As a teenager, my favorite Husky basketball player was point guard Curtis Allen.
Allen was the lone senior on the Dawgs’ 2003-2004 NCAA Tournament team during my freshman year at UW. He was a reserve at that juncture in his collegiate career, backing up the likes of Will Conroy and Nate Robinson on a ballclub that featured four future NBA players and six future pros in all. Prior to that, he spent the better part of his first three seasons as a starter.
Regarded as one of the quickest players in the Pac-10, Allen had his best season in 2001-2002, when he averaged over 12 PPG and nearly 5 APG.
Upon being carried off the court on the shoulders of the Hec Ed faithful after his final home game in 2004 (an upset win over previously-undefeated Stanford), Allen finished out his Husky playing career and embarked on a coaching odyssey that has led him to Pullman.
These days, Allen is the lead assistant for Ken Bone at Washington State. Bone, in turn, was head coach Lorenzo Romar’s lead assistant on Washington’s ’03-’04 squad.
Bone is a Seattle-area native, attended Shorecrest High School, earned his coaching chops at Seattle Pacific University, and made his name on Romar’s staff. He spent the last four seasons as the man-in-charge at Portland State, taking his Vikings to the Big Dance in each of the past two years. That string of success led to his hiring on the Palouse, where he has replaced the departed Tony Bennett, who left for Virginia.
The strong ties between Washington and Washington State bind these two rival schools like no other pair of bitter enemies in the Pac-10. Romar is the tree trunk; Allen and Bone branches of his influence.
Perhaps that is why it has become tough to despise the Cougar crimson-and-grey the way some Husky fans once did. Even if you maintain a dislike for the colors, the logo, or the school in general, it is near-impossible to harbor ill feelings towards Bone or Allen, two factors in the current successes of the Washington program.
Beyond the coaching staff, even the Cougar players are arguably more likable than they once used to be.
Bone’s first WSU recruit was none other than Reggie Moore, the point guard who played his prep ball at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School. Moore is averaging 13.4 PPG and 4.1 APG through the first 27 games of his inaugural collegiate season. He remains a strong candidate for the league’s Freshman of the Year honors.
Then there’s Klay Thompson, the star of the show in Pullman who has enjoyed a strong, albeit enigmatic, sophomore season.
The second-year shooting guard has averaged over 20 PPG, but has struggled in conference play. NBA scouts were pegging the 6’6″ wing as a potential first-round draft pick after he poured in 43 points in a non-conference win over San Diego back in November. Like him or not, the son of former Los Angeles Laker Mychal Thompson exudes a much more respectable style of play than a number of his Cougar predecessors, who were more content to pass, pass, pass, and play defense before even considering a shot of their own.
Between Allen, Bone, Moore, and Thompson, Washington State has built a foundation for excellence that is hard to ignore. And even if you’re one of those Husky fans that will never be caught dead showing any sort of appreciation for your rival (and I get that, I really do), you have to acknowledge that even by Washington’s standards, the Cougars are worthy of a little more respect these days.