The season isn't quite over -- there's at least one game left -- but after a 51-point, 21-rebound weekend in which WSU posted a pair of improbable wins over UCLA and USC, now feels like the perfect time to appreciate Brock Motum's career as a Coug.
Because although it's been a difficult year in so many ways for the big Aussie and his teammates, I want to remember him the way he was this weekend: As a nearly-unstoppable force who is still capable of imposing his will on a basketball game.
In his Pullman swan song, Motum was everything we thought he would be this season after he stormed his way to the Pac-12 all-conference team a year ago. He once again was dangerous with the ball in his hands, but more importantly, he was dangerous without the ball in his hands, thanks to hard cutting teammates and the penetration of Royce Woolridge, both of which were factors in opening space on the floor.
This weekend was a throwback to the days Motum spent with Reggie Moore as he moved fluidly within Ken Bone's motion offense to find open spaces around the basket -- 55 percent of his shots were at the rim this weekend, up from 38 percent on the season. It's almost certainly going to pay off with the third Pac-12 player of the week award of his career.
If you were surprised by this recent outburst, you probably shouldn't have been; Motum actually had been working up to this kind of performance with efficient outings against both Arizona and Washington. This, however, was the coup de grâce of his career as a Cougar.
And what a career it has been.
Motum came to Pullman as one of the more heralded recruits in recent history, an Australian international who was expected by outsiders to make an immediate impact. He was supposed to have a silky inside-outside game with the kind of agility that would make him a perfect fit for Tony Bennett's pack-line defense.
But Bennett bolted for Virginia, and while Motum stuck with WSU, he had a tough time adjusting to the physicality of the American game. He averaged just seven minutes as a deep reserve off the bench as a freshman, and produced very little -- he hit his twos around the basket, but didn't really shoot any 3s and grabbed astonishingly few rebounds for someone 6-foot-10.
His sophomore year was better. The minutes jumped up, and he still remained remarkably efficient, benefiting to a large degree from all the attention paid to Klay Thompson. Still, there wasn't a lot there to suggest he could be a go-to player -- he hadn't yet shown an ability to create his own shot -- and while the rebounding rate had inched up, it was still atrocious. He had rebounded a lower proportion of opponents' misses than Faisal Aden.
After two seasons, Motum had shown the skill of a nice role player. So he went to work to make sure that's not all he would become.
Motum went home for the summer to the Australian Institute of Sport for a couple of months of intensive training. He returned to WSU in the fall suddenly looking the part of Pac-12 center -- 20 pounds or so of muscle will do that for you. And it turned out that wasn't the only part of his game that he worked on.
His performance was a little uneven out of the gate last year, as WSU worked to figure out how to distribute the shots in the wake of Thompson's early departure to the NBA. With Aden shooting nearly every time he touched the ball, there wasn't always a lot left over for everyone else. Just seven times in the first 13 games did Motum crack double digit field goal attempts.
But everything changed once Aden went down for the season with a knee injury. Motum put the team on his back, basically turning WSU into a one-man show on offense. It didn't matter where he caught the ball; Motum was going to abuse whichever unlucky soul had the audacity to attempt to guard him. Shorter player? Post up. Taller player? Off the bounce, where all sorts of goofy foot takeoffs made him unpredictable around the rim. Wanna get up into him on the perimeter? Don't get caught with your hands in the cookie jar, lest Motum rip up through your arm to draw a shooting foul.
When all was said an done, Motum had averaged 20.7 points in Pac-12 play with a 111 offensive rating. It was the stuff Pac-12 player of the year candidacies are made of, and had us dreaming of even bigger things this year.
Of course, that didn't exactly work out. Yes, he's still posting solid counting stats, but his tempo neutral stats are down pretty much across the board. As we've documented, that's not entirely his fault. But with the team struggling for most of the Pac-12 season to stay out of the cellar, it would be hard to describe the season as anything but a disappointment from a results perspective.
But if there is a silver lining, it's that the struggles have made the past two games all the more sweet. While this has been a trying season from a fan perspective, it's not hard to imagine it's been that much more so for the players. To continue to work hard, to continue to bring maximum effort every night, even as any hopes of a meaningful postseason appearance have all but disappeared? That speaks to the character of this team, and in particular Motum as its leader.
I'm beyond glad that Motum was able to finish his career in Pullman with one more huge performance -- and a win. He's the fifth-leading scorer in program history (more than 1,500 points), and 12th player with 1,000 points and 500 rebounds. He deserved to go out with a bang.
So thanks, Brock, for the memories. I'll tell my kids about you.
And I won't be sad if you make sure this story is, in fact, premature by going on a run this week in the Pac-12 tournament.