With the change in systems from Bennett ball to Bone ball, the immediate concern is recruiting the types of athletes needed to run the Bone system. A Bennett player didn't necessarily need to be a freakish athlete, but did need to be a smart player with a dedication to defense and the system. On the other hand, Bone is looking for high energy scorers that can get up and down the floor. You'll see right away why it's a process to transition between the two.
The question that keeps coming up pertains to whether or not the staff will be able to bring these types of players to Pullman. The answer is more complicated than it seems. The first thing to consider is whether or not he needs nationally ranked players to be able to execute his system. While it does help to have a team of five star recruits, it's not realistic most places, nor is it necessary. Even if Bone is not pulling in big names, the players he brings in will fit the mold of how he wants to run the team, something we've seen so far.
In order to paint a clearer picture of who Bone recruits, and where he finds players, it's important to look at what he's done so far, both at WSU and at his other stops along the way.
The easiest thing to do is look at the recruits Bone has brought in thus far. I'm leaving out the players in Bennett's last class that were re-recruited by Bone since they don't really belong to him.
Reggie Moore: Moore was Bone's "hello world" moment as the coach at Washington State. He's athletic, played high school ball at Rainier Beach, and is the type of recruit we wouldn't have seen during the Bennett years.
How he was recruited: Moore took an interesting path to WSU. He played at Rainier Beach, signing with Fresno State, before heading off to Brewster Academy for a year of prep schooling. We all know the story of his recruitment by now. He came to play for Coach Bone, with Nate Robinson and Tre Simmons nudging him towards WSU.
Steven Bjornstad: Bjornstad is still a project center. He came to WSU undersized but with a decently high ceiling. It was also the first taste of what Bone was looking for in a big man.
How he was recruited: Bjornstad was almost literally in Bone's backyard in his high school days. He attended Columbia River high school in Vancouver, along with, I believe, one of Bone's daughters. The twist is that he was signed with Nevada before asking for a release due to a coaching change. Once he was finally released, Bjornstad reopened his recruitment and chose WSU in the summer.
Faisel Aden: A JC all-american that had some eye popping numbers. JC recruits have been far from the norm in Pullman, with Bennett preferring to build his program strictly around freshman. Ivory Clark was the last JC transfer at WSU.
Andre Winston: A quick, athletic combo guard from Lakes HS in Lakewood. He was named the 3A co-player of the year and also set a state tournament record for scoring this year.
How he was recruited: Another under the radar kid that was recruited after being signed with another school. Winston made up his mind before his senior year and signed a Letter of Intent with James Madison in the Fall. After being named the state 3A co-player of the year, he somehow managed to break his LOI and reopen his recruiting.
Patrick Simon: Patrick Simon committed to Tony Bennett when he was 14 years old. I'm adding him in here due to the age he committed and what it says about college recruiting. Simon was also the youngest commitment in WSU history. I do think that Simon will be a better fit in Bone's system than in Bennett's, as well.
How he was recruited: I don't know if he was really committed to the player or to the school. From reading about him and hearing from people I know that are around him, he was a WSU kid all the way. When Bennett left, Simon briefly reopened his recruitment, only to reaffirm his commitment to WSU a short time later.
The biggest change you'll notice here is that 3 of these 4 players come from the Northwest. The days of WSU recruiting all of the world, but not in their own backyard, are coming to an end. The emphasis with Bone and his staff is to recruit the Seattle area and compete for the top talent there. The Northwest as a whole is currently a hotbed for talent and the staff wants to maximize their presence there.
The thing to understand about PSU is that it is incredibly difficult to recruit to. Yes, it's in Portland but it isn't a typical school in a big city like, for instance, UW. The enrollment numbers at the school are similar to WSU, but the structure of the school is completely different. PSU is a commuter school in every sense of the word. It is also very difficult to recruit athletes to, magnified by the fact that it is a Big Sky school.
Looking at the current basketball roster, the thing that stands out is the amount of transfers. 12 of the 15 players on the roster came from either Junior Colleges or from other Universities, including Michael Harthun. In Bone's final year at PSU, 8 of 13 players were transfers, including their best 3. All of this tells me that Bone had to get creative when recruiting as the head coach there. This is where some of the feelings about him finding talent off the beaten path come from. However, just because it was a necessity at PSU doesn't mean it will be the norm at WSU.
It's important to mention PSU due to the unique circumstances that come up when recruiting to the school. Bone was able to take a commuter school in a small conference to the NCAA tournament two years in a row. In his last year there, he took his team to the Kennel in Spokane and beat Gonzaga. The team wasn't full of top-notch talent, but was able to compete with some bigger name schools.
It's hard to say how much affect he had on recruiting at UW. Being an assistant, it's tough to dole out credit for recruiting. Washington, on a whole, had some very good classes and the results on the court to go with it. Romar seems to be a very hands on recruiting and I know that Cameron Dollar played a big role in recruiting at UW.
As for Bone, his brother is the coach at Snohomish, the high school of Jon Brockman. Once he moved on to PSU, Phil Nelson found a home there after transferring out of UW. Bone had some kind of role recruiting to UW, but it's hard to tell what. The players, however, seemed to enjoy having him as an assistant.
Where are we going from here?
What we don't know, and probably won't for another year or two, is if Bone will stay off the beaten path in recruiting. A coach that comes from another major school can bring the relationships he's built with high caliber players and continue recruiting them. These are relationships that are starting when kids are freshman in high school, or even earlier. Bone, coming from a commuter school, doesn't have those relationships with specific players yet. He has good connections with Northwest area coaches, however, which does help.
The reason it takes 2-3 years to see him bringing in his own guys is a product of the recruiting system presently. Patrick Simon was cited earlier due to his incredibly early commitment. Coach Romar mentioned in his press conference about Terrence Ross that he had been recruiting him since Ross was a freshman in high school. It's difficult to try to recruit a player for a year, or even two, when other coaches have been on him for three or four. Due to this, I think Bone is getting creative with his recruiting out of necessity. I also don't think it will stay this way during his tenure here. Once he is able to establish his relationships with some of those top talents, we'll really find out whether he can recruit the Northwest like he wants to.
Can he get the players he needs to win?
He's on the right track. It's only been a year, one that didn't have great results, but his recruiting efforts have been good. With the lack of balance between recruiting classes, his hands were tied from the start. Only now does he have room to play, yet it will still be some time before we can really judge how he recruits.
Remember that he doesn't need to continually hit home runs for his system. The thought that he has to magically bring huge names to Pullman is false and is a reason I used his experience at PSU as an example of his recruiting ability. He simply needs to evaluate talent and find players that will fit his system, whether they are four or one star players. The recruits he's brought in so far fit the mold of his system and should provide an upgrade over what we had last year. We're seeing a positive trend with his recruiting, but what happens in his next two recruiting classes will tell us what he's made of.