Monday, March 14, 2005


Derrick Low of Washington State drove past Stanford's Chris Hernandez on Thursday in WSU's Pac-10 tournament loss.

Low not down after
first season at WSU

The Cougars finished below .500,
but the Iolani alum looks forward
to the young team’s next year

Derrick Low's first season of college basketball reflected that of his team: routinely solid, occasionally dazzling, but lacking the sort of breakthrough feats that herald the arrival of the truly dominant.

Just give him time, Thomas Kelati says. Just a little more time.

"I told him, 'This is your ballclub the next three years; everything goes through you," said Kelati, the senior leader of the Washington State Cougars. "I think he knows that."

Low says he can't wait. As soon as Washington State's season ended Thursday night in Los Angeles with a heartbreaking loss to Stanford in the opening round of the Pacific-10 tournament, Low's focus turned to next season.

"I definitely feel comfortable taking over as the leader next year," Low said during a phone interview Friday from Los Angeles, where he was preparing for a Saturday flight home to Honolulu for spring vacation. "It's more my nature to lead by example, but I'll do whatever I need to do to lead the team. If I need to be more vocal, that's what I'll do."

Low, the three-time Star-Bulletin Mr. Basketball from Iolani, led the 12-16 Cougars with 2.8 assists per game and averaged 87.1 percent at the free-throw line. He ranked second in minutes played (32.0) and third in points (7.0) and steals (1.1) on a team that was 4-8 in games decided by three points or fewer.

"If we had won all those close games, we would have had a good season. A REALLY good season," said Low, who helped traditionally woeful WSU snap a 38-game losing streak against Arizona and a 17-game losing streak vs. Stanford.

Derrick Low took scoldings by coach Dick Bennett in stride.

After missing the first five games of the season with a fractured foot, Low shot 37 percent from the field, including 32 percent on 3-pointers. The 6-foot-1 point guard had just 53 turnovers in 23 games (22 starts) on an offensively challenged, defensively superb team loaded with freshmen. He had season highs of 19 points against Oregon and eight assists against USC.

"I think I played OK," Low said. "I did have to make some minor adjustments to play college basketball.

"Playing high school basketball in Hawaii and college basketball in the Pac-10 are totally different. I had to adjust to the speed of the game and the intensity of the game and the overall competitive level of college basketball."

Low soon discovered that the madcap dashes to the basket that worked so well in Hawaii often led to disaster in college.

"It's hard to go all the way to the rim because of the bigger players," said Low, an honorable-mention pick on the Pac-10 All-Freshman team. "I had to dish off to other players or stop and take a short shot."

Washington State coach Dick Bennett, who once guided Wisconsin to the Final Four, is notoriously demanding of players. It's safe to say Low's ears will be ringing with Bennett's advice long after the season ends.

"I think I'm one of those guys who responds well to criticism," Low said. "Coach Bennett demands a lot of his point guards because in the past he's had good point guards. That's why he's hard on me. When he scolded me, I never got down."

"He handles it well," Bennett said. "Not everyone can."

So, Dick, how did Low handle some of the best point guards (Washington's Nate Robinson, Arizona's Salim Stoudamire, Stanford's Chris Hernandez, Oregon's Aaron Brooks, etc.) in the nation?

"He's a very good ballhandler and a very good dribbler," Bennett said. "He definitely needs to see the floor better. It's definitely not a strength. It's something he needs to work on."

"He's very athletic," Kelati said, "and he's a very smart player."

Low agrees with Bennett and Kelati that he needs to play more aggressively; specifically, drive more and not be content to simply pass the ball around the perimeter ("He can be a great penetrator," Kelati said). Low earned praise from Bennett for his defense ("He has very quick feet"), and when Bennett compliments a player on his defense -- particularly a freshman -- it is truly praise from the master.

"He's a pleasure to coach, because he listens," Bennett said. "He's a good person."

"I think what I need to improve on is what Coach Bennett says: Be more assertive," Low said. "He wants me to be like a dog on the floor; just tough, relentless. Attack on offense, create more for my leaders, be the leader.

"That's what I'm going to do."

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