AFTER A ONE-YEAR ABSENCE, the Cougar Hardwood Classic returns to Key Arena in Seattle this season.…
WSU HOOPS: One-on-one with Ernie Kent
"My hopes are late into the summer and this typically happens, somebody will emerge needing a home, someone will emerge wanting to play in the Pac-12, somebody will emerge wanting to be a Coug," Kent said. "That's the most important thing right there, they want to be here. Out of the players that have committed to us, I feel like they wanted to be here, they wanted to be a Coug, they wanted to be in Pullman, they wanted to be at Washington State."
Kent's intent for using the last scholarship is to find a player who has size and can help the Cougars down low in the post. However Kent said there's not a lot of big men left in the 2014 recruiting class, which may be the reason why he holds onto the last scholarship and continues his quest for a big man in the 2015 recruiting class instead.
Where are Kent and his staff recruiting to find their big man along with other future recruits? Kent stated he doesn't have any specific geographic areas and feels he and his staff can recruit anywhere.
"It's more about where your contacts and your connections are at," Kent said. "We have contacts and connections all over the United States, and outside the United States as well too. We've already reached out the contacts that we've signed and had success with their players in the past and there still there, they understand, we have a track record, we have a blueprint for graduating our students athletes.
"We have a blue print for the transition game and how we play, we have a blue print for winning, a blue print for being successful with players at programs and we've gone back to those programs that are having players coming up through the ranks."
However Kent did stress how important it is to recruit in the state of Washington. In the last five years the highest rated high school player to come out of the state of Washington and play for the Cougars is Patrick Simon from Ephrata, Washington. Simon was rated as the No.44 small forward in the 2010 recruiting class, according to scout.com.
"That's the number one thing on our list to do (recruit in the state of Washington)," Kent said. "It's just as important that anybody you recruit wants to be here in Pullman, wants to be at WSU and wants to be a Coug. If I cannot find that in the state of Washington then we need to look outside to build a championship program. But make no doubt about it, we're going to build a championship program and I'm hoping it's full of in-state recruits."
Besides building a championship program through recruiting, Kent believes he can also be successful with the current facilities at WSU.
"They have everything in place, they have practice courts like everybody else in the conference, they have an arena that when the students come and get in there, it's as loud and intimidating as any arena in the conference," Kent said. "That's what people have to understand, the arena sits there, the ingredient is the students that they need to be there, if they're there it's a very, very difficult home court advantage for other teams to be able to handle."
When asked about any improvements he would want to make to the facilities, Kent emphasized that his focus right now is to put a "product" on the floor that is exciting, that's successful, and successful in the classroom and when all that is accomplished along with a supporting fan base, and then the environment can grow.
How will the Cougars look in Kent's up-tempo system in 2014? Kent said he intends to play five guards on the floor at times during a game.
"My teams have played that way in the past," Kent said. "I'm more about not so much about size or position as it is who can get the job done and those players that eventually will emerge with the confidence, the understanding, the grip, the toughness to get the job done, those are the players then that will have the opportunity to get the starts, get the minutes and get into the rotation.
"And this is a team and a system that usually plays a deep rotation. You're probably looking at nine or 10 deep, so there's ample of opportunity for players to play -- but it comes back to confidence, comes back to grit and toughness."
An important ingredient to Kent's system is the point guard position. According to Kent the point guard in his system has to be a "throwback," a player that understands the game, time and shot situations, where the ball needs to go and when it needs to get there. The point guard needs to always put the ball on the money at the right time.
"In this system, there's a lot of players who are going to have the opportunity to play point guard because they're going to have the ball in their hands coming down in transition and they've got to be able to have what I talk about, a skill that allows them to think the game," Kent said. "Be able to pass, dribble, and shoot it, but at the same time see the basketball play and have the ability to make a basketball play."
Kent said learning his system can take longer than others, but also said it depends on the individual.
"You've got eight returning players in this program that have already been through the battles of playing Division-I basketball, they understand the weight room, they understand the conference, they understand competition," Kent said. "It should not take them long to understand how hard you need to work, because they're half, three/fours or all the way there.
"The new players are the ones (that) it'll be a shock to their system and may take them longer. My thought process on that is ‘come at your own pace as long as you come' because they need to help us, every single player on that roster needs to help us win games. Our strength is in our numbers."
One of the new players to who will get the chance to learn the system in this summer is power forward Aaron Cheatum from Monterey Park, Calif. Kent said Cheatum can shoot the three and also play inside, and he expects the 6-7, 240-pound forward to be a matchup problem for opponents.
"If they (opponents) put a smaller player on him, we can post them up, if they put a bigger player on him, we can play him out on the perimeter and he essentially becomes a guard," Kent said. "The biggest thing we'll have to do is get his body in shape that he can handle the running game, the speed game that we play at this level.
"And then the competition that we play at this level too, it takes an endurance level on you and that's going to be the biggest adjustment for him. If he makes that adjustment, he'll be a nice player for us."
Kent said he hasn't had a chance to evaluate who's at the top of his rotation because he hasn't had a chance to evaluate his team as a whole yet. But he did say WSU senior guard DaVonte Lacy is pretty well set in the starting five, and then the rest of the rotation is up for grabs.
A player who will be in a battle for a starting position is WSU redshirt senior center Jordan Railey. The 7-0, 245-pounder averaged just 3.0 points and 2.5 rebounds a game for the Cougars last season. Kent believes Railey should be a "stud" in the Pac-12 and mentioned how Railey needs take part of the workload this upcoming season for the Cougars to be successful in 2014.
"He needs to be able to hold down that spot (down low) with toughness and confidence and really battle any other back to the basket, low-post player that we come up against on our schedule," Kent said. "At times however we will be able to play small and play with a different type of lineup and that's what I'm trying to do with this team, get the flexibility to play different, look different at different times of the season depending on who we're matched up against."
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