It’s no secret around here that I think Ernie Kent has generally done a pretty poor job as coach of WSU basketball, and that I think it’s fairly unconscionable that athletics director Bill Moos has given Kent $2.8 million in extensions in the last two offseasons.
And yet, I have to give credit where it’s due: I can’t find fault with anything Kent has done since the season ended. To the contrary, I think he’s pretty much made as strong of moves as any of us could have hoped for.
Kent started with a pair of moves that were at least a year overdue, firing assistant coaches Silvey Dominguez and Greg Graham, both of whom had a long history with Kent. I have no way of knowing this for sure, but I suspect that Kent thought he and Curtis Allen (whom Kent held over from Ken Bone’s staff) would be able to nail down the recruiting while Dominguez and Graham focused largely on teaching. As it turned out, Kent and Allen weren’t able to recruit all that well, and Dominguez and Graham were either not very good at teaching or the players were just too awful to perform at a Pac-12 level.
Either way, it was abundantly clear after three years that these weren’t the right guys for those jobs. So Kent made what surely was a difficult personal decision and sent them on their way, eventually replacing them with a pair of exciting individuals: Ed Haskins and Bennie Seltzer.
Haskins, most recently the coach at powerhouse Garfield High School in Seattle, gives WSU a unique opportunity to get into the Puget Sound recruiting scene that has largely eluded the Cougs, save for Allen’s inroads in the Tacoma area. I still wouldn’t expect WSU to compete for the premier guys on that side of the state, at least not yet. But Haskins’ cred alone should start to get Kent into some living rooms he wasn’t getting into before, and maybe — maybe! — Kent will be able to turn on that famous charm and convince some talented kids to come across the mountains. (I also suspect that Haskins’ network extends farther beyond Seattle than we realize, and we’ll be pleasantly surprised at what he’s able to do.)
In contrast to Haskins, Seltzer brings a wealth of NCAA coaching experience, both as a head man and an assistant. Most notably, he spent the majority of his career under a pair of incredibly successful coaches: Kelvin Sampson and Tom Crean. With Crean, he was the lead recruiter on some notable names: Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey. He also was the head coach at Samford for two seasons, which didn’t end well, but there’s still something to be said for bringing in someone who has run his own program, even if only briefly.
Recruiting to WSU obviously isn’t the same as recruiting to Oklahoma, Indiana or Marquette, but it’s worth noting that Seltzer recruited a guy named Tim Williams to Samford — he’d go on to win freshman of the year in the Southern Conference and eventually transfer to New Mexico, where he was a really good player for the Lobos. I think Seltzer is exactly what WSU needs: A guy with a keen eye for talent with connections in a different part of the country.
Additionally, I don’t think it’s insignificant that both assistants have ties to WSU — Seltzer obviously was a record-setting player for the Cougs in the early 1990s under Sampson (he still holds the school’s career assist mark), while Haskins attended WSU for a year and his brother, Aaron, played for George Raveling in the early ’80s. I think “coaches with ties to their alma mater” can be overblown sometimes, but WSU is a little ... different. We all think Pullman is a special place; anyone who might have even just the slightest edge in authentically convincing recruits of that fact is good in my book.
I also love that Kent took his time with these hires. It can be tempting to rush into something, especially with the late signing period commencing in mid-April. Dominguez and Graham were fired on March 27; it took two weeks to hire Haskins (April 10) and nearly two months to land Seltzer (May 26). That patience goes hand-in-hand with Kent’s approach to recruiting this spring, as well.
Kent began by landing a commitment from Roberto Gittens, easily the highest rated recruit of his tenure, but I’m perhaps most impressed by what Kent has done with his pair of available scholarships — or, rather, what he hasn’t done with them. They’re still sitting there!
At times in past years, Kent would give scholarships to anyone with a pulse, hoping something would stick. Most of them didn’t, resulting in a pretty astounding number of transfers following each of his first two seasons. This time, with a roster already full of young players, Kent appears content to wait for the right guy.
He’s been linked to a couple of graduate transfers, which is exactly the kind of player he should be looking for, given his roster construction — as of now, WSU will have zero seniors on its roster next year. Grad transfers fit perfectly: Immediate, veteran production on a team that will need it, coupled with the added benefit of the guys leaving the program after just one year. And if the right guy doesn’t materialize? There’s really nothing wrong with hanging onto those two scholarships and playing next season with 11 guys.
I think what I like the most about this is that it is a clear signal from Kent that he knows what he was doing the first three years just wasn’t working. (And, actually, this probably began with Kent’s decision last year to recruit some raw talent and redshirt them.) It’s rare for a 62-year-old who has had as much success as he has to change course, and for the “Kent’s just here to collect a massive paycheck” crowd, this pretty clearly puts that notion to rest.
If — and this is a massive IF — Kent’s able to get this turned around, we’ll probably actually end up looking back on Moos’ decision to roll over Kent’s contract as wise; we’ll never know for sure, but I think there’s a decent chance he doesn’t exhibit this kind of patience if he’s starting to feel the squeeze of a dwindling contract.
There’s no guarantee this is going to get us the results we want. After all, there’s (rightly) a healthy amount of skepticism as to whether WSU can ever win Kent’s “way,” no matter who the coach is. But at this point, all I can do is evaluate the process, and there just no way to find fault with what Kent’s done this offseason.