The WSU men's basketball team came out on Saturday night and put on a show for a crowd of mostly students in Bohler Gym. Almost seven months after replacing Ken Bone with new head coach Ernie Kent, the athletic department is pulling out the stops trying to get the student body and fans back into Beasley Coliseum this winter to revive the buzz that surrounded Cougar basketball several years ago.
Saturday's event was billed as the PREseason FUNKtion and featured two local DJs providing the entertainment. What the night ended up being was about an hour and half of blasting music that included a lip sync contest between several players, Kent dancing to the "The Hustle" with the Crimson Girls, and about 20 minutes worth of a scrimmage with no score kept.
The Athletic Department has worked hard over the last several months to try to create a buzz around the men's basketball after the coaching change. A major part of filling up Beasley has to do with getting students in the gym. The rush of students barging through the doors to find the first open seat hasn't been a part of Cougar basketball for several seasons.
For all the marketing that can be done and prizes handed out, winning is the only formula that will bring back a vibrant student section to the games. There doesn't seem to be much expectation that will happen this season. In fact, free t-shirts were issued to all in attendance on Saturday night that read "#TheProcess Wazzu." In other words, there is a bit of concession that WSU basketball is not ready to win yet, but "get on board for good things to come."
Kent has promised to implement a fast, transition style basketball that fans will find exciting. After the departure of Royce Woolridge and James Hunter in the offseason, Kent has brought in a total of five scholarship players counting transfer Valentine Izundu and has three more commits lined up for his 2015 class. Among those players, there are only a total of two major conference offers. In comparison, Que Johnson, Ike Iroegbu, and Junior Longrus, three players that Kent inherited, each had more major offers a piece than all the players Kent has brought in to this point.
I certainly do not want to declare the Ernie Kent era "dead on arrival" before he has even coached his first game in Pullman. Kent does have an All-Pac-12 level player on this year's squad and three members of a sophomore class that showed glimpses of potential at different points last season. However, he also inherited several gaps to fill and it is very questionable how well he has filled them.
It has been almost seven years since WSU made an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen under Tony Bennett. That makes for a lot of students that have enrolled and graduated from WSU without tasting the excitement that can be generated when the school is able to field a successful basketball team. In an ideal world, students would show up whether or not the team is winning on the court. But with the busyness and distractions that are a part of college life, that is nothing more than an ideal.
Bill Moos's continued emphasis on building a strong football program that generates revenues and improves all other sports is definitely the right and necessary direction to go. Still, for all the money football generates, it only makes up a handful of games at home and on television. With the current TV contract, basketball is on the air about 30 times in a season and provides students many opportunities to attend games and connect themselves with WSU athletics. Investments in basketball seem to have a lot of potential to connect both current and future alumni to the school. I certainly hope that these investments and success on the court will come in the not-too-distant future.
Cougar Football Can't Get Going at No. 25 Stanford - Washington State University Official Athletic Site
River Cracraft sets WSU reception record in 34-17 loss
Volleyball Falls in Four at Oregon State - Washington State University Official Athletic Site
Jaicee Harris reached 1,067 career kills, eighth-best in WSU career records.