Bone’s blueprint for success sounds similar to the one Dick and Tony Bennett developed at WSU. In 2004, the Bennetts signed forwards Robbie Cowgill and Daven Harmeling and guards Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver. That quartet helped form the nucleus of the Cougars’ NCAA Tournament teams in 2007 and ’08. Those players also struggled during their first two seasons as the Cougars finished with losing records.
Bone believes development is crucial when it comes to achieving success at WSU.
“Bring in guys and work with them year-round,” he said. “If you can get a good group of upperclassmen, that’s your best chance to compete.”
WSU (9-18 overall, 2-13 conference) does not have that this season as it enters its final road game of the season at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Washington (TV: Pac-12 Networks). The Cougars’ only seniors are former walk-on guard Will DiIorio and forward D.J. Shelton, who transferred from Citrus College in California in 2011. And among the team’s juniors, guard DaVonté Lacy was the only player who was signed out of high school. Lacy, who averages a team-best 19.3 points per game, and Shelton are two of WSU’s top players.
That lack of experience could result in a second straight last-place finish — WSU tied Oregon State for 11th place last season. And the Cougars must win two of their final three regular-season games just to match last season’s 4-14 conference record. WSU has not won a game since defeating Washington 72-67 on Feb. 1. But the Huskies (15-13, 7-8) are 5-1 in conference play at Edmundson Pavilion.
Bone expressed particular concern about defending guard C.J. Wilcox, who scored 24 points in his previous game against WSU. He said Arizona’s Aaron Gordon or Nick Johnson are his frontrunners for Pac-12 Player of the Year, but Wilcox, who averages 18.6 points per game, deserves consideration.
“I think C.J. fits in as one of the elite players based on his performance,” Bone said.
WHENEVER BONE COACHES against the Huskies, he is asked about his relationship with Romar. The two have been friends since Bone played at Seattle Pacific, while Romar competed at UW, in the early 1980s. Bone also was an assistant for Romar from 2002-05 at UW.
“I enjoyed that experience,” Bone said. “He’s a great guy. I learned a lot from him.”
From a philosophical standpoint, he and Romar are similar, but Bone said he has adjusted somewhat with different personnel at Portland State, where he coached from 2005-09, and WSU. Bone said some of his biggest lessons from Romar came through watching him deal with players.
“He played in the NBA,” Bone said. “I think it influenced him. I do believe managing people — managing egos — is just as important as Xs and Os.”
Romar has the head-to-head bragging rights. Since he was hired in 2009 at WSU, Bone is 3-8 against his colleague.
“It’s always a battle against Washington,” Bone said. “I think we’re seeing them at their best at this point.”
Bone has tinkered with his starting lineup in recent weeks. Junior center Jordan Railey and classmate Royce Woolridge, a guard, started during the Cougars’ 67-53 loss Sunday at Oregon. Bone said Railey started because the 7-footer gave WSU some height against the Ducks’ taller players. But UW is not as tall and Bone was not certain whether Railey would start again Friday.
“No position is totally secure,” he said. “Especially when you’re not winning game after game after game.”