PULLMAN — First-year Washington State basketball coach Kyle Smith might be somewhat unfamiliar with the verve that comes along with the century-long Apple Cup rivalry, but he did make a concerted effort to hop aboard.
He just recently found out the hoops feud retains the fruit-based moniker. It reminded him of his wife, Katie, who starred as a prep player in Chelan, Wash.
“There’s a lot of apples up there, man,” Smith said, then banged on his desk during his Tuesday news conference. “We gotta establish that we’re the agricultural school, we own those apples. Yeah, they’re all big, but this one ... it’s about the apples.
“Apples, apples, man. We gotta own the apples.”
Then, he mentioned his Seattleite players who UW showed recruiting interest to, CJ Elleby and Noah Williams, and assistant Jim Shaw — a former Husky assistant. Smith, at least, has a grasp on how important this game is to them. It’s starting to come to him too.
They’re all trying to snap a three-year drought against Washington at 3 p.m. today in Beasley Coliseum (ESPNU).
“I don’t think anything needs to be said or educated on what this game’s about,” Smith said of his west-side standouts, pointing out how they know many of the Huskies’ from their youths.
In fact, Smith’s also familiar with a Husky: coach Mike Hopkins. The two have been close for years, and Hopkins actually nudged Smith toward the opportunity in Pullman, but it didn’t stop WSU’s boss from opening a little lighthearted beef, and planting a metaphorical Coug flag in Wenatchee, Wash.
“He claims that he’s a Washington guy, his family’s from Wenatchee and all that,” Smith said of Hopkins right after embracing the third-year UW coach’s friendship. “Wenatchee’s Coug country, I wanna put that out there. So his blood runs Crimson and Gray.
“So let the people in Seattle know that he’s deep down, his family are Cougs. I’ve been waiting to blast him on that.”
In an unanticpated turn of events, it might be as good a time as any for WSU (13-10, 4-6 Pac-12) to have a chance at blasting the Huskies (12-11, 2-8) and laying claim to all those Honeycrisps.
Washington has struggled to close games out and still is grappling with the loss of Kentucky transfer point guard Quade Green, who was ruled academically ineligible in early January.
UW sits last in the league after being projected to finish third, while the Cougs come in at 10th. The Huskies, an NCAA tournament team last year, are in the midst of a five-game losing streak, which has seen their 2-3 zone defense implode in second halves.
But Smith knows UW and its two anticipated first-rounders aren’t pushovers.
“Obviously their length and athleticism around the rim is second to none,” Smith said. “You think you have a shot, you think you have a layup or something, and there’s six arms swinging at the thing.”
The Huskies’ primary strength lies in the paint, with their five-star 6-foot-9 forwards Jaden McDaniels — from Federal Way, Wash. — and Isaiah Stewart. They combine for 30 points and 15 rebounds per game. Additionally, guard Nahziah Carter (6-6) is a sharpshooter who Smith figures will have a prosperous NBA career.
Although McDaniels has contended with foul trouble and leads the conference in giveaways, the two big men provide range and physicality underneath, an area undersized Wazzu has had fits in this year.
“You gotta do something with Stewart, you can’t just sit back and take it,” Smith said.
The UW zone is of some concern too, considering WSU hasn’t seen much of that defense this year.
The good news is that stout forward Tony Miller is set to return from injury today, and play for the first time since Jan. 9 against Cal. Bouncy guard Marvin Cannon came back from injury last week against Arizona, and provided some nice — but limited — minutes off the bench.
“We’re pretty good defensively when we play Tony at the 4 and CJ at the 3,” Smith said. “It helps us rebounding, helps us size-wise. Tony’s quickness too. He’s not too tall, he’s got no neck (meaning he’s bulky), he’s quick around the basket.”
Smith also said 7-1 center Volodymyr Markovetskyy will need to contribute considerably down the stretch because “Jeff (Pollard) can’t play 35 minutes a game, bangin’ on these guys. He’s been hurt.”
The Cougs, who haven’t played in eight days, will hope they’re rested enough to rebound from a rough loss to Arizona, in which they were handled down low. Upon review of the film, Smith said he was pleased with WSU’s effort. Some hasty shots just weren’t falling.
But if anything about the Pac-12 has been clear this year, it’s anybody can beat anybody. It’s been true too for the Cougs, who’ve played their best under Beasley’s brightest lights.
In what’s expected to be another hyped environment, they’re looking to, in Smith’s words, “own the apples.”
Raveling to be honored
Celebrated former Washington State coach George Raveling (1972-83) will have his name sent to the rafters at halftime of today’s game.
Raveling, a Naismith Hall of Famer, went 167-136 with the Cougs, and coached such standouts as Craig Ehlo, Don Collins, Steve Puidokas and James Donaldson. He was named the league’s coach of the year in 1976 and 1983. The former Villanova standout took WSU to two NCAA tournaments.
The 82-year-old Raveling, formerly a global marketing director for Nike, is known as a charismatic trail blazer in the sport. He was the first black coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pac-8, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Basketball Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport.
“That generation of people, they really speak of what he meant to this place, and he reciprocates,” said Smith of Raveling, who got his head-coaching start in Pullman. “This place was special to him.”
Raveling is famously the owner of the original transcript for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” from 1963. Raveling volunteered to provide security for the reverend that day in Washington D.C., and after the speech, asked King if he could have the typewritten pages.
Raveling has been offered upwards of $3 million for the papers, according to Time, but still owns them.
Clark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.