It could be written that Oregon State ran its tally of sub-.500 records to 14 consecutive seasons and will play in an even better Pacific-10 Conference next season.

Or, it could be written that OSU might be next year's version of the Washington Huskies, a young group that finally matures and becomes an NCAA-caliber team. Losing no seniors and gaining star prep Marcel Jones and redshirts Jason Fontenet and Nick DeWitz, the Beavers could be an 18- or 19-win team.

Let's look at the positives:

Despite their 12-16 record and absence from this week's Pac-10 tournament, the Beavers surprised most people who predicted they wouldn't win 10 games. Junior David Lucas became a legitimate star, a dead-eye shooter from 10 feet and in, and one of the Pac-10's best rebounders. Portland's Chris Stephens developed into a scoring threat at guard, averaging 15.8 points and shooting .378 from 3-point land. With USC and UCLA defending Lucas on every possession last weekend, Stephens totaled 40 points via explosive second halves. Clutch.

'I understand I'm a shooter and I have a weapon,' the streaky Stephens says. 'You can't put away your weapon just because you have a bad half.'

Lamar Hurd continued to be one of the league's most sure-handed point guards, dishing out 138 assists and making only 59 turnovers (2.4-to-1 ratio). The Beavers averaged 2.7 fewer turnovers than opponents.

Coach Jay John and his staff do an excellent job of making players understand their roles. They extracted much-improved seasons from Lucas, Stephens and J.S. Nash. And the Beavers got better at perimeter shooting (.341 on 3-pointers, compared with .300 the previous year).

They played nine Pac-10 road games, getting run out of buildings only three times. They lost -to UW twice by a combined five points. They went 11-7 at Gill Coliseum. 'Last year my team wasn't comfortable at home,' John says. 'Now, it's comfortable.'

The negatives:

A six-game losing streak at midseason sent the Beavers to the bottom of the Pac-10. Perhaps by virtue of their up-and-down style, they gave up loads of points Ñ 74.0 per game Ñ and ranked last in opponent field goal percentage entering the final weekend, finishing at .460. And they fell into shooting funks.

But next year will be different. Some talk has Fontenet, a transfer from New Mexico State, contending to supplant Hurd. 'Definitely' the quickest player in practice, Stephens says of Fontenet, who also has a consistent 3-point shot. DeWitz, a transfer from Iowa, will be the rugged, no-nonsense post presence. Jones will give OSU instant athleticism off the bench.

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