by Howie Stalwick & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & ashington State players have been quick to credit Tony Bennett for bringing needed changes to the Cougar basketball program, but Kyle Weaver doesn't know what all the fuss is about.
Oh, Weaver acknowledges that former coach Dick Bennett's frequent tirades wore on some players. Tony is far less volatile than his fiery father, but
Weaver says his ears haven't noticed much of a difference since Dick retired after last season to make way for Tony.
"He's on me, too!" Weaver says with a laugh. "It's a family trait! I'm just adjusting to a different type of yelling."
Dick Bennett always said he yelled at his best players the most, which helps explain why Weaver's ears have been burning since he arrived in Pullman.
"He's clearly one of the most talented kids I've coached," Dick Bennett says.
That's quite a compliment to Weaver, coming from a man who won nearly 500 games as a college head coach.
"He's such a complete player," Tony Bennett adds. "When he's alert and focused on both ends of the floor, he's a big plus for us."
Read between the lines, and you will see that Bennett experiences the same level of teeth-grinding frustration as his father with Weaver's occasional ebbs in concentration. Weaver has made considerable progress this season, but he made five seemingly careless turnovers last week in a win over lackluster Oregon State.
"I call it drifting, cruising," WSU sophomore forward Daven Harmeling says. "He's gotten a lot better.
"Some of it is from his personality," Harmeling continues. "He's so laid-back. I think part of it is, even when he's playing really hard, it looks easy."
For certain, Weaver's 6-foot-6, 200-pound body is perfect for basketball. His quickness, long arms and leaping ability help Weaver produce highlight-reel blocked shots and dunks on a regular basis.
"When he's aggressive, he's sound offensively and defensively," Bennett says.
"He's so smooth," Harmeling says. "Every day in practice, he does something and I go, 'Man, I wish I could have that.'"
Weaver, a junior guard-forward who handles most of the ballhandling and playmaking duties for the 17-4 Cougars, averages 11.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocked shots per game. All those marks, plus his shooting percentages of 49.7 from the field and 75.0 from the free-throw line, are career highs. On Jan. 13, Weaver produced what is believed to be the first triple-double -- 10 or more points, rebounds and assists in one game -- in school history when he racked up 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists at Stanford.
"When he's 'on,' this team is 'on,'" Harmeling says. "There's always a direct comparison."
"He's gifted, man," senior forward Ivory Clark adds. "He's one of the best slashers in college basketball."
Harmeling calls Weaver "a great defender" who often draws the opponent's best perimeter player. Weaver grew up in Beloit, Wis., as an admirer of Dick Bennett's ferocious defensive teams at Wisconsin, and that factored heavily in Weaver's decision to come to Washington State.
Weaver averaged 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds as a part-time starter two years ago and 8.6 points and 4.3 rebounds as a full-time starter last season. Weaver says he's "definitely" playing his best basketball this season, but he expects even more out of himself and his team now that the Cougars have snapped a 10-year string of losing seasons.
Weaver is one of four starters from the 2003-04 freshmen class -- only one of whom (guard Derrick Low) was heavily recruited -- who are doing everything they can to change the image of Cougar basketball.
"I didn't expect (17-4)," Weaver admits, "but I thought there would be some improvement."
"The old guy was good for me," Weaver says of Dick Bennett. And Weaver, in turn, has been good for the new guy.
No. 18 Washington State visits No. 20 Arizona on Thursday and Arizona State on Saturday, then returns home to face Stanford on Feb. 8 and California on Feb. 10. Visit www.wsucougars.com or call (800) GO-COUGS.