Ernie Kent, hard work & feeling home at WSU

PULLMAN — Mike Boone’s family roots in Pullman go back so far that the university on the hill was still 11 years away from its founding when great grandpa decided to make a home here.

Mike grew up in Pullman, graduated from Washington State in 1974, and today – 135 years after the family first arrived – he presides over 3,500 acres of land that help make Whitman the top wheat-producing county in the United States.

The work is serious. Mother Nature’s clock can’t be trifled with. Get the job done, or else.

During harvest season, Mike and his son Brady, and their crew, keep two combines working about 14 hours a day.

Late this summer, they let a 59-year-old rookie driver named Ernie Kent get behind the wheels of both of their Case Internationals.

The experience was eye opening for the first-year Washington State basketball coach.

The Boones, Kent said in a recent interview with Cougfan.com, are living out the value of hard work. They are testament, he enthused, to the old notion of an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

“They are a great example of what we need to be teaching kids today,” he added.

WHEN KENT WAS INTRODUCED AS WSU'S new coach on March 31, he talked about the life lessons of hard work he learned from his parents. He calls that day-in, day-out commitment “the grind.”

Pullman isn’t anything like Rockford, Ill., where Kent grew up. Or the Bay Area, where he was an assistant at Stanford before becoming head man at St Mary’s. Or Eugene, where he took two of his teams to the Elite Eight.

But embracing “the grind” isn’t contingent on where you’re located. Every walk of life has its version of “the grind” and the grinders.

That's why the Boones and their life's work resonated so strongly with Kent.

“I’ve talked about this community, this university, the student body embracing the process of us building this basketball program (and being) there with us every step of the way,” Kent said.


COACH KENT TAKES THE WHEEL.

When the Cougars reach the championship level, everyone will know what it took to get there, he adds.

And that’s what brought him to the Boone farm. “I thought it was very important for me to learn more about this community, so I wanted to embrace this community and find out more about Pullman.”

It would be easy at WSU to stay within the tree-lined streets and brick buildings and get consumed by the energy of the campus. To understand a community, though, means getting outside those invisible walls, says Kent.

At a luncheon gathering one day, he mentioned his intent to explore beyond the campus. Boone was in the audience and approached him afterward.

That’s how Kent became a stand-in combine driver.

And these aren’t your grandfather's combines, either. These are high-tech, state-of-the-art machines.

“I went out there with the notion of wanting to drive one,” Kent said. “There’s no way I could drive one and operate the computer and joy stick at the same time as the way they did.”

The second combine, operated by Brady Boone, was particularly demanding.

“It was amazing to me how active they have to be with their eyes and both hands and both feet while they ride these -- and what amazing machines they were.”

Mike Boone said he thinks Kent enjoyed the experience. He noted that Kent compared his basketball program to farming.

“What he (Kent) was mentioning a lot was ... starting kind of on the ground floor and planting a good seed and working with the kids that he’s trying to bring in to be good community members, good students and good basketball players, and maybe in that order,” Boone said. “He said that’s how he wants to get his program going.”

Kent said his time with the Boones gave him perspective on the fabric that binds the community.

“You really had a sense for that, just looking at this family, how they carried themselves to let a stranger come in and spend that time with them and get in those machines,” Kent said. “You find out very quickly in a short period of time that this was a very unique, close-knit family.”

Kent said the Boones’ passion for their work was clear, and the way they carried themselves – poised, thoughtful, diligent, articulate – smoke volumes about their honesty and integrity.

BEFORE TAKING THE HEAD JOB AT WSU, Kent said, he didn’t realize how special a place Pullman truly was. Though he visited the Palouse many times over the years as a player, coach and television commentator, his focus then was always limited to the basketball court.

Knocking on doors to introduce himself, and meeting people for coffee at Safeway, Starbucks and the Daily Grind has painted a vibrant picture for him. “It gives you an idea of the soul and character of a community that I never knew existed here.”

That has made his return to coaching the perfect intersection of opportunity and place.

He’s energized, loves the administration, and is impressed by his players. “There are such good people here and these guys (players) have done everything we’ve asked them to do. You really feel a sense of wanting to work as hard as you possibly can to bring them a championship.”

He’s only been in Pullman five months, but Kent says he has never felt more at home in his entire career.

"I mentioned at an event in Seattle with Bill Moos and President Floyd that I grew up in the inner-city, traveled to Oregon, then Saudi Arabia, Fort Collins and Colorado State, the Bay Area with Stanford and St. Mary's, back to Oregon.

"And now, at age 59, it's amazing to me that in all my travels I've finally found peace in life in Pullman. Jack Thompson, the Throwin' Samoan, came up to me afterwards and said he felt goose bumps because he feels the same way about WSU and Pullman."

NOTABLE:
The men’s basketball team will hold its first-ever "PREseason FUNKtion" this Saturday at 9 p.m. at Bohler Gym. Doors open at 8:30. Admission is free and the event is open to the public. It will mark the public kick off the hoops season with a scrimmage, and also feature a dance party with music provided by DJ Goldfinger and DJ Royal. T-shirts and noisemaker thunderstix will be given away, and prizes for the evening include a 42-inch television, an Xbox 360, a Playstation 4, Beats by Dre, an Apple iPad Mini and $500 for textbooks. The event will also feature a half-court shot worth $10,000.

ERNIE KENT ON BOARD ONE OF THE BOONE FAMILY'S CASE INTERNATIONAL COMBINES.


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