WSU basketball team's pot problems raise plenty of questions
Why were three Washington State basketball players cited for marijuana possession this season? Is it Pullman's policing policies or is coach Ken Bone's message just not getting through?
Seattle Times colleges reporter
PULLMAN — Covering the Northwestern-Washington State basketball game Wednesday night, I saw a WSU student with a T-shirt perfect for the occasion: COUGS FOR CANNABIS REFORM.
I'm not sure whether it was a spoof on the Cougars' grassy season, or somebody simply fronting a cause.
Saturday, WSU leaves for New York and the NIT. The traveling squad includes three players — Reggie Moore, Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto — who have been cited for marijuana possession this season. All that's missing for a complete five of bogart ballers are Cheech and Chong, the comedic potheads of the '70s.
Wherever you fall on this issue — and there's a vast spectrum of opinion — this much is evident:
The Cougars have a problem on their hands. Even if the problem is overzealous police enforcement, that's a problem.
I've covered Pac-10 basketball for four decades, and I can't recall three players — the best three on the team — getting popped for marijuana possession in separate incidents in a single season.
Somehow, the message of coach Ken Bone isn't getting through. Merely from a pragmatic standpoint of taking pains not to get caught, the Cougars have stretched the bounds of credulity.
It's not unfair to question whether that sort of laxity hasn't fed into a team that's been up and down on the floor this season.
In the bigger picture, if I'm, say, a parent of DaVonte Lacy, the standout from Curtis High School of University Place headed here in the fall, I'd want to know what in the world is going on over here.
Recruiting in all sports, the Cougars like to advertise the safety of Pullman and the close-knit campus culture — valid on both counts. Safe to say, the recent trend of cannabis Cougars doesn't dovetail with that campaign.
Still, there's an underlying debate, one symbolized by the Casto citation in the early-Tuesday hours after the Cougars had beaten Oklahoma State. As Casto's attorney, Tim Esser, framed it Thursday:
"Is that what we should be doing at 1 o'clock in the morning, looking in windows and seeking warrants?"
Chris Tennant, operations commander for the Pullman Police Department, laid out the Casto events to me Wednesday in his office. He said burglaries had been reported in the Military Hill area of Pullman, often by removal of window screens during vacation breaks. An officer in that neighborhood saw a screen below a window outside Casto's residence, and "since it was right after spring break, he thought he'd contact them and see if they'd had an issue."
Tennant says the cop was walking to the front door when he peered in the kitchen window and saw Casto rolling a joint. He asked Casto to hand over the marijuana, and Esser's contention that the officer didn't advise Casto of his rights regarding a search prompted WSU to lift its one-day suspension of the junior center.
Says Esser, 60, a former prosecuting attorney in Whitman County, "We have campus police, city police, we even have the county sheriff patrolling the WSU campus. For the life of me, I don't know why. The concern I have is zero-tolerance over-enforcement breeds disrespect for the law."
Esser says minors at WSU are frequently cited for having consumed alcohol, although they're not in possession.
"I think it's over the top," he said. "We literally, every week, have half a dozen to a dozen students who are walking home, they've been somewhere drinking, the police ask them for ID, ask to smell their breath and give them a citation for consuming alcohol. It happens all the time. Parents, when they hear about it, can't believe it's happening."
Just a gut hunch, but I don't think the Casto scenario would happen in Seattle. And Tennant might not disagree. He says the Pullman cops do business with the town's high quality of life in mind.
"A lot of our policing philosophies center around that type of lifestyle," Tennant says. "If you deal with the small things, you don't have to deal with the big things. That's kind of the approach we take with liquor-law enforcement.
"We have found that historically, if we attack liquor laws fairly aggressively, we have less assaults, less sexual assaults, less property damage."
He concedes that reasonable minds may differ on the severity of matters like marijuana or minor-in-possession.
"As you go up the scale," Tennant says, "everybody's going to agree that a sexual assault is a big thing, or a fistfight that ends up in a broken jaw is a big thing."
Tennant called "offensive" the allegation that Pullman police routinely target athletes.
"We've also been accused of targeting minorities," he said, "and that's offensive to us."
Tennant, a longtime Pullman cop, says there's a prevailing view of marijuana use among young adults. It could apply to the Cougars who have gotten in trouble.
"They (youth) see it as normal," he said. "Therefore, they're not trying to hide it."
Meanwhile, Bone addressed his team's transgressions in his office Thursday afternoon.
"Apparently, the message has not been received as well as I'd hoped," the second-year WSU coach said. "We've had counseling sessions, we've had team meetings, we've addressed the issue strongly. Things need to change, and will change."
For better or worse, athletes are held to a higher standard. Here, among those doing the holding are the local cops.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
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