COMMENTARY: Bone downright offensive?

PULLMAN -- The same Cougar fans who were saddened by the departure of Tony Bennett should be elated with the hiring of his twin brother. Tall, lanky, older Ken Bone may not look like Bennett, but he acts like him. Both have sterling reputations as people as well as coaches, but the added bonus with Bone is that his teams tend to play a far more explosive, crowd-pleasing style of offense.

"I know for me and Klay (Thompson), that's exciting for guys like us," guard Abe Lodwick said. "Klay's a great shooter, obviously, and he'll thrive in that environment."

"The style of basketball Coach Bone has will fit me even better than Coach Bennett's," forward Nikola Koprivica said.

Interestingly, it was Thompson -- the only proven, prime-time outside shooter on WSU's current roster -- who added a note of caution when addressing Bone's desire to have the Cougars adopt the up-tempo, fire-up-the-3-pointers offense he ran so successfully at Portland State.

"It's kind of a double-edged sword," Thompson said. "We've got to play within our strengths. We've got to take good shots."Thompson, who said he briefly considered transferring after Bennett bolted for Virginia last week ("I came here to play for Coach Bennett"), said he's impressed with Bennett's replacement.

"We're really happy to have Coach Bone … I can tell he's a good coach," Thompson said.

"I haven't heard one bad thing about Coach Bone," Koprivica said. "I'm really excited about him being here."

So, obviously, is Bone. He briefly choked up and got a bit teary eyed at his introductory press conference as he looked at his wife and three daughters.

Bone said he has long wanted to be a head coach in the Pac-10. More importantly to Cougar fans, he appears genuine in saying he wants to be a head coach in Pullman.

This is not a man who appears dazzled by the bright lights of the big city. Asked about his off-court interests, Bone said they basically consist of spending time with his family and "tickle fights" with his 10-year-old daughter.

Pullman has all the drawbacks of any small, isolated city. It also offers a wealth of positives for someone seeking a safe, clean, friendly environment in which to live, work and raise a family.

"A lot of jobs people look at as a steppingstone, and to me, hopefully this is the last stop," Bone said. "I'd love to stay here and finish my career here."

Check back in 10 years (five?) if that statement still rings true if one of the many schools with better basketball pedigrees than Washington State offers to double Bone's salary. Still, the words are soothing to the souls of the many fans who felt jilted when Bennett left after only three years as head coach.

Never mind that Bennett essentially served as co-coach under his father the three prior years. And that Virginia has a better basketbtradition. And pays better. And has a better arena. And has prep talent galore throughout the region. Besides, what benefited the Cougars more: Tony Bennett's three years as head coach, or Dick Bennett's three? Or Paul Graham's four? Or Kevin Eastman's five?

Still, Cougar fans are fiercely loyal to their school, and they expect the same from their coaches. Bone spent 19 years in the small college and junior college ranks before giving up the head coaching job at Seattle Pacific to make the jump to Division I as an assistant at Washington.

Now 50 years old, he no longer has gold dust in his eyes.

Recruiting to Pullman always presents challenges, but Bone has deep roots in the talent-rich Seattle area. If he can pull just one marquee player out of his hometown in, say, the next five years, that would be one more than WSU has landed since … forever? (Apologies to early 60s Cougar standouts Charlie Sells and Terry Ball, a pair of Seattleites, but that was nearly 50 years ago!)

Mind you, it takes just one or two key recruits to significantly improve a basketball program, unlike the dozen or so required in football. Bone seems certain to keep at least one of Bennett's assistants, who performed yeoman work as recruiters.

Besides, no one has to tell Bone about recruiting challenges. I mean, have you seen that walk-in closet Portland State calls a Division I basketball arena? It holds about the same number of people as grandma sits at the table for Thanksgiving, but the Vikings virtually never fill the place.

And yet, Bone won plenty at Portland State, a commuter school in downtown Portland that lacks virtually any of the appeal of WSU.

That's just one more reason why Bone is the rare coach who truly views Washington State as big time. Fortunately for Bone and the Cougars, WSU can be a marvelous place to work for a coach with small-town values and big-time goals.

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