SEATTLE — As Washington State’s forgettable 2012-13 men’s basketball season winds down, its point guard is expected to be on the bench Sunday at Washington.
That would be senior Mike Ladd, a Rainier Beach High grad who spent much of the season playing out of position and performed well until sidelined in mid-February by knee inflammation.
Or is the WSU point guard really the player who is completing some online courses so he can enroll at Western Washington and continue his college career next season?
Or, could it be that the quarterback of the Cougars is actually the player 1,200 miles to the south, playing for a different team in a different conference, one that’s headed to another NCAA tournament?
It happens all the time in college basketball, the sport with the most volatile personnel shifts. Players come and players go, because they feel capable of contributing early, and because coaches come and go, too.
That’s what happened at WSU a few years back, and the particulars have a lot to do with the Cougars lugging an eight-game losing streak and an 11-17 record.
Reggie Moore is the point guard angling to transfer to Western Washington, and Xavier Thames is the one helping San Diego State to another NCAA appearance. Both were Cougars during the 2009-10 season, and now neither is. If both — even either — were still on hand, there’s little doubt WSU basketball wouldn’t be at the lowest ebb it has seen since the early years of the Dick Bennett regime.
Thames, from Elk Grove, Calif., outside Sacramento, committed to Tony Bennett’s regime, but then sought a release from his letter of intent when Bennett left for Virginia in spring 2009. WSU denied it, and after new coach Ken Bone “re-recruited” Thames, he stayed with the Cougars.
Two weeks later, WSU announced the signing of Moore, another Rainier Beach product. It was a fateful move, given the benefit of hindsight.
The next fall, Thames was sidelined for a time in practice with freshman-eligibility issues, and, says Bone, Moore took advantage and won the job.
“Reggie just simply beat him out,” Bone told The Seattle Times before this season. “It was not like, ‘Hey, this guy’s from Sacramento,’ or ‘This guy’s the guy we recruited.’ That has zero to do with any of it. We’re going to put the best guys on the floor.”
Bone contends that the turning point for Thames occurred over Christmas break, after which “he was a little different. I don’t know exactly what happened, but he came back with less passion. Even prior to the end of the season, it was clear he was probably going to leave.”
Thames couldn’t be reached to comment for this story. His father, Ray, confirms that the family talked over Christmas break about his son’s future, without conceding there was less effort afterward.
That season, Moore was WSU’s second-leading scorer, while Thames got 17.6 minutes a game. After a postseason session with Bone, Thames decided to transfer.
“Basically, the bottom line was, he felt Reggie was coach Bone’s guy,” says Ray Thames. “I think he felt it was going to take a whole lot to supplant Reggie, and he didn’t know if he was going to get the opportunity to do that.”
Moore would go on to start 91 games in three seasons at WSU. Last season, he set a season assist record with 193. But in early 2011, he was cited for marijuana possession and last fall was booted for violating unspecified team rules.
Meanwhile, it’s fitting with the trajectory of WSU’s recent fortunes that Thames, returned recently from a back problem, is on track to be a three-year starter at San Diego State. Last year, he averaged 10.1 points with a 1.64 assist-turnover ratio for a 26-8 team, doing “a terrific job for us,” said SDSU coach Steve Fisher. “He knows how to play.”
Did Bone and his staff misjudge the situation, or did luck simply desert them?
“In our mind,” Bone insists, “Reggie was the better player.”
John DePonte, Thames’ high school coach at Pleasant Grove High, introduces a belief about Thames’ transfer that, if accurate, lends a humorous element. He says Thames wasn’t happy with the pace of the Cougars’ attack.
“Speaking for myself, what was promised to him with their playing style was not what materialized,” DePonte says. “They were supposed to be doing more pushing the ball, up-tempo, transition. It turned out not to be that way.”
But surely Thames didn’t expect that sort of style when he committed to Bennett?
DePonte says Thames told him Bennett “was going to try to change a little bit and go more up-tempo.”
So here’s Bennett’s Virginia team, ranking No. 10 in the ACC in scoring at 65.0, while Bone’s fourth WSU squad is last in the Pac-12 at 63.6 points a game. Neither operates at exactly breakneck speed.
The Cougars have long since moved on, if painfully, from the Moore-Thames melodrama. No doubt they’d find this discussion similar to the makeup of their roster: