The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The Kyle Smith ‘experience’

Men’s coach named to Naismith Coach of the Year Late Season Watch
WSU men’s basketball head coach Kyle Smith argues with an official during an NCAA men’s basketball game against Utah, Dec. 4.

Kyle Smith is in his fifth season as head coach of the WSU men’s basketball team. The program did not have a winning record in the seven seasons before his hire. They had not made the NCAA Tournament since 2008 and had not been ranked in the AP Poll since that same season. 

Smith has changed that. In his first season, the Cougs went 16-16, and every year since, they have been, at minimum, a .500 team. In the current 2024 season, the Cougs are above 20 wins and are ranked No. 19 in the AP poll. Through nearly five full seasons with Wazzu, Smith has a record of 90-68, already the sixth-most wins by a coach in program history. 

With his personality, coaching style and ability to adapt, he has won over the love and admiration of WSU fans, many of whom took to social media to show their support for their coach’s hopeful extension to stay on the Palouse. 

“Hey WSU. Better throw a bunch of money at Kyle Smith now,” Brandon Evenson posted on X

WSU’s season mantra is “Wheatfield Underdogs.” It’s what brings the team together, connects the players and provides a chip on the shoulder of the players. 

Even now, when the team has gotten national recognition, Smith said he knows the chip is still on their shoulder, but it’s different now.  

“Been the underdog all my life,” Smith said. 

You can point to the four top scorers from the 2022–23 season departing the program and assume the Cougs may have faltered this season. However, Smith has found players overlooked by other power conference coaches. 

He found Jaylen Wells out of Division II. Myles Rice came back and he beat cancer. Isaac Jones crossed state borders to transfer over from Idaho. Rueben Chinyelu did not start playing basketball until very recently. He’s now one of the best shot-blockers in the nation and is still growing his basketball knowledge. 

It has not been the most traditional five-year coaching tenure. Smith built the tallest starting lineup this season in college basketball, according to College Basketball Report. He’s made a career of finding gems like Wells, Rice, and Chinyelu and molding them into his system. 

Even in 2021, Sports Illustrated wrote a story about Smith’s “Moneyball” approach that he found success with at Saint Mary’s, Columbia and San Francisco before taking the WSU job. Their headline pondered whether that approach can work in college hoops. 

So far, the answer seems to be yes, but on the cusp of an NCAA Tournament birth, he has pressure to prove his system can work on the biggest stage.

“Obviously, there’s pressure — pressure is a privilege,” Smith said.

WSU had beaten Arizona at home early in the Pac-12 schedule. Then, they had to go to Tucson to play the Wildcats on their home court, a place they had started the season 13-0. 

The underdogs won 77-74 after clutch late plays by their stars, including a four-point play by Wells to give the Cougs the lead with under 30 seconds remaining. 

In the chaos of the celebration, Smith had his shirt off and danced in the locker room, that visual hitting social media and once again having WSU fans calling for his extension and one new thing: his candidacy for National Coach of the Year. 

They may very well be getting that wish. The Atlanta Tipoff Club announced Friday that Smith is one of 15 coaches on the 2024 Werner Ladder Naismith Men’s College Coach of the Year Late Season Watch List. 

Tony Bennett had won the 2007 Naismith Coach of the Year. That’s the last time a WSU men’s basketball coach appeared on the late-season watch list. If he can replicate the NCAA Tournament berth Bennett’s team had, he may be a lock to also follow in his footsteps as the nationally recognized best coach in college basketball.  

Moneyball, maximizing talent and loving Costco hot dogs. The Kyle Smith “experience” is in full effect.

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About the Contributors
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.
COLE QUINN, Evergreen Sports Photographer
Cole Quinn is a photographer and columnist for the Daily Evergreen. Cole primarily shoots sports for the Daily Evergreen and writes album reviews in his spare time. Cole is a junior broadcast production major and sports communication minor from Snoqualmie, Washington. Cole started working for the Evergreen in the fall of 2020 as a photographer. Cole was the Photo Editor during his sophomore year and Deputy Photo Editor for the fall 2022 semester.