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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 24, 2006

Cougars on high when Low scores

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

The years change for Derrick Low. Even the places, but, somehow, the job description brings him right back to where he began.

A three-time Advertiser state high school basketball player of the year at 'Iolani, Low went off to Washington State three seasons ago to be a point guard.

But as his junior year in the Palouse unfolds, Low is finding that he is being asked to help carry the team more the way he did at 'Iolani, not just distribute the ball to it. Instead of playing the point, he is being asked to produce them himself as a shooting or combo guard.

So far it is a move Low has both relished and responded to, averaging 16.8 points double last year's average a game and leading the Cougars to a 5-0 start.

The one they call "D-Low" said he sensed a change coming when Tony Bennett, who would replace his father, Dick Bennett, as head coach, kept urging him to think about shooting more. "I mean, I kinda knew what he was thinking because he told me how comfortable I looked at just shooting the ball," Low said.

The 6-foot-2 Low averaged 8.3 points a game last season, fourth highest on the team, in Dick's controlled offense. The only thing that has slowed him as a two-year starter has been foot injuries both years.

But with the departure of Josh Akognon, who was the Cougars' leading scorer (10.3), and Tony taking over the reins, things have changed. For one, Tony has recognized that WSU will need a more up-tempo offense to compete in the Pac-10. Last year, despite a suffocating man-to-man defense, the Cougars were 11-17 and finished last in the conference, losing 15 games by five points or fewer. Against UCLA last year, the Cougars held the Bruins to 50 points but scored just 30.

If WSU is going to have its first winning season in 11 years or make its first NCAA Tournament since 1994, it needed to score. And to find a scorer.

"Even as a point guard I wanted him to look to shoot more because he was a good shooter," Tony said. "He is such a good shooter that we needed him to score wherever he was."

So, Low got the tap on the back and the ball to shoot. "They asked me about being a shooting guard and I was OK with that," Low said. "Instead of having to distribute the ball so much, I could concentrate on putting the ball up more. They brought in two natural point guards, so that helped make the transition easier. I just tried to get comfortable and play my role."

A career-high 28-point performance in the season opener one of three 20-point games so far and 59 percent shooting suggests Low is finding both the basket and that comfort zone.

But, then, he's been there before.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.