Breaks went the other way for Ken Bone

THE CALL WAS so preposterous that even The Sporting News felt compelled to weigh in on the New Year's Eve technical foul that wound up costing Washington State a victory in its 2009-10 conference basketball opener against Oregon. In overtime, you may recall, WSU's DeAngelo Casto scored what by all rights was the winning basket on a layup with 0.3 seconds left.

Ken Bone's first conference game as head coach of the Cougs was a thrilling, exhilarating nail biter of a win, as the photo on the left, taken moments after Casto's basket, illustrates.

Except it wasn't.

After the bucket, the Cougar bench erupted in joy and officials proceeded to whistle WSU with a technical foul for stepping onto the court. Oregon's Tajuan Porter was then escorted to the free throw line with three-tenths of one second left on the clock. He hit both shots to force a second overtime and the Ducks went on to win the game.

TSN called it "a farce of a result." message boarders used stronger words.

There have been far more egregious examples of players and fans hitting the court before the clock hits zeros, including this season. In 999 out of 1,000 games in college basketball, there is no way that technical is ever called.

But it was in this game. And in some respects that unlucky break, right at the dawn of his career at WSU, served as an omen for the rest of Ken Bone's tenure at Washington State -- a seemingly snake-bit run that could be coming to a close in about two weeks.

The guy never caught a break.

We can dissect his Xs and Os and lament recruiting decisions, but there is no denying another element that's critical to success: having that whimsical ball of fate bounce your way a few times.

Let us count the ways Lady Luck turned its back on Ken Bone:


    In his second season, 2010-11, the Cougars were believed to be one of the last teams left off of the NCAA Tournament dance card. And just how close were they to making it in? Well, in their final regular-season game they lost to UCLA in overtime while their best player, Klay Thompson, sat on the bunch as a consequence of his broken-taillight-marijuana-in-car fiasco. Five days later, in the conference tournament, Thompson scored a record 43 points but came one trey short of beating the Huskies for a third time that season and punching the Cougs' ticket to Madness. They went to the semifinals of the NIT and finished the year 22-13 (9-9).

    Thompson was one of three Cougar players in that 2010-11 season who were cited for marijuana possession by Pullman Police. Thompson of course was suspended for the crucial UCLA game. Moore also missed a game. Casto was in line to miss a game due to suspension until the strange circumstances around his situation came into full view. Suspensions aside, the impact of these three incidents on the program were profound because it forced Bone to narrow the pool of players he would recruit. The program couldn't afford more hits to its public persona. That meant skilled prospects the Cougars might have been willing to take a chance with were no longer considered because of off-court question marks. In short, while the offenses committed by Thompson, Moore and Casto were minor -- and rightfully raised questions about the Pullman Police -- they wound up having a major impact on the program.

    In Bone's third season, 2011-12, Thompson was in the NBA but Faisal Aden was starting to look like the standout scorer he was expected to be when he arrived at WSU a year earlier from Hillsborough Community College. After leading the Cougars to consecutive wins over Cal and Stanford with a collective 57 points – an outpouring that earned him Pac-12 and national player of the week honors – he went down for the season with an ACL injury at Arizona. The Cougs went to the CBI championship and finished the season at 19-18 (7-11) but the loss of Aden was a major blow that cost the team dearly.

    Entering the 2012-13 season, Reggie Moore was the reigning Pac-12 assists king and a senior – two coveted commodities in a league in which Washington State historically hasn't matched up athletically with its brethren. With Brock Motum scoring and Moore dishing, the Cougs appeared to have the cornerstones of an intriguing ball club. Moore's experience and skills would no doubt make players like Mike Ladd, D.J. Shelton, Royce Woolridge and DaVonte Lacy that much more effective because he would be getting them the ball in places where they could do something with it. But in September, less than a month before practices were to begin, he was kicked off the team for the proverbial "violation of team rules." His absence was devastating. The Cougars played close game after game but couldn't finish and ended the year 13-19 (4-14).

    Naysayers will of course say that a better coach would have had a suitable backup for Moore, and that Moore should have been dumped three years earlier for Xavier Thames. They'll say Bone should have had another scoring guard besides Aden, and a better handle on the off-court habits of Thompson and the others. Perhaps so.

    The final analysis on Bone's time at WSU will likely rest on a ho-hum won-loss record -- a little under .500 -- and three finishes (including this season) at 10th or worse in the conference. But for a taillight, some weed, a knee and a point guard's bad judgment, this woeful 2013-14 season could have been considered a "rebuild" following one NCAA Tourney bid and two straight NIT appearances. Instead, it's the capstone on five years in which good ol' fashioned luck was in short supply.

    Is that to say the absence of luck is purely why Ken Bone is on his way out?

    Not at all. The failure to embrace the Bennett-style defense when he arrived at WSU was a mistake -- I believed that five years ago and I believe that today. And I think a guy like Ray Lopes should have been on staff from Day One for recruiting purposes.

    But the bad breaks do illustrate in crystal clear high defintion, for me at least, the fine line between making it and not making it in basketball at a school that hasn't won a conference title since FDR was in the White House and hasn't come close since George Raveling left.

    You can win in hoops at WSU but the margins, for both error and bad luck, are mighty thin. Just ask Ken Bone.


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