WSU picked 11th; Bonton tabbed second team

Washington State guard Isaac Bonton dribbles upcourt during a game against Arizona on March 5 in Tucson, Ariz.

The rebuild of Washington State’s men’s basketball team is running more smoothly than anticipated, that’s fair to say. But the Cougs still are in the early stages of kick-starting their long-dormant program.

A young Wazzu team was picked 11th for the second consecutive year in the preseason Pac-12 media poll, which was released Thursday ahead of the league’s virtual media day.

The Cougars went 16-16 overall and 6-12 in conference play in 2019-20 for their best season in eight years, during which they won their first Pac-12tournament game since 2009.

WSU this year will be without All-Pac-12 star forward CJ Elleby, who declared for the NBA draft this summer instead of returning for his junior year.

Elleby was fourth in the conference at 18.4 points per game, and seventh in rebounding at 7.8.

“We know there’s gonna be a lot of naysayers, a lot of doubters,” point guard Isaac Bonton said. “We’re ready to open eyes just like we did last year.”

Bonton, who broke out in his first season in Pullman after transferring from Casper (Wyo.) College, is expected to spearhead the Cougars. He was named a preseason second-team All-Pac-12 honoreeafter averaging 15.3 points and four assists per game, and turning in a handful of big-time performances — including during Klay Thompson’s jersey retirement game, when he racked up 34 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

It was the first 30-8-8 game for a Pac-12 player since 1997, when STATS began its database.

“It’s just another nomination to me,” said Bonton, a top-five returning scorer in the Pac-12. “I feel like definitely by the end of the year I’m going to be changing some opinions. It’s something that drives me, even being second team. That’s a cool thing to be, but I’m definitely not satisfied.”

WSU is expected to play several newcomers from a recruiting class ranked No. 33 in the nation by 247Sports.com — arguably the fast-building Cougars’ best class in history.

Second-year coach Kyle Smith announced that one recent signee expected to contribute, guard Jefferson Koulibaly, will miss the season with an arm injury.

In October, Smith said Koulibaly — one of Canada’s best college prospects — would vie to start for a Coug backcourt in need of ballhandlers.

“We just gotta do what we’ve been doing,” Smith said of the upcoming season. “This is the third time I’ve had to start up a program, and Year 2s, there’s been a little dip, and I’m trying to avoid that.

“I like our guys; we’re doing well. It’s just inexperience.”

Pac-12 preseason media poll

First-place votes in parentheses

1) UCLA (9) 251

2) Arizona State (5) 246

3) Oregon (7) 241

4) Stanford (1) 209

5) Arizona 173

6) USC (1) 154

7) Colorado 149

8) Utah 131

9) Washington 85

10) California 65

11) Washington State 54

12) Oregon State 36

All-Pac-12 first team

Utah F Timmy Allen

Cal G Matt Bradley

Stanford F Oscar da Silva

Oregon G Chris Duarte

Arizona State G Remy Martin

USC C Evan Mobley

Oregon G Will Richardson

UCLA G Chris Smith

Stanford F Ziaire Williams

Colorado G McKinley Wright

Colton Clark may be reached at cclark@lmtribune.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.

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