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10 WSU hoops questions for Matt Chazanow

WITH ONLY a single Pac-12 win so far in Ernie Kent’s second season, some Cougar hoops fans are becoming increasingly restless. Matt Chazanow, the voice of the Cougars, has had a front row seat all season long to the Washington State men's basketball team. So who better to ask than for clarity as the Cougs enter the final five regular season games and Pac-12 tournament.

As Chazanow winds down his first season calling Washington State hoops, he remains bullish on both the Cougs and Ernie Kent.

1. CF.C:  With an 11-game losing streak coupled with blowout losses, some Cougar fans are saying Ernie Kent has lost this team. You wholeheartedly disagree. What things do you see that point the other way?

Chazanow: I have seen teams that coaches have lost, and even covered them. This is not one of those teams. They are bringing genuine energy and (focus) to practice and shoot arounds -- I have been there personally to see it.

Teams that quit are lethargic, generally selfish and don't do what the coach says. That's not happening with these guys. Don MacLean of the Pac-12 Networks said the same thing to Ernie (before Thursday's heartbreaker at Colorado). MacLean was impressed and surprised by the level of energy and enthusiasm for a last place team.

The majority of the team is coming back next year. They want to finish strong and get another crack at the league. The players on this team are of the highest character and intellectual curiosity of any I have ever covered. WSU fans should know that, and be proud of it. I appreciate that wins and losses are the bottom line, but in college athletics there should be recognition that they aren't pros and they represent the university.

Brett Boese and Junior Longrus came on the coach show last night and discussed their business degree studies in big data analytics and how they can apply it to future entrepreneurial endeavors. These are smart kids with pride. Ernie has said on air that his teams don't quit. I believe him.

2. CF.C: Are you the superstitious sort? Would you consider leaving the sweater vest at home if you thought it would help WSU break its losing streak?

Chazanow: HAH! I'm not, and I'm glad you asked. I'm a huge sweater vest advocate. The range of motion my extremities retain coupled with the heat my body core preserves indubitably increases energy levels and thus positive vibes and in all likelihood, blood flow and circulation. This raises broadcast quality through the unencumbered synaptic processes and influences dopamine flow. I bet the vest is good for at least one made FG per game and quality word choice on-air. (I wore that puppy through football too. I'll bet Gesser, Bob, heck Jessamyn too, even Deis would go for a "Sweater Vest Broadcast Day").

3. CF.C:  In a nutshell, what's gone wrong for Washington State (9-16, 1-12) this year?

Chazanow: The best individual performances from different Cougs have not occurred simultaneously. Three games (UW and both Colorado games) got away, and what could have been a fight the rest of the way for a .500 record and a postseason tourney looks a lot worse than it is.

4. CF.C:  WSU came out of the non-conference schedule at 8-4. What was going through your mind at that point, did you think this season might exceed expectations?

Chazanow: In the best leagues across the country everything steps up a level come conference play, not only because the teams are better but because everybody is familiar with each other. The scouting of the opposition is more thorough because of that familiarity. Expectations were set at a last place finish according to the preseason votes -- and yes, I thought expectations might be exceeded. But it turned out the league is as deep as it has ever been.

5. CF.C:  How would you assess the officiating this season: good, average, in need of improvement?

Chazanow: Good. Refs are only noticed when they do a poor job, and I have gone long stretches without even considering them. They had preseason aspirations to open up the floor. Counterintuitively, they want to do this by calling more hand-checking and bumping of cutters so that teams learned to stop doing it. I would have to check the stats nationwide but in the Cougar games by the eye test it seems to be working - at least it isn't terribly backfiring.

6. CF.C:  Based on the record it's hard to see where the improvement has come from. Which players do you think have the best chance to show significant improvement next year and why?

Chazanow: Robert Franks is one. His game requires confidence. He is one of the best shooters on the team and can make it look easy. He made Arizona defend him in Tucson (and played well in Tempe too). I think Ike Iroegbu and Josh Hawkinson will come back next year with a lot to prove. They don't just want numbers, they want wins.

7. CF.C:  What's Ernie Kent like to work with? What has surprised you about him this season that you didn't know going in? Is he the most articulate and loquacious coach you've ever worked with?

Chazanow: Ernie is fantastic!  I'm not sure it surprised me, but he has an amazing ability to be honest on the record in a difficult situation (after a tough loss for instance) without beating his guys down. He builds his guys up and it's refreshing. Ernie does not want me to ask him softballs, he would prefer to get right to it. He probably is the most articulate and could be the most loquacious too. Mike Leach might win for loquacious if you get him going. Dave Odom, the former Wake Forest head coach, can really talk. I love that guy. We had a blast doing games together the past couple years.

8. CF.C:  Compare and contrast doing radio shows with Ernie Kent and Mike Leach.

Chazanow: My preparation is the same for any show I do. I have things I know we need to cover, but I want it all to be a conversation. Both guys are so easy to talk to sometimes I can get lost in the discussion with them and I think listeners can too, and I mean that in a good way. Leach is more likely to take a hard left and veer into something wildly tangential, but that's certainly not surprising to hear. I just try and determine if it is something that is informative or productively entertaining.

9. CF.C:  WSU has Hawkinson and Valentine Izundu at 6-10, plus 7-footer Conor Clifford yet rank in the lower half of the conference in all rebounding categories. Injuries have played a role but WSU has still struggled there when all three have been available. How do you explain that?

Chazanow: Every team has size, some more than others, but in a league this deep simply having three guys like that doesn't necessarily equal top Pac-12 rebounding numbers. A lot of rebounding has to do with perimeter box outs. I'm not blaming the numbers on the guards, I'm just not sure it's completely fair to pin it on the league's leading rebounder (Josh), and those two, only one of whom will be on the court at any given time.

10. CF.C:  You're close to the action during timeouts, give us a flavor of Ernie Kent's demeanor and some of the things he talks to the team about during the game breaks.

Chazanow: He is refreshingly honest, but in the spirit of building his guys up and not beating them down until they do what he says. Tons and tons of positive energy, but he certainly doesn't gloss over errors a guy makes. He gets at the issues right away to try and use them to improve.


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