Ernie Kent is coming up fives for first time

ERNIE KENT ISN’T just a man who likes to talk. He’s a guy who gets straight to the point. And as he prepares for his second season at the helm of Washington State’s basketball program, he says this about his frontcourt: “I have never had big guys who can be as productive as this group we have here.”

Double-double king Josh Hawkinson, JC transfer Conor Clifford, former Houston center Valentine Izundu, senior Junior Longrus and freshman Robert Franks are “collectively the best group of big guys in my coaching career,” Kent told Cougfan.com today in a 15-minute phone conversation packed with information.

“Scoring, defense, shot blocking – they can handle all of what we need.”

Clifford checks in at 7-foot, 274 pounds and will be closer to 268 by the time the season starts. Izundu is 6-foot-10 and has “muscled up” from about 215 a year ago to 243 pounds now.

Longrus, a seasoned vet who has played in 94-straight games for the Cougars, is 6-7 and 240 and can play the 5 and the 4.

With Clifford, Izundu and Longrus anchoring the 5, Kent will be able will to concentrate Hawkinson on his natural role as a 4.

“Josh is a 20-20 guy,” Kent said. He likens the junior from Shoreline to his former Oregon standout Marty Leuenen. Last season Hawkinson was the only player in the Pac-12 to average a double-double, at 14.7 points and a league-leading 10.8 rebounds per game.

The 6-foot-7 Franks, for the longest time listed in the Scout.com database at an early high school weight of 175, actually tips the scales at 247 pounds. But he’ll be closer to 240 when the season starts.

He’ll mostly play the 4, “but maybe some 5 and even 3,” Kent said.

“He has NBA range and a very soft shot for a guy with that kind of size shooting it deep,” he said.

In the limited practice time coaches have been allowed to have with players over the last month, Kent says Franks has been a “pleasant surprise.”

“This is a very productive group of big guys. I don’t want to be over-hyping, we still need to learn how to win, but you’ll see for yourself.”

Last season the Cougars finished 13-18 overall and 7-11 in Pac-12 play.

NOTABLE:

  • Kent said the team’s conditioning program has been so rigorous that even assistant coach Greg Graham has lost 30 pounds since the end of last season.

  • The off-season conditioning program has included runs up the daunting Sunnyside Hill and even one trek up 3,641-foot Kamiak Butte.

  • The locker rooms at Beasley Coliseum have been remodeled and a new floor will be installed on Friel Court next month.

  • Regular practices will begin on Oct. 2.


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