Seen & Heard 1/17

IS THAT YOU IN THERE, MOTHER TERESA?

THE ANECDOTES THAT sprout up out of the annual rite of football recruiting never cease to bring a smile or, alternately, force you to shake your head. Rick Neuheisel's cheesy floatplane trips to his Lake Washington manse, where the little Mrs. was waiting dockside with fresh-baked cookies, is one for the all-time-make-me-puke list. But I think the recent report that Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer is covering Bill Doba's backside may supplant Slick Rick for the top spot in my hall of shame.

JC prospect Justin Garrett, a mostly hard verbal commit to Tennessee, told CF.C's Barry Bolton he decided to cancel his official trip to WSU after Fulmer suggested it wouldn't be fair to other deserving prospects.

Coach Phil, presumably with violins playing in the background, explained how each school is limited to 50-something on-campus visits per recruiting season. And since Garrett had verballed to the Vols, a trip to Pullman would simply be taking up the spot of some poor soul who could actually benefit from a trek to Ol' Wazzu. Hey, Coach Phil, take a note: When Bill Doba needs your remarkable generosity he'll let you know.

Talk about transparent. Could it be that Phil was actually squirming with the fact WSU last year converted 20 of its 32 (yes, 32, not 50-something) official trippers into LOI signees? That's a success ratio of 63 percent -- roughly double what is considered a good hit-to-miss ratio.

SPEAKING OF RECRUITING, the 2006 effort still has a couple of weeks to go, but you can bet WSU recruiting coordinator Robin Pflugrad is already prepping for '07. With the decision to forego on a QB in this class, look for WSU to be in early on the best arms the West has to offer.

Why, you may ask, do I limit the prospecting range to the West? Because that's the trend line. And a mighty powerful one, too. Going back 35 years -- all the way to Ty Paine, the pride of Billings, Mont. -- you'll find that 22 of the Cougars' 23 bonafide starting quarterbacks have hailed from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii, Montana or California. Josh Swogger, from Ohio, was the only non-Westerner in the bunch.

DICK BENNETT'S COUGAR basketball team dropped a heartbreaker at Pauley Pavilion last Thursday, storming back from a 17-point deficit only to lose in the final seconds, 63-61. In the category of moral victories, this was one. I say that for three reasons.

First, because it takes incredible determination and self-confidence to come back like that on the road against one of the nation's hottest teams. Second, because Pauley is a place where WSU has won just once in 49 years. And third, because sophomore Josh Akognon, with 25 second-half points, is stepping up big for the Cougs in the wake of Derrick Low's broken foot.

Unfortunately, the potential momentum from that moral victory, coupled with the upset a week earlier of Washington, only lasted 20 minutes when the Cougs (now 9-5) took on USC on Saturday. WSU led by four at halftime, but couldn't stop lowly SC's barrage of treys -- indeed, the Cougs rarely even got a hand in the face on most of those long shots -- and lost 71-66. Still, the Cougs could have tied or won it, trailing by two, with 23 seconds left, but Akognon was pick-pocketed at midcourt.

STAR COUGAR WIDEOUT Jason Hill's announcement that he won't go early to the NFL makes him an instant frontrunner for the 2006 Biletnikoff Award, emblematic of the nation's finest receiver. He was a semi-finalist this past season. We're still waiting for reports on how high quarterback Alex Brink jumped when he learned his favorite target was coming back.

Hill's decision prompted some message board discussion about the biggest name in Cougar history to come back for a final year in crimson after entertaining notions of going pro early. The answer is without debate: The Throwin' Samoan, Jack Thompson.

In late 1977, when head coach Warren Powers left for Missouri, Thompson kicked around the idea of going early. And in a bizarre twist to the plot, Roman Polanski approached him in that same timeframe about playing the role of a stud Polynesian in the movie "The Hurricane." The movie thing fizzled. As for football, the rules for jumping early were quite restrictive in those days but Jack could have gone via a loophole for fifth-year-seniors-to-be.

By "transferring" to another school -- a move which of course requires a player to sit out one season -- he effectively would have forfeited his final year of eligibility and thus become draft eligible. Instead, he returned to launch the Jim Walden era at WSU. A year later, Jack owned virtually every meaningful NCAA passing record; was honored as only the second Cougar footballer in history to have his number retired; and wound up as the third overall pick in the NFL draft.

Jack's proud crimson legacy continues on the field today. His son Tony Thompson is a walk-on tight end for the Cougars. He redshirted this past season and will be a second-year freshman in 2006. If you're wondering, he wears jersey No. 46 despite, I'm sure, a preference for legendary ol' No. 14.

DO YOU GET THE sense The Sporting News is smitten with Jerome Harrison? First, the magazine named him first-team All-American. Next, they dubbed him the best player not playing in a bowl game. And finally, they've gone so far as to suggest: "do yourself a favor and watch the Senior Bowl." Why? Simply, explains TSN, to catch a glimpse of a running back from Washington State by the name of Jerome Harrison.

NOTABLE NOTE:
Washington State University's athletics department has received two awards -– one for overall excellence in diversity and another for Title IX compliance -- from the Laboratory for Diversity in Sport at Texas A&M University. WSU was one of only 10 schools recognized for overall excellence and one of 11 schools in the Title IX category.

"Despite the numerous diversity-related problems and issues in university athletics, there are many athletic departments that excel in the area of diversity. These departments are open to all persons, regardless of their demographic characteristics, values, attitudes or preferences. These persons have access to all positions within the department, including leadership positions. The departments have non-discriminatory policies and regulations. They value their employees and student-athletes, and make efforts to treat them fairly and justly," said the Laboratory for Diversity in Sport.

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