DENVER (AP)—When Washington State coach Tony Bennett invited Taylor Rochestie to the Cougars’ campus, he saw an unselfish point guard who would be a good fit.
What he couldn’t see coming from the transfer who went to Pullman, Wash., after Hurricane Katrina wrecked the Tulane campus in New Orleans was Rochestie’s selflessness extending way beyond the basketball court.
Before this season, the redshirt junior voluntarily surrendered his 2008-09 scholarship so the Cougars could give it to heralded Florida prep star Marcus Capers instead.
“He said, ‘I’ve been blessed with my family to be able to take care of this last year,” Bennett recounted. “It speaks about him and his family, the kind of leader he is, the kind of character he has. What a neat thing for our program.”
It’s not often a player willfully gives up a free ride.
“Talk about taking one for the team,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, whose Fighting Irish (25-7) will face the Rochestie-fueled Cougars (25-8) in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday night. “I mean, that’s pretty powerful. But, you know, it kind of tells you the makeup of this young man.”
Rochestie, who dished out 10 assists and stuck like glue to Winthrop’s best scorer in the Cougar’s 71-40 first-round rout in the East Regional, said he wanted to return a favor, that’s all.
Rochestie considers himself indebted to Bennett for giving him a chance to play major college basketball again after he blew out his right knee following his fabulous freshman season at Tulane in 2004-05.
“I’ve been blessed my whole life, just given so many opportunities that maybe I’m undeserving of,” Rochestie said. “Just to be part of this program, be part of this team, be given a chance from Tony Bennett, you know, when I was down, hurt, looking for a school. I feel like he gave me something that maybe I was undeserving of.”
After sitting out the spring semester in 2006, Rochestie started six times and appeared in all 34 games during the Cougars’ turnaround season last year, and he’s started all but one game this year, helping Washington State reach the NCAA’s second round for the second straight season.
Bennett really appreciated Rochestie’s magnanimity, but Rochestie insists he’s the one who should be thankful.
“To be able to give something back to the program, to my team, to the coaching staff, to all the Cougars out there, the alumni, I feel so blessed to be in the position that I’m in,” Rochestie said. “My parents have been looking for a way to give back to the program, support the program. This just seemed like a perfect opportunity.
“I’m just happy and fortunate that my parents are in a situation where paying for my fifth-year of college is more of a blessing than a burden. I’m just happy to do it.”
So, Rochestie’s parents will be picking up the $25,000 or so tab for their son’s final year in school.
“It surprised me when I heard about it,” teammate Robbie Cowgill said. “But once I thought about it and knowing Taylor, it didn’t surprise me at all. That’s the kind of guys he is. He wants this thing to be successful.”
“That’s Taylor,” guard Derrick Low added. “He’s unselfish and it shows on the court. And off the court.”
Bennett, who was also a left-handed point guard in his playing days, said he saw a little bit of himself in Rochestie but he didn’t have a scholarship available for him when he came out of Santa Barbara (Calif.) High School. He watched enviously as Rochestie averaged 10.9 points as a freshman at Tulane.
“Then when Hurricane Katrina struck, he had a really bad knee injury, dislocated his knee, had some troubles, he decided he wanted to come to the West Coast. When he put that word out, we just thought this kid could really fit our system,” Bennett said.
“He’s a winner. That’s what his high school coaches have said about him, his AAU coach. We were fortunate enough to get him,” Bennett added. “There’s no coincidence how our team, it’s been everybody, but allowing guys like Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver to not play as much point guard, and Taylor to take on those responsibilities, just his clutch plays have really given us momentum and been part of our turnaround.”
Rochestie’s biggest assist came after he hosted Capers for his campus visit before the season and went to Bennett with his unusual offer.
“He was excited about it. He said, ‘You took a chance on me when I was hurt and you didn’t know about me,”’ Bennett recounted. “He says, ‘This is a chance for me to give back to the program.”’
Brey said he’s been checking out Rochestie’s resume this week.
“He is one of the better guards, not only in the Pac-10 but in the country,” Brey said. “When I looked at him, watching him a lot since last night, crafty. He’s really crafty.”
And certainly unselfish.