Howard Rochestie Santa Barbara

Taylor Rochestie is an example of Washington State’s team-first attitude

As Washington State soaked in the aftermath of its dominating victory over Notre Dame the other day, Daven Harmeling threw a figurative bouquet to teammate Taylor Rochestie.

"To me," Harmeling said, "he's the player of the game."

To a kid in Florida who hasn't enrolled at WSU yet, Rochestie is the player of his career. Defending Notre Dame’s Kyle McAlarney relentlessly is one thing. Keeping the Cougars at a measured pace is one thing, but giving up your scholarship next season to somebody who wouldn't otherwise be there?

"It's not every day somebody gives you a scholarship," said Marcus Capers by phone from Montverde Academy in Florida. "College ain't cheap."

Thursday, WSU goes from tweaking the dragon’s whiskers to directly inside his jowls, playing No. 1-ranked, No. 1-seeded North Carolina in Charlotte.

The magnitude of the unselfish Cougars' push into the Sweet 16 lends more texture to the move of Rochestie and his family to forfeit his scholarship next season, allowing WSU to slip one under the NCAA limit of 13 and give it to Capers, a 6- foot-4 guard from Winterhaven, Fla.

"Believe me," said Capers ’father, Jerome. "He’s following Washington State."

Not that the younger Capers wouldn’t have caught wind of WSU’s first Sweet 16 trip, but he and Rochestie have formed a bond through the miracle of text-messaging.

"It's as if we're just friends, as if he's already here," says Rochestie. "We kind of developed an underground friendship."

"I text him and his family, with thanks for everything they did for me," said Capers. “I figure I might as well get close to him. I figure we'll be in the backcourt together next year, hopefully. "

Capers, father and son, visited WSU in the fall and the Cougars were impressed. But the team’s scholarship limit projected to be full, at which point the idea grew: Rochestie could give his up as a senior to squeeze in Capers.

"My dad [Howard] wanted to contribute to the basketball program for what they had given me," said Rochestie. "Tony [Bennett, the WSU coach] almost said it as a joke, from what I hear:‘ Well, you could just take Taylor off scholarship. '"

So the notion took legs, and the Rochesties agreed to do it.

"It would be a more dramatic story if I told you I was a factory worker," said Howard Rochestie of Santa Barbara, Calif. "I've been fortunate to have a successful career."

The senior Rochestie, a lawyer, owns a business that, as he puts it, does "coaching for doctors." It schools them on how to manage their practices and their money.

So he's picking up most of the freight for his son’s 2008-09 year off scholarship, estimated by a WSU spokesman to be $ 25,000. But Taylor also wished to help, so he sold off a new Ford Expedition for an older Dodge Durango.

“He wanted to contribute,” said Howard Rochestie. “He’s going to try to pick as much as he can himself. He wanted it to be more meaningful. "

The younger Rochestie concedes that there's more to a scholarship than just the cash. There's some ego involved.

“In high school, it's every kid’s dream to get a scholarship,” he said. “I value the scholarship very highly. So to be able to do something like this was the ultimate blessing. "

Meanwhile, Capers ’stock took an uptick when he transferred for his senior season from Lake Region (Fla.) High School to Montverde, which plays a higher-profile schedule. He averaged 16 points and 5.4 rebounds and shot 44 percent on three-pointers for a team that went 24-6.

"He’s a very, very good defender and very good in the open court," said his coach, Kevin Sutton, this week.

Rochestie's lifeline to Capers will extend a story that has almost haunting roots. Rochestie - the name is Russian, pronounced similarly to the city in New York - started at Tulane in 2005 and made the Conference USA all-freshman team.

Then came two life-changing events: Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in August 2005, displacing the Tulane basketball team to Texas A&M, and Rochestie goals up a knee. With facilities for rehabilitation in doubt, he decided to transfer.

“It was very difficult for him to leave Tulane,” said Howard Rochestie. “We put word out almost over his objection. They had no facilities to take care of him. They had nothing. "

Taylor Rochestie never shared much of the full blow of the double setbacks.

"All he said was,‘ I'm coming back, ’" said his father.

Rochestie has been a quantum addition for the Cougars, a guy who completed one of the best three-guard attacks in the nation, who led the Pac-10 this year in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.90 to 1), hit 44 percent on threes and injected a shot of espresso into a team with mostly even personalities.

"Taylor is kind of the guy that stirs the drink," said WSU assistant Matt Woodley. “He’s a little more flamboyant than those other two [guards Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low]. He’ll pump his fist and get a little emotional in the huddle. "

Thursday night, he’ll also be trying to massage the tempo as he did in the Notre Dame victory and attempt to keep a lid on the North Carolina offense.

"I don't think the kids are intimidated," said Howard Rochestie. “I believe in our kids. It's such a great ‘Rudy’ story. "

He picked the right metaphor. Rudy didn't have a scholarship, either.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or [email protected]