FROM PULLMAN - Transition and process are the two words you will hear the most from new head men's basketball coach Ernie Kent when he talks about where his team is at and what fans should expect to see this season.
Kent is taking over a program that has finished tied for last and 11th place in the Pac-12 over the past two seasons. Given the charge to rebuild a program that has fallen on hard times, Kent is confident in what he calls "The Process" that will put the WSU basketball program on the road to success. The 2014-15 season, which opens on Friday at UTEP, will be the first stage of that process.
The Process that Kent talks about isn't just a generalized term for rebuilding. The Process has specific stages and things that need to be accomplished at each stage. Right now, Kent sees The Process as being in the evaluation stage where he must determine which players are fit to run his system.
"(The Process) is the anticipation, the evaluation, and then the calculation of your program," Kent said. "We anticipated getting to the floor to see these guys. Now we are in the evaluating stage. Who are they? Who can fight through adversity? Who has the confidence and courage to play the game at this level and be stars? And then you can kind of calculate where you are going to go, where your program is headed, and how you are going to get there."
Kent signs four to 2015 class in early period
As expected, four basketball recruits kicked off the early signing period by sending in their letters of intent today, and new WSU coach Ernie Kent is pretty excited - also as expected.
Kent firmly believes that success on the basketball floor can only start when academic and character issues are in the right place off the court. Before reaching the basketball phase of his evaluation, Kent and his staff took an inventory of where the team was at in terms of non-basketball fundamentals.
"We tried to structure everything off the floor first before we even got to the basketball part of it, because when you build programs, you have to make sure that it's a total building process that you look at," Kent said. "It isn't what just takes place when you get out on the court."
Kent is not new or naïve to the realities of coaching college basketball. With nineteen years as a head coach at the college level under his belt, he knows that he ultimately will be evaluated by what happens on the court. That means having to get players to the point they are confident about their roles in his new system of play.
"The biggest thing for me right now is to implement and install a system while at the same time giving them confidence and holding them accountable to do what they need to do on the floor. It's a very simple phrase I need: ‘Know your job, do your job,' " Kent said.
Kent's new system is a fast transition style of play that puts a lot of physical and mental demands on players who are constantly in motion. He is sympathetic to the initial shock this style of play is going to have on his players as they acclimate to transition basketball.
"They've never run that hard and never had the green light to shoot it so much and create opportunities," Kent said. "They've never had to run back the other way and play defense that hard. So it's shocking their system. In time, you'll settle into which guys can understand and figure it out. And then you'll have your group you can go and play games with."
Most of the players that will be running Kent's system are players that he inherited from Ken Bone's team. Fortunately for Kent, one of the players is projected to be one of the best players in the Pac-12 this coming season. DaVonte Lacy will only have one season under the tutelage of Kent, however, Kent is happy to have Lacy and wants to help Lacy find the success he has worked towards.
"Here is a young man that didn't have a lot of team success, but has stuck it out," said Kent. "And here he is going into his senior year with the potential to be one of the best players, or the best player, in the conference, one of the best, or leading, scorers in the conference. Hopefully, that will bring him success later on."
Lacy provides the Cougs with a solid offensive threat from the wing position. However, as last season proved, a single offensive threat is not enough to make the team successful. Kent says the team is aware that they need to step it up offensively to support Lacy. Now the issue is getting players in the gym to work on their shooting.
"We need a program where you've got three or four scorers on the floor. And sometimes five scorers on the floor. The style of play gives you more confidence. You have a green light to shoot the basketball," says Kent. "Now given your green light to shoot the basketball, that puts you in that gym late at night because you need to have confidence in yourself and confidence you can make shots."
While all players are given a green light to shoot and contribute offensively in Kent's system, the point guard is the position that Kent equates to the quarterback position in football. Kent is proud of the fact that the point guards that have played for him typically "are either in the NBA or one foot out of the door of the NBA." Right now, Kent has three young point guards, sophomore Ike Iroegbu and freshmen Ny Redding and Trevor Dunbar, competing for minutes.
"It is a ferocious competition right now (for playing time at point guard) and I'd say Ike has the advantage because Ike has already played at this level. He knows what it takes to train at this level," said Kent.
Despite the advantage Iroegbu has in the experience category, Kent says playing time at the point will eventually boil down to mental toughness and ability to adjust to the demands of his system.
"But understand again, (Iroegbu) is also learning a whole new system. And when you look at Trevor Dunbar and Ny Redding that have come into the program and start talking about point guards, with me it isn't going to be so much who has experience as it is who has point guard mentality," said Kent.
Dunbar and Redding are not the only two players new to college basketball. In addition to Valentine Izundu, who will be sitting out this year due to transfer rules, Kent has brought in junior college transfer Aaron Cheatum and Jackie Davis. Kent knows the steep learning curve that young players face adjusting to the demands of college basketball and he isn't sure which of the four newcomers will have the biggest impact on the coming season.
"All four of (the eligible newcomers to the 2014-14 season) are still going through the pains of new academics, new environment, new students, new friends, new offense, new defense, new conference, and new level of play. So they're all finding their way and no one has really emerged out of there for me to say 'that's the one that's really going to help us this year,' " said Kent.
Still, Kent knows that he will need the four newcomers to make a contribution to this year's squad.
"All four at some point in time are going to have to help us win games this year," said Kent. "Which one comes first? Which one comes second? They haven't distinguished that yet."."
Looking towards the 2014-15 season, Kent is optimistic that his team will capture the attention of fans with a fast-paced tempo and by playing "smart basketball." While confident these things will come, Kent urges fans to be patient as the team works through its growing pains.
"Initially, until guys settle into their roles, their routines, their rotations, we might be throwing away a little too much. But that's part of the process we have to go through to get where it is we need to get to," says Kent.
It takes a lot to build a successful college basketball program, and even more when you are trying to do it in a place that has historically faced recruiting challenges because of its geographically remote location. Kent, however, has confidence in the future of WSU basketball and the commitment of his former and new boss Bill Moos to giving him what he needs to win in Pullman.
"I have an enormous amount of respect for Bill Moos and what he has done throughout his career," says Kent. "He knows my vision. And I think between the two of us, we both know what we need do to be successful here. And he's given us the resources to be successful, he allows you the freedom you need to be successful, and now it's up to us to put this puzzle together so we are successful."