Kent already lands first big 'recruit'

PULLMAN – Ernie Kent is being paid a school-record $1.4 million a year to coach basketball at Washington State, and the veteran coach may have already earned his first year's salary by convincing the Cougars' best player to return for his senior year.

DaVonte Lacy, who easily led the Cougars with 19.4 points per game this season, revealed at Kent's introductory press conference Wednesday that he would have considered transferring or turning pro if he did not approve of Ken Bone's replacement as coach.

Lacy's take on Kent?

"He's a good dude … it's going to be fun," Lacy said after joining most of his teammates at the afternoon press conference at Beasley Coliseum.

Royce Woolridge, another senior-to-be, said he shares Lacy's opinion on the new coach and the new start for Cougars basketball.

"I'm excited," a beaming Woolridge said. "I can't stop smiling."

Woolridge seems to have plenty of company in that regard. Judging from the response of some 150 observers at the press conference at Beasley, and another 500 or so students who gathered in Bohler Gym afterwards (complete with cheerleaders and a small band), plenty of folks are excited about WSU basketball for the first time in a long time.

Count Kent among that group.

"This will be an exciting basketball team," Kent promised. "There will be crowds. It's going to be exciting and interesting."

The Cougars were rarely exciting or interesting the past two years in particular, when they went 7-29 in the Pac-12. Athletic director Bill Moos, who hired Kent once before as AD at Oregon, said Kent was always "pretty high" on his "infamous short list" of potential replacements for Bone.

Moos stressed the need to hire a head coach who is a great recruiter. That was a perceived weakness of Bone and his staff, and it took little time for Kent – a dynamic public speaker -- to show WSU fans that he is far more gregarious than the soft-spoken Bone.

"I'm one of those men who feels comfortable in their own skin," Kent said.

"He has emotion," Moos said. "He has excitement. On the sideline, he's animated. He reminds me of George Raveling."

Raveling was one of the most colorful and successful coaches and recruiters in WSU basketball history. Moos stressed the need for WSU's new coach to be a great recruiter, and Kent recruited four first-round NBA draft picks during his 13 years at Oregon.

"I can go anywhere in the country – or the world, if need be – to recruit," Kent said.

Moos is counting on it, because the Cougars finished 11th in the Pac-12 this season and a distant 12th in attendance with an abysmal average of 2,800. Mind you, that's the official number, not the real number of fannies in seats.

"You've got to get energy into the program to get people back in the seats," Moos said.

I really look forward to filling that arena again," Kent said.

Kent, who is 59 years old but has the energy of a man half that age – "I'm a workaholic" -- promised to bring his beloved up-tempo offense and solid defensive play to Pullman. Kent described Bone as "a heck of a basketball coach," but he said, "I think you'll see a team that will play with more discipline and confidence."

Kent said he was impressed with how hard the Cougars played this season despite the constant losing – "That takes tremendous character" – but he believes that some players suffered from a lack of confidence. He made no predictions about win totals or post-season glory, but this is a man who often enjoyed tremendous success at Oregon (five NCAA tournaments, including two Elite Eights), and he doesn't seem like the patient sort when it comes to winning.

"He talked about this not being a rebuilding year, because we've got the talent," Lacy said.

"Everything is in place for this program to have tremendous success," Kent said.

Kent met with players for the first time Wednesday afternoon, and a light practice was scheduled that night. He's spoken with WSU's two signed recruits – all-state point guard Tramaine Isabell and junior college forward Jermaine Morgan – both of whom have stopped short of saying they still want to come to Pullman or will try to get out of their national letters of intent.

Moos said Kent's five-year rollover contract includes "lots of incentives." Included are such items as NCAA or NIT appearances, academic excellence (Kent's graduation rate at Oregon was impressive), Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards (he's already won once) and a sliding scale for finishing anywhere from first to sixth in the conference.

Kent said two of Bone's three full-time assistant coaches, Curtis Allen and Ray Lopes, are among the assistant coach candidates he plans to interview at the Final Four. Veteran coach Rod Jensen is out after one year as a WSU assistant, since Kent has already hired two of his former assistants – offensive guru Greg Graham from Bradley and defensive expert Silvey Dominguez from Air Force.

Kent played and coached with Graham at Oregon, and Kent has continued to live in Eugene while working as a college basketball broadcaster since being fired by the Ducks four years ago. Asked if WSU supporters should be worried about his allegiance to Oregon, Kent just smiled and said, "The Cougar eats a Duck. That's me."

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