Building from the ground up

New head coach of the men’s basketball team speaks about the season ahead



Head basketball coach Kyle Smith discusses his journey as a basketball coach and the upcoming season on Oct. 30 at the Bohler Gymnasium.

RYAN ROOT, Evergreen reporter

Kyle Smith started as the new head coach for the WSU men’s basketball team this season. Following an 11-21, 4-14 record last season, Smith said he looks to revitalize the Cougar basketball program with a passion for development.

Smith was the head coach for the University of San Francisco for the last four years and the head coach for Columbia University before that. He said coaching for WSU this year was the smart move for his family and a challenge that he could not resist. As Smith’s wife is from Washington, he said the offer was too good to pass up.

“The profession is a challenge, to be able to compete,” Smith said. “Personally for my family, it’s just a better opportunity.”

Following Smith to WSU is his assistant coach from San Francisco, Derrick Phelps. Phelps was a point guard for the North Carolina Tar Heels from 1990 to 1994. He won an NCAA national title with the Tar Heels in the 1992-93 season.

Phelps has been Smith’s assistant coach since 2014 at Columbia University. Smith said he believes his chemistry with Phelps and Phelps’ time at North Carolina will greatly impact WSU basketball in the future.

“He walks in a room, he’s got a good presence,” Smith said. “If I’m a player, I’m going to want to pick his brain, find out what it takes and what it was like.”

Several NBA coaches whom Smith has worked with including the New York Knicks’ David Fizdale and coaches of the Golden State Warriors Mike Brown and Steve Kerr praised him for his his passion and said he thinks Smith will be successful.

Smith said he appreciated the kind words from these coaches, but he aims to keep on track with the upcoming season.

“I think they were just excited for me getting this opportunity,” Smith said, “It’s awesome that they care enough to comment.”

Smith said the primary goal for the team this year is to lay down the foundational roots to build off for years to come. Defense, rebounding, and ball handling are on the team’s list of elements to develop so they can become more “team-centric” this year, Smith said.

Senior guard Jervae Robinson and junior guard Marvin Cannon said they both notice the team has begun to embrace this change in the game plan.

“Last year was really offense-focused, and now it’s a lot of defense,” Robinson said. “The data we take every day, it translates and that’s what we go off of.”

“Defense, rebounds, toughness, and taking care of the ball is what coach and [the staff] have been preaching,” Cannon said. “We’ve just been following through with it and it has been going well so far.”

Phelps said WSU this season is noticeably taller and longer in each position, especially in the center and power forward positions. He believes height is an important attribute for a great defensive team.

“I think at this level you need to be big,” Phelps said. “You’re going to go against teams in the Pac-12 that is going to have size as well.”

Smith said that WSU fans this year should expect a hard-working team this season that is looking to improve every game, especially on the defensive side of the court.

“We’re going to put out a good product on the floor,” Phelps said. “I think you’ll see a big difference on the defensive end. 100 percent.”