Three Seniors, One Turnaround

by HOWIE STALWICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t was not quite four years ago that Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and Robbie Cowgill arrived in Pullman with big dreams and, outsiders thought, little hope. Washington State had suffered through eight consecutive losing seasons in men's basketball, and two more would follow. "Crowds" at Friel Court were so small, they would best be described as "gatherings."

Then came the miracle season of 2006-07. After finishing last in the Pac-10 the previous year with largely the same lineup, the Cougars -- picked to remain in last place in preseason forecasts -- tied the school record of 26 wins and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for just the fifth time in school history. This year, the trio has pushed the Cougars into the NCAA tourney in back-to-back seasons for the first time.

Low, Weaver and Cowgill -- all of whom have been starters most of their four seasons at WSU -- sat down recently to discuss themselves, their teammates, their coaches and the wild journey they've shared at Washington State. Low is a guard from Honolulu; Weaver, a wing from Beloit, Wis.; Cowgill, a forward from Austin, Texas. All three are on schedule to graduate in May.

Inlander: What one word best describes Derrick?

Cowgill: "Goofball" ... he's like an 8-year-old trapped in a 22-year-old's body. He just laughs at stupid and immature stuff. Our whole team is like that, to tell you the truth.

Weaver: "Goofy." He just does some of the weirdest things -- no explanation. Out of nowhere, he'll just walk up to you and bite you or something!

Inlander: How about one word to describe Robbie?

Weaver: "Long." And I'll go with "shaggy," too. Long and shaggy.

Low: I just asked Daven [Harmeling] what word describes Robbie, and Daven said, "disgusting." Rob, he's just a smart guy. He's real loveable. He's one of the nicest guys, he has a strong faith -- but he's just a mess! He's, like, sloppy. Like his room -- I have witnesses who can back me up on that 100 percent. I think he's gotten a lot better.

Oh -- change my answer. I want to put "forgetful" and "absent-minded." This is a story: We were going to Wisconsin last year for a tournament. Somewhere along the plane ride to Wisconsin and the plane ride coming back home to Washington, Rob forgot his cell phone, his iPod and his laptop.

Inlander: Last but not least, how would you describe Kyle in one word?

Cowgill: "Cool" ... Kyle is laid-back, smooth and cool off the court.

Low: "Cool." His demeanor is just laid-back and mellow. He's just slow, the way he does things. He's the last to do everything. He's last to go through the security line [at airports]. It's like, "Where's Kyle?" No one knows where he's at. We're about to board the plane, Kyle pops out of nowhere.

Inlander: What was the most important element that Dick Bennett, your first coach at WSU, brought to the program?

Weaver: Dick kind of laid it down and said, "This is going to be it. This is what we're doing. If you don't like it, roll." ... For a young player like me, it gave me some foundation. You weren't confused. You never second-guessed anything, because he knew what you have to do every time.

Low: Dick brought in the foundation, basically, of our program. That was defense, obviously. I think he brought in the mental toughness.

Cowgill: We believed in him and he believed in us. ... He said, "If we do this right and we do this hard, we will turn this thing around." We trusted him.

Inlander: What are the key changes Tony Bennett made after he was promoted to replace his father following your sophomore year?

Low: He kinda gave us a little more freedom. That makes us comfortable playing for him.

Weaver: Dick brought the bread and Tony brought the butter ... the bread was still there, but [Tony] may have toasted it a little bit different. He allows us to be creative and to be comfortable out on the floor.

Cowgill: Freedom. Part of it was their personalities are a little bit different. Tony is a little more laid-back and he's not going to scream at you as much. He's more open-minded, particularly on offense. ... The first two years, we probably needed it [Dick's controlling manner]. We were young and immature, so he had to keep tighter reins on us.

Inlander: What is the best memory you will take from Washington State?

Cowgill: Seeing the fans just explode against Gonzaga last year. Just hanging with the guys in the locker room and on the road. Just the relationships.

Low: Going to the NCAA tournament. ... In high school, you dream of one day playing in the NCAA tournament. Then I choose a school, Washington State, that hasn't been there in so long and hasn't been very good. To go through all that adversity the first couple years and always dreaming about playing in the NCAA tournament, to finally get there, that was pretty special.

Weaver: I'd just taken a test. I think it was my sophomore year. I was running late ... I came walking in about 15, 20 minutes before practice. I think the day before, Dick had said that guys need to get in the gym more outside of practice to get shots up. I felt like he was talking right to me.

I walked in and I'm on my cell phone. He looked at me and followed me into the locker room ... he takes my cell phone from me ... I walk out on the floor and I start shooting free throws, and I feel the tension. He's just yelling at me: "What are you doing shooting free throws? You never want to work!"

He was right in my ear, right next to me ... just on me from the jump that whole practice, and I probably just failed the test. Looking back, I can laugh now. Just a great memory. Just to hear some of the quotes he gave. Having Dick there, I learned a lot from him. It was rough at the time, but it just made me stronger.

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