- your coach, Tony Bennett -- crazy for not playing you guys more. Now that's faith in your abilities, right?

But I have to admit that even my blind faith has its limitations.

Klay, you can stop reading at this point, unless you just want to provide some moral support for your classmates. You've been all we could have expected -- and more. Some might quibble about your seeming aversion to the rim, but you've already had the greatest impact of any freshman in the history of WSU basketball. While it hasn't always been a storied history, it's still a long one, so that's saying something.

Beyond that, you've provided the two most memorable moments of the entire year: That insane fastbreak dunk against Stanford and unreal shooting performance against Arizona State. You play like you've been in the program for years, and I don't want you to think we take that for granted. We don't.

But Marcus, DeAngelo and Mike ... I must admit that after this weekend, I'm feeling a little bit silly for having your back all year long.

Sure, there have been flashes of brilliance. DC, we won't soon forget your game changing defensive efforts against Stanford and Arizona State. Marcus, you don't exactly have a defining moment this year, but your defensive prowess -- which already has us drawing comparisons to a Coug favorite who's now playing in the NBA -- and rebounding ability hasn't gone unnoticed. And Mike ... well ... never mind. We'll just trust that there's a reason that you were once considered the jewel of that recruiting class, and leave it at that.

However, I feel as though my love has been unrequited, for the most part. Here we are, four months into the season, and you still haven't figured out a way to consistently wedge yourselves into the rotation. It's tempting to blame Coach Bennett for not giving you more of a leash -- and I'll be first in line to say that he hasn't always put you guys in the best possible position to succeed -- but any honest assessment of your performance to this point would find it lacking more often than not.

Look, everyone understands that you're freshmen. And we understand that there will be a certain amount of mistakes that come along with that. But those mistakes ought to be diminishing after 23 games, and Saturday was an absolute disaster on that front. Bennett put each of you in the game at different junctures, and each of you in turn made major mistakes that simply should not be happening in February -- freshmen or not.

At some point, you guys have to all prove that you belong out there -- not just because of your tantalizing athleticism and not just every once in a while, but every night for 20-plus minutes. At some point, you've got to force Coach Bennett to play you by making the right plays at the right time more often than not. At some point, you've got to take your playing time into your own hands.

That time came, but it certainly hasn't gone.

DC, you've got to concentrate on every pass that comes into your hands on offense, and you've got to stay in ready at all times on defense. Marcus, you've got to stop thinking so much on defense and just stay in front of people -- the guy you're guarding should be uncomfortable at all times. Oh, and looking to drive on offense once in a while wouldn't hurt, either, since we all know that jumpshot is still a couple of years away. And Mike, you've simply got to make a shot. Carry yourself like you actually belong out of there, because you do.

Guys, it's time to grow up. You're not kids anymore. You're veterans now, and its time to start playing that way. Reward the faith I've had in you this year by stepping up your game over these final eight or so contests. Because I hate to say it, but if this team is to have any aspirations of postseason play -- whether it be the NCAA Tournament, the NIT or otherwise -- it's on your backs. That much was made clear on Saturday.

We need you. Won't you bring it for us?