Did WSU get itself a good buy in Ernie Kent?

WSU Athletic Communications

We get an intimate look at WSU's new basketball coach from someone who followed him for years: David Piper at SB Nation's Addicted to Quack.

Ernie Kent met the WSU community yesterday, and as you surely know by now, he coached at the University of Oregon for 13 years. David Piper from Addicted to Quack has graciously agreed to give us a good idea of just what we're getting in our new basketball coach.

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So, you've bought an Ernie Kent

by David Piper
Addicted to Quack

So, you've bought an Ernie Kent. As a long time owner of an Ernie Kent, let me lend you some insight on what exactly you are getting.

Based on what I have seen on this very site, many commenters seem to be well aware of what Ernie Kent isn't. Ernie Kent isn't going to win a national championship at Washington State. He isn't going to turn you into a perennial Pac-12 contender. But, at Washington State, I'm not sure anyone is going to do that, and certainly not from where the program is now.

The truth is that Washington State is not all that dissimilar from what Oregon was when Kent took over. Sure, the talent level at Oregon in 1997 wasn't as barren as Washington State is this year, but it was a team coming off consecutive lower-half finishes in the Pac-10. The was pre-Nike Oregon, and if you've ever been to Mac Court, you know that Bill Moos' comments about Kent having to recruit to a "rathole of a gym" at Oregon was true. While charming, it was the worst facility in the Pac-10.

What Kent knew was that he had to upgrade the talent in Eugene immensely to compete in the conference and found immediate ways to do so. He landed a point guard in Darius Wright via transfer from Wagner. He convinced A.D. Smith to stay home and play at Oregon. He got a couple of Midwest JUCO stars in Alex Scales and Bryan Bracey. Those players became the crux of his first NCAA Tournament team.

The truth is that Washington State is not all that dissimilar from what Oregon was when Kent took over.

And Kent's calling card is that he was a fantastic recruiter. He has immense connections in the Midwest, and was consistently able to bring Midwest talent to Oregon, including Malik Hairston, who was a top five recruit in the country when he came to UO. He then complemented that with Northwest players: Luke Jackson, Luke Ridnour, Aaron Brooks, Fred Jones, E.J. Singler, Maarty Leunen, etc. He even went international at times, especially for bigs. Ian Crosswhite and Chris Christoffersen are two examples of international players that Kent brought to Eugene.

What Ernie didn't always do a great job of was developing that talent in a timely manner. His uptempo, wide open style was a major draw for players to want to come to Oregon. But he never had a great defensive team, and never developed a good big. Kent's Elite Eight teams were led by really talented game-changing point guards. When he had that -- Wright, Ridnour, Brooks -- he was going to the tournament. He would surround that guy with high caliber slashers and shooters and they would score a ton of points. But when he didn't have that guy, you knew he wasn't going to have a big, and the offense simply got bogged down without a consistent outlet.

Ernie's departure at Oregon really came down to this: He thought Tajuan Porter was that kind of high level point guard, and he simply wasn't. He was a two guard who was shoehorned somewhere that he didn't belong. Without that point guard, a highly rated recruiting class wasn't developing. Kent was ousted because the program had outgrown his peaks and valleys and was ready for more consistency, which Dana Altman brought.

But I'll make it very clear: There is no Dana Altman at Oregon without the foundation that Kent laid. There is not Matthew Knight Arena. Kent proved that talent would come to Eugene to play basketball. Kent proved that being a contender was possible. When Kent took over, the Ducks had one NCAA appearance since 1961. He took them to five. He also had two NIT Final Four runs. I would think WSU fans would be ecstatic if he could replicate that success.

Kent isn't making WSU a national power. But he has proven he can take a downtrodden program, pump talent into it, reawaken a dormant fanbase, and lay a foundation that his successor will be able to build upon. Kent is 59, a Pac-12 guy, and won't be looking to cash in on his first success to nab another job. He could spend 6-8 years at Wazzu, take them on a few postseason runs, and get the recruits away from the idea that Pullman is a scary, downtrodden place for basketball players.

Some coaches are builders, and some are finishers. Kent is a builder. But Wazzu needs that foundation before they can build a skyscraper. I think an Ernie Kent may be just the thing for you.

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