Men’s basketball stuck in a rut they need to climb out of

Kent’s system has had success elsewhere, but not at WSU so far



WSU redshirt freshman guard Milan Acquaah goes up for a layup over a Stanford defender on Jan. 11.

TYLER SHUEY, Evergreen columnist

The Ernie Kent era of Cougar basketball has gotten off to a mucky start, one that may not see drastic improvement while playing in the relatively deep and talented Pac-12.

In classic Kent fashion, he stated the Cougs are a quality basketball team that just need to finish games.

“We’ve got a good basketball team,” Kent said. “We can play with any team in this conference if we’re focused in for 40 minutes.”

The word “if” changes the whole dynamic of that statement. Of course if you do everything you’re supposed to you’ll probably win, but WSU putting together a complete game is a big question mark, especially in this conference.

Upon hiring Kent, Coug nation thought we had the coach we needed to get WSU men’s basketball back to some sort of relevance. It sure seemed at the time that this hire was miles ahead of previous head coach Ken Bone, based on credibility in the industry alone.

Kent had been to two Elite Eights at the University of Oregon and helped Saint Mary’s College turn into a consistent program.

Bill Moos, WSU’s former athletic director, thought he landed another signature hire alongside Mike Leach. Moos was the AD at Oregon before departing for WSU so the connection between Kent and Moos was inevitable.

Kent was notoriously known for his fast-paced, up and down offensive tempo during his stints at UO and Saint Mary’s. This style was effective because he had the type of guards that he wanted to play with. He was also more accessible to higher-rated recruits because of his geographic locations and the prominence and resources provided by UO and Saint Mary’s.

To think that Kent would be able to come into Pullman and do the same thing seamlessly is plain ignorant. Yes, it would be ideal if this worked, but it doesn’t produce a winning formula. In its current state, you have to be honest with yourself and realize that WSU is not a basketball school.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be.

Look at what former head coach Tony Bennett, who is now the head coach at University of Virginia, was able to accomplish while coaching here. He had the privilege of learning under his dad, Dick Bennett, who coached the Cougars from 2003 to 2006 before he himself took the job. There he learned the defensive principles that would ultimately bring him to stardom, even more so than his dad.

At WSU, the younger Bennett was smart and calculated about how he would bring success and buzz to WSU basketball. He knew he had to be a little different compared to the rest of the Pac-12 schools, because the talent wasn’t as good. He knew he had to instill a type of defensive system and disciplinary coaching attitude that would reap the benefits of good team basketball. WSU couldn’t beat the other teams playing like it do, so it had to come together and beat its opponents based on team defense and executing offense.

During Bennet’s tenure, WSU became a national powerhouse for a brief few years as he took the team to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances in 2007 and 2008. He even got WSU to crack the Top 10, a feat that is unheard of when it comes to Cougar basketball.

Bennett was also credited for recruiting Klay Thompson to WSU, whom he coached for one season in 2009 before bolting to Virginia for a better opportunity and ultimately more money.

Kent’s style of play cannot succeed in this conference because too many other teams do the same thing, but do it better as they have more talented athletes. Knowing that this is the only type of system that Kent likes to run, it’s hard to see a very bright future in the years ahead unless our recruiting is stepped up dramatically. It’s hard to get outstanding basketball talent to Pullman, but it can be done with the right system instilled.

I am not trying to completely bash our hopes and dreams of a quality basketball program here. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching our current team run up and down the floor putting up three-pointers, I would just enjoy seeing us win the game a little bit more.

Some might say sports aren’t everything and some things you just have to be content with, but that doesn’t mean WSU should stop striving for bigger and better solutions. We’ve seen success here before, which proves it’s not impossible.

Honesty and clarity about our stance as a basketball program is the only way to get to the light at the end of the tunnel — a light that is incredibly dim at this point.