Critical off season for Cougar hoops and Ernie Kent begins

WITH THE FINAL loss now in the books following yesterday's face plant against Colorado, Washington State basketball coach Ernie Kent will begin what he has characterized as “a critical, critical offseason” for his program. A 9-22 record with the second-longest losing streak -- 17 games -- in school history actually might require a more pressing adjective.

Like urgent or acute.

Kent will have one big thing going for him next season: A senior-dominated team that includes double-double king Josh Hawkinson, who said yesterday he has no plans to use his final year of eligibility somewhere else; he is on path to graduate this spring.

What Kent doesn't have on his side is fan interest.

Home attendance for the Cougars' Pac-12 games this season averaged 2,982.  That's 130 fewer than the Cougs averaged in Ken Bone's final season at the helm. 

And if there's one thing athletic director Bill Moos doesn't abide, it's apathy. He cited fan disinterest as key in his decisions to release both Bone and football coach Paul Wulff before their contracts were up

Rest assured, Moos isn’t going to fire Kent. For one, Kent has a five-year contract and years of credibility built up with Moos from their time together at Oregon. For two, two seasons simply isn’t enough time to remake a program, as the lessons of George Raveling, Kelvin Sampson and the Bennetts attest -- each took four years to right the ship. And three, the simple reality is that no matter who the head coach is, WSU needs to invest in basketball -- not in a gold-plated way, but at least on par with what the Boise States and BYUs of the world have done or are doing.

But Kent is spot on when he says this offseason is critical.

Winning. of course, is the only true tonic for apathy among fans. But absent that, the offseason offers a chance to keep the embers burning with returning players hitting the weights and honing skills; with roster additions; and perhaps staff changes.

WSU is currently full up on scholarships, with Kent on Wednesday saying, "I don't have all those answers for you yet," when asked if some underclassmen might not return next season. But earlier this season he strongly intimated that there would be turnover. And two weeks ago, he extended a scholarship offer to Wilson High/Tacoma point guard Malachi Flynn

On staffing front, Moos said in his radio show recently that changes might be in the works, but Kent said after Wednesday’s loss to the Buffs that he “didn’t anticipate” any staff changes.  

Given the wreckage of this 2015-16 season and fan indifference toward the program, it’s difficult to see WSU simply standing pat in both player and staff personnel.  Not after a lone conference victory and 17-straight losses. Not after ranking No. 202 in the nation in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy. 

And not when fan apathy and attendance have again reached stage critical.

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