Bone’s detractors hope the meeting will be the end of the line for him in Pullman. And retread names like Dan Monson and Ray Giacoletti will be bandied about, along with folks like Ernie Kent and Leon Rice, Ben Howland and Tubby Smith.
Bone’s supporters will offer up five basic reasons why the coach should be retained. They are reasons I believe to be so persuasive that Moos absolutely, positively will not cut Bone loose this week.
1. THE COMPETITIVENESS
The Cougars this season were the hoops version of Mike Price’s 1996 and 2000 Cougar football teams. They were so close, so often, but just couldn’t close the deal. While painful, those grid seasons served as the foundation for 10-win campaigns in 1997 and 2001. Of course, basketball isn’t football and broader circumstances differ, but the commonality can’t be ignored: The Cougar basketball team was competitive this season and the players went hard to the final whistle. Yes, there should have been a legitimate point guard in place to replace Reggie Moore, but the underpinnings of it all are firm, not fraying. Paul Graham’s teams weren’t that way, and he was fired. Kevin Eastman’s last couple squads were not that way, and he was fired. George Raveling won a total of six conference games in his first three seasons at WSU but the steady upgrade in talent was obvious and he finished no worse than fourth in the conference in six of his next eight Palouse seasons.
To that end, the veteran talent the Cougars return next season is greater than what Bone inherited from Tony Bennett. In other words, the program is in better shape today than it was four years ago. That’s a fact when you look at the talent then and now. Bennett’s final WSU team, which was bounced by St. Mary’s in the first round of the NIT, was senior laden and his recruiting classes of 2006, ’07 and ’08 were (Klay Thompson withstanding) horribly deficient. The 2013-14 Cougs hold promise and a ton of experience. Royce Woolridge has a season at the point under his belt and came on strong at year’s end. Dexter Kernich-Drew has a season of experience that guarantees he won’t be intentionally committing fouls when the score is tied. DaVonte Lacy’s late knee injury is a concern, but his talent is obvious. Will DiIorio is a lunch-bucket guy who brings it every minute of every game. Junior Longrus flashed a bit of DeAngelo Casto here, some Abe Lodwick there, and a touch of Marcus Capers to suggest a promising future. D.J. Shelton’s improvement over the course of the year was downright head turning. And 6-7 Brett Boese holds some Harmeling/Lodwick-esque allure.
2. THE TALENT IN THE PIPELINE
Que Johnson and Jordan Railey will be eligible next season. Johnson brings scoring bona fides to the court and the 6-10, 264-pound Railey will give the Cougs a post presence unlike any since Aron Baynes. And then there’s the incoming recruiting class. The headliner is Ike Iroegbu, who can play either guard position and will arrive in Pullman with a body and mind-set ready for major-college ball after two seasons at powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. Josh Hawkinson, a 6-9, 230-pound post from Shoreline, may be the most underrated prepster coming into the Pac-12. His passing skills alone make him one to watch right from the get go. Tanner Lancona, a 6-8, 225-pound stretch 4 from California, may need a bit of seasoning before he contributes but his scoring ability downtown and in the paint is clear. In addition, the Cougars are in the market for a JC point guard, with Deandre Mathieu and Ricardo Maxwell among those being looked at. Their plans will be known in the signing period that starts April 17.
3. THE PLAYER DEVELOPMENT
In an era where so many great players are one-and-done, programs that can develop and retain talent can shine. A team led by third-, fourth- and fifth-year players can stand up nicely against superior raw talent. As it stands right now, the Cougars will have two scholarship seniors, five juniors and two sophomores on next year’s team. That adds up to maturity, leadership and experience. And in terms of developing talent, Bone and his staff have done excellent work, with Klay Thompson and Brock Motum serving as Exhibits A and B on the list of testimonials. Thompson averaged 12 points per game before Bone arrived in Pullman and Motum averaged a little more than 7 in his sophomore year. Both concluded their careers among the top 5 career scorers in WSU history.
4. THE INVESTMENT IN TIME
Bone has been the Cougars’ head coach for four seasons. Outside of perhaps Tony and Dick Bennett, and nine-year WSU assistant coach Ben Johnson, there’s not a person on the planet who has better insight on what it takes to build a program at WSU in this day and age than Ken Bone. That’s four years of tried and true experience in the most unique major-college hoops situation in the nation. And he’s using that experience to make the program stronger. Take, for instance, the style of ball the Cougars have played on his watch. Initially, it was a preponderance of up tempo basketball. And the reason why was pretty obvious: A plethora of young hoops talent resides in the Seattle-Tacoma area and he believed a faster tempo would help attract those kids who were turned off by Bennett Ball. It was a nice try, but cracking the cradle-to-crave onslaught of purple in the Seattle-Tacoma media marketplace, while at the same time fending off national cherry pickers, has proven daunting. So Bone is moving to a middle ground between up tempo and Bennett Ball. The guess here is that the sweet spot is a tempo far greater than Dick Bennett’s and slightly greater than Tony’s. That’s a tempo that lands talent like Johnson and Iroegbu.
5. THE INVESTMENT IN DOLLARS
As much as you’d like decision making to be based on basketball coaching, recruiting and developing, there is no getting around the fact Bone is under contract for three more seasons. That adds up to $2.55 million. A proverbial drop in the bucket for UCLA to swallow, but at WSU it is serious money even in this era of greater television revenue. And to what end? The same structural hurdles with the program (lack of charter flights for recruiting and games, and no basketball operations building), remain in place for a new coach just as they did and do for Bone. Moreover, look at some of the names fans no doubt will float. Monson, Smith and Giacoletti were fired at Minnesota and Utah with resources greater than what WSU possesses. Howland, over the last five years, couldn’t recruit or retain enough talent at UCLA --- UCLA fergawdsakes! -- to get to the NCAA tournament on a regular basis or past the first round when they did.
I’M JUST AN ARMCHAIR OBSERVER, albeit one who has watched Cougar basketball intently since the days of Edgar Jeffries and Sammy Miller. I loved Raveling and Sampson, even when they were losing. I thought Len Stevens was a nice guy and Paul Graham a jerk, with Kevin Eastman somewhere in between. I knew Tony pretty well and talked with Dick enough times to get a trusted sense of the opportunities and challenges for building sustained success in Cougar basketball. The bottom line, as many Cougar fans have said in recent years is this: “In Moos we trust.”
Whatever call he makes this week, his credibility suggests it’s going to be the right one. And the crimson faithful should fall in behind him with flags raised high. In more than 40 years of watching and dissecting Cougar hoops, though, I’ll tell you flat out that I’d be shocked if Ken Bone isn’t our coach next week. There are too many signs pointing to a program going the right direction.