Forward Junior Longrus and the WSU men’s basketball team looked themselves in the mirror at the end of last season and tried to understand what was hindering the team’s potential.
In his first year with the Cougars, Longrus recorded 65 rebounds and blocked 20 shots while averaging just over 10 minutes a game during the regular season.
“Those were two areas that as a freshman, even if I had no skill at all, I thought I would be able to come in and help the team in that regard,” Longrus said. “I could help fill that void and it would get me more minutes on the court.”
Since his transition from Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif., to WSU, Longrus said the hardest part of college basketball has been adjusting to the speed of the games.
In addition, Longrus said the switch from playing small forward to the power forward position presented an exciting challenge of figuring out ways to score on and defend taller opponents.
“The biggest thing was striving to be the hardest working guy on the court at all times,” Longrus said. “I have always been the guy that had pretty good timing with blocks. That came from being where I was supposed to be in the defense and knowing my assignments.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Longrus said that in his first year in college he found it difficult to break from old defensive habits in high school but added that his contribution will increase this season through the understanding of the defensive scheme and his quickness on the court.
Over the past several weeks, Longrus said he has spent time speaking with Rod Jensen, the men’s new basketball director of player development and thinks he is the most passionate coach he has ever played for on a team.
Longrus said he attended WSU primarily because of the care of the coaching staff and the opportunity to play in the Pac-12, where his parents could see him play twice a year. He chose WSU over Stanford University and University of California Berkeley.
“I love playing for Coach (Ken) Bone,” Longrus said. “I think he is pretty funny and off the court, I think he is a quirky guy. Obviously, he knows basketball and I would not have come here if I didn’t think so.”
Last season, the Cougars finished in last place in the Pac-12 Conference and ended the season with a 13-19 overall record.
However, Longrus said their records do not indicate the team’s capabilities and the players will look forward to making more of an impact in the conference after they sit down this fall to hammer out goals for next season.
As for the team strengths, Longrus said the roster has multiple guards who can play, including Que Johnson, Dexter Kernich-Drew, DaVonté Lacy and Royce Woolridge.
With games against UCLA, Arizona, Oregon and Oregon State, Longrus said competing in the Pac-12 atmosphere of thousands of fans is what college kids live and play for every season.
“There’s no question in my mind that we’re as talented as any team in the Pac-12,” Longrus said. “I think we have the talent and if we continue to work and continue to fill holes that we saw last year, we will definitely be able to contend come March.”