Washington State Cougars begin Ernie Kent era
PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) New Washington State coach Ernie Kent says he feels like a waking bear, and that could be good news for the downtrodden Cougars.
After four years away from coaching, Kent clearly is energized by being back on the sideline.
''I feel like a big bear who was in hibernation, and now it's time to come out and eat,'' said Kent, the former coach at Oregon.
''I think any coach that has coached 30-plus years needs a sabbatical,'' Kent said. ''I'm amazed what it has done for me in terms of energy and spirit.''
Kent, 59, will try to revive a Washington State basketball program that had slumped in five years under Ken Bone. Bone was fired at the end of last season, after the Cougars went 10-21 and 3-15 in the Pac-12.
This year, the Cougars have been picked to finish 11th in the league.
Washington State athletic director Bill Moos, who used to be Kent's boss at Oregon, decided the coach who took the Ducks to the round of eight twice was the man to revive the Cougars.
Kent was hired in late March and immediately went searching for players who could provide immediate help.
''I expect every player we brought into the program has to help us win a basketball game this season,'' Kent said.
He also knows he has to re-energize the fan base, and try to get back to the type of attendance the Cougars enjoyed when coach Tony Bennett took them to consecutive NCAA tournaments less than a decade ago.
Toward that end, Kent has been busy speaking before big and small gatherings of Washington State fans.
''You have to get your face in front of the fans,'' Kent said, even if it meant he would ''knock on doors and pretend like I was lost.''
Kent has a career record of 325-254, and enjoyed plenty of success in 13 years at Oregon.
DaVonte Lacy, WSU's top returning player, said Kent brings a lot of passion to work each day.
''He already had a lot of energy and passion and love for the game, and it was taken away from him for four years and built up,'' Lacy said. ''It gets taken out on us.''
The 6-foot-3 Lacy, who averaged 19.4 points per game last season, said he focused in the offseason on ball security and developing a post game to take advantage of his size. ''I want to have that in my tool box,'' he said.
Lacy played on a Pac-12 all-star team that went on a tour of China in the offseason. He said the camaraderie that was established quickly on that team was helpful on the court.
''If I did the same thing at Washington State, we have a chance to be real good,'' Lacy said.
Other things to know about Washington State as it begins the Kent era:
FEAT OF KLAY: Lacy needs to hit 62 3-pointers this season to break Klay Thompson's school record of 242 career 3's. Lacy made 76 3-pointers in just 23 games last season. He missed eight games due to injuries.
CONFERENCE FOES: Washington State does not have a winning all-time record against any of the other 11 teams in the Pac-12. The Cougars' best mark is 35-39 against Arizona State. They are 16-102 versus UCLA.
FANS IN STANDS: One of Kent's jobs will be to increase attendance at home. Attendance last season slumped to an average of 2,800 fans in the 11,000-seat Beasley Coliseum.