THE WASHINGTON State men’s basketball program isn’t where Paul Graham wants it to be. But the third-year coach has it headed in the right direction.

Last year the Cougars doubled their win total to 12. Can the Cougars build on that momentum? Can they improve their sixthplace finish in the Pac-10, WSU’s best showing in six years?

WSU defeated Oregon, swept Arizona State, and won back-to-back league games— against Oregon and Oregon State— for the first time in four years. WSU’s 10 victories on Friel Court were the most since 1995.

Experience will be the team’s strength. Six-foot-10 senior center J Locklier started all 28 games last year, averaging 9.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. He was Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year.

“I think J can put up better numbers this year, because we have added depth up front that will allow us to keep him fresher down the stretch,” Graham predicts.

Despite missing half the season, shooting guard Mike Bush led the team in scoring average (15.9) en route to All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention.

“We expect him to be the leader he has always been,” Graham says. “He’s a tough competitor.”

Junior power forward Milton Riley (5.3 points, 3.5 rebounds) and sophomore point guard Marcus Moore (10.4, 3.6, 3.6 assists) are returning starters. Riley, a 6-9 shotblocker, “made as much progress last season as anyone in our program,” Graham says. He considers the 6-6 Moore “one of the elite point guards in the Pac-10” and potentially one of the best players. Moore was on the Pac-10 All Freshman Team.

Junior Jerry McNair shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc and led WSU with 44 three-pointers, including eight against Idaho. He torched Stanford for 29 points. “Jerry really found his role at the end of last season,” Graham says. Other returnees include Nick Graham, Justin Murray, and E.J. Harris. However, Framecio Little (7 points and 4.6 rebounds in 23 games) is scholastically ineligible for fall semester.

WSU’s four new recruits include freshmen Thomas Kelati and Shaminder Gill and juniors Justin Lyman and Pawel Stasiak. Kelati was a standout 6-foot-6 guard/ forward at Walla Walla High School . Gill ( 24 points, 14 rebounds at Philip Pocock High School in Toronto) was named best senior big man by Hoops Canada.

“At 6-8, 225, he is a skilled player offensively and was heavily recruited,” Graham says of Gill. Lyman averaged 21 points and shot 44 percent from three-point range at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, before redshirting there last year.

Stasiak, a transfer student from Cloud County Community College, Concordia, Kansas, is the first player from Poland (Warsaw) in WSU history. Graham says, “He can shoot from outside, plays good defense, and helps our offense with his hands and decision-making. At 6-11, 220, he gives us added size and will help us immediately inside.”

For the first time in a dozen years, the Pac-10 will hold a conference tournament with the top eight teams qualifying. The tourney will be played March 7-9, 2002, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.