After Motum, Cougs' frontcourt a question

D.J. SHELTON

PULLMAN – The looming question for guard-heavy Washington State this hoops season is how much of a load the team's frontcourt will carry. There's Brock Motum, of course, the prolific scorer and Wooden Award watch list member. But after him, the talent and depth isn't so clear. And that's why questions abound as the Cougs gear up for their season-opener this afternoon against Eastern Washington.

Motum, the senior from "Down Under" has the chance to cap a remarkable WSU career with a big campaign – though it's going to be difficult for him to top last year's numbers. In 2011-12, he led the Pac-12 in scoring at 18 points per game. He shot a remarkable 55 percent from the field, 39 percent from beyond-the-arc and proved a valuable scorer in crunch time.

Motum's elusive shot-fake, Euro-step has given Pac-12 defenses fits. Teams know the southpaw favors going to his left but they can rarely stop it. Motum will face the opposing team's best defender nearly every night.

Don't expect it to hurt his numbers. The 6-foot-10, 245-pounder is simply too strong and too skilled to stop. Barring injury, he should average more than 20 points on a nightly basis.

Then there's 6-10, 240-pound D.J. Shelton. There might not be a player more critical to WSU's success in 2012-13 than the mercurial junior from Rialto, Calif. Shelton shot better than 60 percent from the floor last season but played limited minutes. He will have to make tangible progress while controlling the glass against more physical Pac-12 opponents if the Cougars want to avoid being consistently outrebounded.

Shelton averaged just 4.7 points last season -- but expect him to become a mainstay in Bone's starting lineup.

Another veteran who figures to play a big role for the Cougars this season is 6-5, 190-pound Will DiIorio. The undersized power forward — now a junior – has earned playing time the past two years by diving for loose balls, taking charges and throwing down an occasional dunk. DiIlorio's offensive skill set is limited, but he will be forced to play significant minutes unless a freshman emerges.

Last season he appeared in 19 games, grabbing 25 rebounds and scoring 17 points.

Think of Caleb Forrest circa 2008 when trying to decipher DiIorio's ceiling. There is value in a player who offers good help-side defense, doesn't get beat off the dribble and can knock down the occasional jumper. DiIorio will need to do all three this season to increase his playing time.

The two freshmen two watch in the frontcourt this season are Richard Longrus and Brett Boese.

One of the most athletic Cougar recruits in recent years, Longrus appears to have the potential to work himself into meaningful Pac-12 minutes this season. He's 6-7, 232 pounds and has the type of wingspan that made WSU fans fall in love with Marcus Capers. He was a record-setting rebounder at California powerhouse Bishop O'Dowd High, pulling down more than 900 in his career

Unlike Capers, Longrus's range extends beyond the three-point line. However, it is unclear if he can contribute right away. He played just seven minutes in Monday's exhibition win against St. Martin's and did not register a rebound or point.

Boese, from Spokane's Shadle Park High, is 6-7 but just 214. With a nice touch from downtown, he could develop into a Daven Harmeling type. But right now he doesn't possess Harmeling's muscle and could be a prime candidate to redshirt this season.

Others in the Cougar front court are walk on junior Keaton Hayenga, JC transfer James Hunter and Iowa State transfer Jordan Railey: Railey must sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules. Hayenga arrives from Bellevue Community College, and Hunter is an Australian import who checks in at 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds but needs to step up his quickness to see the floor this season. He played siix minutes against Saint Martin's on Monday.

WITH POINT GUARD REGGIE MOORE'S DISMISSAL from the team and touted freshman swingman Que Johnson being ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA, Ken Bone's fourth season on the Palouse is shaping up to be a tougher road than originally forecast. Not that the presence of Moore and Johnson would have elevated the Cougars to an upper-division finish in the Pac-12, but a strong middle-of-the-pack outlook wouldn't have been beyond the pale. As it, they're widely predicted to finish 10th in the Pac-12.

For something better than that, Motum is going to need help in the frontcourt and the Cougs will have to strengthen their 2-3 zone package and overall defense.

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