Pac-12 Preview: Washington State cleans up its tarnished image

Midway through the Washington State basketball team's visit to the Pullman Senior Center in mid-September, an elderly woman made a comment to Marcus Capers that made the senior guard chuckle.

"She told me she was mad at her husband for not joining her at the retirement home, so I said, 'That's messed up,'" Capers recalled. "She said, 'Well he has been dead for 12 years,' and I was like, 'Wow, can you really be mad at him for that?'"

Every Washington State player probably has a similar funny anecdote to that one because the Cougars spent so much of their offseason getting to know people in their community. They helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity in July, they signed autographs and ran the pop-a-shot booth at Pullman's National Lentil Festival in August and they ran a handful of summer basketball clinics attended by kids from across the Pacific Northwest.

It was especially important for Washington State players to participate in such activities this offseason because the basketball program needed to rehabilitate its image after a flurry of legal problems last season.

Three of the team's top four scorers last season were cited for separate marijuana infractions, with Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore serving suspensions. School officials took the negative publicity that followed seriously enough that athletic director Bill Moos told The Spokesman-Review, "We have to instill in our student-athletes a mentality that Saturday's game is more important than tonight's party."

"We had a few issues off the court last season that were really embarrassing to me, to our athletic department and to the university," Washington State coach Ken Bone said. "That is not who we are going to be. We made it clear that the culture was going to change after our last game against Wichita State at Madison Square Garden. Our guys have embraced that idea, carried through with getting very involved in the community this offseason." {YSP:MORE}

To ensure Washington State doesn't have to endure any more off-the-court problems this season, Bone has led the team in discussions about the importance of character before practices this month. Capers and fellow senior Abe Lodwick have supplemented that by having 1-on-1 conversations with Washington State's returners and its seven newcomers so that every player understands they cannot afford to be reckless.

More from The Dagger's Pac-12 Preview

MONDAY: How much will being homeless hurt UCLA?
TUESDAY: Projections and storylines to watch next year
WEDNESDAY: Ranking the league's 15 best non-conference games
THURSDAY: How Washington State is repairing its tarnished image
FRIDAY: Q&A with Oregon State guard Jared Cunningham

"We know we're under the microscope, and I don't think a lot of players understood that last year," Capers said. W"e have a better understanding now. We're more focused. People know that everyone is watching you and your image is on the line. That's some of the things we've been telling the younger kids."

The early departure of Thompson and top big man DeAngelo Casto have diminished expectations for Washington State this season, but the Cougars believe they can emerge as a surprise contender in the Pac-12. Moore has regained his aggressiveness since recovering from the wrist injury that hampered him last year, senior Faisal Aden is capable of picking up some of the scoring slack in Thompson's absence and Capers, Lodwick and junior forward Brock Motum are valuable role players.

As much as Bone wants to have success on the court, it's equally important to him that his team is responsible off it.

"I'm really impressed with this year's team so far," Bone said. "We haven't had any problems. Guys are doing a great job."

More conference previews from the Dagger:

ACC: Lessons from the pros keep North Carolina humble and hungry, ACC projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Wake Forest star Ish Smith scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league ACC games, Q&A with Florida State junior Michael Snaer

Atlantic 10: Temple's Micheal Eric hopes to seize his chance, A-10 projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Xavier star Byron Larkin scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league A-10 games, Q&A with St. Louis guard Kwamain Mitchell

Big East: For Cincinnati's Yancy Gates, suspension was a turning point; Big East projections and storylines to watch; Ex-Notre Dame forward Jordan Cornette projects the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big East games

Big Ten: How Zack Novak became Michigan's emotional leader; Big Ten projections and storylines to watch ; Ex-Ohio State star Jim Jackson scouts the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big Ten games; Q&A with Michigan State forward Delvon Roe

Big 12: Big 12 projections and storylines to watch, Iowa State's Royce White aims to capitalize on second chance, Ex-Oklahoma guard Michael Neal projects the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league Big 12 games, Q&A with Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson

CAA: Has VCU's improbable Final Four run impacted its recruiting?; CAA projections, all-league teams and storylines to watch

C-USA: Marshall aims to end NCAA tournament drought; C-USA projections, all-league teams and storylines to watch.

Mountain West: San Diego State out to prove it's no one-hit wonder; MWC projections and storylines to watch ; Ex-New Mexico forward Daniel Faris projects the league; Ranking the 12 best non-league MWC games; Q&A with UNLV guard Anthony Marshall

WCC: Kevin Foster aims to shoot Santa Clara into WCC title picture; Projections and storylines to watch next year; Q&A with BYU guard Charles Abouo