There has been mixed reviews so far on Ken Bone’s coaching tenure at WSU. I have read numerous comments calling for him to be fired, but I have read many comments supporting him. What is the measuring stick for Bone? Is it the Bennett years or the years before the Bennetts (B.B.)? Many have described the reason Bone is not gone yet is because of his contract and buyout.. Well after this year his buy out decreases. So in many people’s eyes this is the year for Bone to prove himself, but I think Moos will be judging him on his next two years not just this one.
When Bone came to WSU he was brought into a great situation and a bad situation at the same time. The great situation was walking into a team that had just experience success and because of that there was an excited fan base. A fan base that had not experience the taste of winning in a long time. The bad situation is Bone had to follow one of the most unique basketball strategies in all of college basketball. There is a only hand full of coaches in the country that run the Bennett system. It was like coming in after the wishbone offense and trying to run the Air Raid or the 1980’s defensive minded Piston team and trying to run the Lakers’ Showtime or inheriting a pitching/defensive baseball team and turning them into a power hitting ballclub. Trying to change personnel and a unique basketball system is not something that can always happen overnight.
The Bennett system was so entrenched at WSU that Bone even tried to keep some resemblance of it because he still had Ben Johnson on his staff. He tried to run the “pack” defense and when that didn’t work he tried a hybrid of it. This experiment was a disaster. It was very painful to watch. I even question Bone at this point because he did not come in and put his foot down and run his system. I know he is a good coach, but not doing it his way made me question him. I bet if you could get Bone off the record he would tell you that this was a decision he regretted. It initially set him back x’s and o’s wise. I do see why he did try it because he did not have the luxury like Leach has to could come in and wipe the slate clean. The team was not built for what he wanted to do. Leach inherited a program that was awful the last three years (one of the worst in D-1 football) and Bone inherited one of the most successful basketball runs in Cougar basketball history. Even with a horrible team Leach has the parts he needs to get his system started right away, Bone had (maybe) a couple players in Klay Thompson and DeAngelo (Casto) Hamilton to run his system. Bone also does not have the luxury of 80+ players he can move around and play with to get his program running.
Bone inherited two young recruiting classes that had him handicapped from the beginning. He was blessed with Thompson, (Casto) Hamilton and Brock Motum. To this day I still do not credit Bennett with getting Casto, because he basically fell into his lap. I love Capers, but he never turned into the offensive player many hoped he could be. I think many believe he could turn into a poor man’s version of Kyle Weaver. After those three it was down to the rest of the recruits: Watson transferred, Nick Harthun transferred, Nick Witherill transferred, Xavier Thames transferred and Anthony Brown transferred. These were supposed to be the future of WSU basketball, but they would not have made in Bennett’s system. This was Bennett’s supposedly stellar recruiting classes after consecutive successful seasons. Even if those guys stayed not one of those guys would have made a difference here. Xavier Thames would not have affected our win/loss record one bit. Bone was left to scrabble for recruits and the Reggie Moore signing was a right place at the right time kind-of-deal. Steven Bjornstad was a last minute big man signing, but we never got to see how he would have developed due to injuries. Many of us have discussed here on CougCenter that Tony saw the writing on the wall with his recruits and got out at the right time.
During Bone’s time here there have been positives. Under the tutelage of Bone we got to see a Klay Thompson develop into a player we would not have ever seen under Bennett. Klay’s freshman year under Bennett he had 31 free throw attempts and in his sophomore year under Bone he had 133 attempts, follow by his junior year with 155 attempts. Klay’s sophomore year he made 133 free throws which added 4.29 points a game to his average. Bone insisted on expanding Klay’s game. Bennett never insisted on much on the offensive end. If Klay played his whole college career under Bennett I do not believe he gets drafted in the NBA lottery. I think Bone’s system did nothing but encourage Klay and build his confidence. Under Bennett system we would have never see Klay score 43 points in a game. Bone’s coaching help develop Klay and now it is something Cougar Nation is proud of. We might not have won a national championship but we have a potential NBA rookie of the year we can hang our hat on. When has Cougar Basketball had something like that to be proud of?
The development of Klay’s game brings me to my next point. Many people assume that if you win in one league you should win right away in another. Bone coached as an assistant at UW, but being a head coach at another major university will take some adjustment. Players in every level get a chance to grow and get better. Why do not coaches? A freshman in high school is expected to get better from his freshman to his senior year, the same goes for college athletes and the same goes for pro athletes. Why cannot the same be said for coaches? Players just have to worry about improving their game, coaches have to deal with more than that, they are inheriting someone else’s players, they have a new faculty to deal with, they have to re-channel their recruiting efforts, they have a new level of completion and various other aspects (rules, regulations, media) that affect what they do. Every situation a coach walks into is different unless you are John Calipari, Bob Huggins, Roy Williams, Bill Self, Rick Petino, etc. Those type of coaches come already established.
After thinking about whether coaches have time to improve like any other person in life I decided to take a sample of the first 3 seasons of the top coaches around the country. I was shocked how many had losing seasons and mediocre seasons in their first three seasons. Gary Williams a Hall of Fame coach had a 53% (79-69) winning percentage in his first five seasons and Coach K had a 44% (37-47) winning percentage in his first three.
