Ernie Kent already eyeing next season

LAS VEGAS — After saluting his three “strong character” seniors following Washington State’s opening-round loss to California in the Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday, Ernie Kent looked to the future.

The leadership void left by the departures of DaVonte Lacy, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Jordan Railey will be filled next season by two juniors and a senior, he said.

Juniors-to-be Ike Iroegbu and Josh Hawkinson and senior-to-be Junior Longrus will assume the mantle in 2015-16, Kent told reporters after Cal ended the Cougars’ 2014-15 campaign with an 84-59 drubbing.

“They’re your hardest workers, they’re going to be the guys that we call on to lead us next year,” Kent said. “I think we’ve got great, great leadership coming down the road.

“To see these two guys (Hawkinson and Iroegbu) next to me, how much they’ve developed this year,” Kent said. “Ike did a fabulous job for us, the game he had the last game of the season was just an incredible game.

“For Josh to lead this conference in rebounding, have the second-biggest turnaround in college basketball in terms of most improved, I can’t tell you how happy I am and proud I am of those two (players).”

Iroegbu (pictured above) got off to a rough start Thursday with some errant passing and was replaced by Ny Redding. After a little bench-side advice from the head man, Iroegbu returned to the game and drilled three straight buckets — two just before the shot clock expired — and finished the night with 17 points on 6 of 10 shooting from the field.

Kent wasn’t the only one praising WSU’s seniors.

“I feel we learned a lot from our three seniors, Jordan, Dexter, and DaVonté,” Iroegbu said.

“They did a great job of teaching us how to act on and off the court,” he added. “And Coach Kent instilled confidence in us that we haven't seen before.”

Hawkinson said “we didn't want it to end this way for our seniors, Dex, DaVonté, and Jordan. But I think we have a strong core of guys coming back to make a strong run next year.”

The Cougars, who end the season at 13-18 overall, return nine scholarship players from the active roster plus redshirting 6-10 Houston transfer Valentine Izundu. Joining the team will be JC transfers Renard Suggs (6-3, 200) and Derrien King (6-7, 175) and Vancouver, Wash., prepster Robert Franks (6-7, 175).

Hawkinson turned in his 20th double-double of the season against the Bears. But he struggled badly on defense — and he knew it .

“I definitely feel like I need to improve defensively out on the perimeter, guarding quick players that I have to switch out on,” Hawkinson said. “Also getting stronger and getting better position on the posts fronting. Not letting them get the ball. I felt (Cal’s David) Kravish exposed our big guys especially tonight, and continue to get quicker and improve my shot, extend it out to the 3-point range as well.”

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