FROM PULLMAN -- Imagine an athlete who gets overlooked by major Division I schools, lands at WSU, works incessantly to be successful at the Pac-12 level, but doesn't have the players around him or her to experience much winning. Chances are, you don't have to imagine for too long. Several athletes in different sports have fit that description at WSU over the years.
DaVonte Lacy certainly is one of them.
As fan and media attention have dissipated towards Cougar basketball in the aftermath of consecutive losing seasons, Lacy has elevated his game from unheralded recruit out of Curtis High School in the Tacoma area to one of the most highly regarded players in the Pac-12 heading into the 2014-15 season. Lacy added some impressive lines to his basketball resume in the past year, being named honorable mention All-Pac-12, participating in a Pac-12 All-Star team that toured China this past summer, and being listed as one of SB Nation's preseason Top 100 players.
With one season of eligibility remaining, Lacy is intent on adding team accomplishments to the list as he works with a new head coach, Ernie Kent, to rebuild the program he loves and has dedicated himself to for more than three years.
Lacy's commitment to building a winning team at WSU boils down to an offer extended to him by former head coach Ken Bone. That offer was the only major conference offer that Lacy received coming out of high school. Confident and wanting to play at the major conference level, Lacy had the one thing he needed: An opportunity. He was grateful for that opportunity and took advantage of it.
"I knew I could play at that level with some of the players that were getting recruited," Lacy said. "All I needed was a space and opportunity, and that's why I love Washington State so much. That's what they gave me, a space and an opportunity."
Opportunities and guarantees are not the same thing. Lacy knew that he had to work if he was going to make the most of what was given to him. He often repeats the phrase, "be the best basketball player I can be." Bettering his game is a mission for Lacy, and he knew he could excel on the court despite outside skepticism.
"Everybody that has seen me work knows I put in a lot of work," said Lacy. "I think (my success) surprised a lot of other people. It didn't surprise me, to be frank. I know what I wanted and I worked for it."
Basketball, however, is a team sport, and the efforts of individual players fall within the larger context of team success. Losing has taken a toll on Lacy and it has made it difficult to enjoy the fruit of his labor.
"It's hard to be happy for yourself when the team is not winning," said Lacy.
The lack of winning not only cost Lacy a sense of satisfaction; it cost the coach that brought him to WSU his job. Bone's dismissal as the head men's basketball coach last March was a difficult experience for Lacy, since Bone was the coach that believed in him from the start.
"Obviously, Coach Bone and I had a great relationship. I wouldn't have been here without him. He gave me the opportunity to come here and the scholarship. Once he left, it was kind of shocking to me. It kind of hurt," Lacy said.
Lacy was not alone in his state of shock when athletics director Bill Moos let Bone go. Fans rarely have a problem calling for heads to roll at the top when teams don't find success. But the college basketball coaching industry is a carousel that often leaves student-athletes in a sea of emotion when a person they are heavily invested in suddenly goes away. This was true for Lacy and his teammates.
The weeks following Bone's departure were "full of uncertainty," Lacy said. "It was full of unanswered questions. Who was going to be the coach? What was the style of play going to be like? Is he going to keep all the players?"
The questions were answered when Moos named Kent to be the next head coach. According to Lacy, the news gave him a sense of relief since he was familiar with the successful teams Kent fielded while coach at Oregon and the coach's style of play.
"Obviously, I am from the Northwest and I grew up watching Coach Kent and his system," said Lacy. "I kind of knew what to expect. And actually meeting him and sitting down and talking with him, I think we see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. So my first reaction is a big smile."
Lacy trusted Kent from the get-go and feels that Kent has "revamped" the energy of both fans and players. For whatever initial optimism there might be following Kent's hire, Kent is adamant that obtaining winning results on the basketball court at WSU will be a "process" that takes place over time. Entering the final season of his college career, time is one thing that Lacy lacks. The 2014-15 season will be Lacy's final chance to add to his legacy at WSU. To Lacy, being a part of tough times deepens the meaning of who he is as a person and what he wants to accomplish this season.
"I want to be remembered as somebody that just loved the game of basketball and gave everything he had to Coug fans and Cougar basketball," Lacy said, his voice thick with conviction. "I want to be remembered as one of the guys that during a tough time, basketball was the most important thing, I don't want to be a guy on a bad team that was just a guy. I want this to turn around."
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Lacy's persistence at WSU impresses his new coach. Kent said that the game of college basketball has suddenly witnessed a sharp increase in the number of transfers from. As players become dissatisfied with their teams and roles, they simply move on to pastures they perceive to be greener. Lacy, however, hasn't been lured away by the chance to take his game elsewhere. And for this, Kent believes Lacy is all the more deserving of accolades and the opportunity to experience success.
"I'm happy to have him still in our program and I'm happy to work for him to help him be successful just because of what he has been through," Kent said.
DaVonte Lacy already has achieved much of the legacy he seeks at WSU. His talent, his love of the game, his loyalty, and his persistence are undeniable. Now he must look around him to his teammates, a new coach, and fans to give him the support he needs in order to have the success he deserves.