Coach K at Duke (has over 927 wins)
1. 80/81 17-13
2. 81/82 10-17
3. 82/83 10-17
Frank Martin after follow Bob Huggins (has a 117 wins)
1. 07/08 21-12
2. 08/09 22-12
3. 09/10 29-8
Ken Bone at WSU (has 393 wins)
1. 09/10 16-15
2. 10/11 22-13
3. 11/12 19-16
Tom Izzo (412 wins)
1. 95/96 16-16
2. 96/97 17-12
3. 97/98 22-8
Rick Pitino at Boston University (616 wins)
1. 78/79 17-9
2. 79/80 21-9
3. 80/81 13-14
Billy Donovan at Florida (421 wins)
1. 96/97 13-17
2. 95/96 14-15
3. 98/99 22-9
Gary Williams at Maryland (668 wins) – I put two more season to show how much he still didn’t improve.
1. 89/90 19-14
2. 90/91 16-12
3. 91/92 14-15
4. 92/93 12-16
5. 93/94 18-12
Dean Smith at UNC (879 wins)
1. 61/62 8-9
2. 62/63 15-6
3. 63/64 12-12
4. 64/65 15-9
5. 65/66 16-11
Tom Crean at Indiana – He lost Eric Gordon to the NBA before he started and DJ White to graduation. (245 wins)
1. 08/09 6-25
2. 09/10 10-21
3. 10/11 12-20
John Thompson at Georgetown (596 wins)
1. 72/73 12-14
2. 73/74 13-13
3. 74/75 18-10
Lute Olson’s at Iowa (781 wins)
1. 74/75 10-16
2. 75/76 19-10
3. 76/77 20-7
I decided to add up all the coaches first three years and figure out their winning percentage against Bone’s first three seasons winning percentage at WSU. The coaches went 468-392 for a 54% winning percentage and Bone went 57-44 for a 56% winning percentage. After looking these coaches’ numbers I think fans are being a bit irrational when they say “fire Bone." If this was the case then Coach K, Gary Williams, Rick Pitino and Dean Smith should have been fired in their first three seasons. Sometimes I think this is more of a sign of the times and fans being less patient because the exposure that sports get.
Bone was given a couple fractured recruiting classes. He also has hand to establish new recruiting relationships with players, because he is (or should be) recruiting a higher caliber recruits than he could at Portland State or Seattle Pacific University. That means establishing new relationships early on (e.g. – 8th, 9th and 10th grade). Established coaches like Calipari, Petino or Roy Williams can move anywhere because they already have relationships with high caliber recruits. I think we are starting to see that with this year’s recruiting class. Last year Bone added couple players in Lacy and Shelton (3 years to play) who should help form a nice foundation. Bone has made some nice additions the unconventional way with Mike Ladd, Royce Woolridge and now Jordan Railey. Railey (6’11”) might have to grow offensively, but he average nearly 5 blocks a game in high school and he likes to play defense which (hopefully) should be an added bonus. I hope he brought him in because he believes he has talent and not because he is grasping straws with Railey. Toward the end of this last season we started to see a glimpse what a healthy Mike Ladd can do for our team. A lot rides on this year for Bone so Demarquise Johnson and Richard Peters qualifying will have a large impact on how things go from here. (I also hope we add Jordan Tebbutt to this class, I think he would be a nice addition) This will make an exciting future with Richard Longrus (a favorite of mine), Brett Boese, Peters, Woolridge, Lacy, Shelton, Moore, Railey (2013-14), DKD and Motum in his final year.
We have not experience great success with Bone, but I believe we have experience success. We have not had success compared to programs like UCLA and Arizona, but we are not in their class. Hopefully, we will be there someday. Yes we went to “a” sweet 16 but that is something that is hard to accomplish year in and year out. To make the tournament yearly is the goal but that is not consistently accomplished by any program in the conference except UCLA and Arizona. The only teams throughout the nation that consistently make the tournament are North Carolina, Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Texas, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh. All of those schools at some point in their history have made it 9 consecutive years in a row or more. North Carolina owns the record for the longest streak with 27.
I am not sure how successful people expect WSU basketball to be or Bone to be, but in his second year he missed the tournament by a coupe wins in a season where our best player got busted for marijuana before a big game. A game that might have hinged on our tournament chances. And I do not blame Bone for Klay’s bad decision, because we have all learned from Leach that a player is going to make that wrong decision no matter what is preached to him.
I was listening to sports radio this morning and a guest on the Dan Patrick Show explained that you do not want to be the guy who follows the successful guy. You want to be the guy after the guy. For instance, if you have to follow someone like Peyton Manning you do not want to be the guy to follow him (i.e.-Andrew Luck), you want to be the guy who follows after that guy. Bone is following the most successful basketball coach WSU has experienced in years and Bone has held the boat together. This is not the Graham era at all. He has not got huge name talent in here yet, but he has shown he can coach. I hope this incoming class can help show his coaching ability more. He has not sunk the boat, he has kept it afloat and now I think he is finally starting to bail the water out. I still think there is hope.