May 12, 2009

Bone hopes to keep Cougars moving forward

If Washington and Washington State officials could agree on anything this spring, they could say the Cougars hired a good basketball coach.

Before athletic directors traded barbs over Washington's plans to renovate Husky Stadium with state funds and Washington State fans' successful attempts to block it, the Cougars hired Portland State coach Ken Bone a former Washington assistant to run their basketball program.

At Bone's introductory news conference, Washington State athletic director Jim Sterk joked his new hire had one "black mark" in his career, referring to the three years Bone spent as a Washington assistant.

All kidding aside, Bone has a serious task in keeping the Cougars in contention for the NCAA tournament on a regular basis, something few coaches in Pullman have done.

Tony Bennett took Washington State to the NCAA tournament in his first two seasons as coach before settling for the NIT this past season, then unexpectedly leaving for Virginia in April. Five days later, the Cougars hired Bone, who had taken Portland State to back-to-back NCAA tourney appearances.

"I've had my eye on it just because I follow college basketball and I'm in the Northwest," said Bone, who went 77-49 in four seasons at Portland State. "I've been pretty familiar with the ups and downs of Washington State over the years."

During Bone's lifetime (he's 50), only two coaches George Raveling and Bennett have left Washington State with a winning record. Three coaches have taken the Cougars to the NCAA tournament a total of five times since Bone was born in 1958 in Seattle.

Before Bennett led Washington State to the NCAA tournament in 2007, the Cougars' last appearance had come in 1994 under Kelvin Sampson.

Though Bennett had been rumored for jobs in previous seasons, his move to the Cavaliers came as a surprise.

"Everyone was like, 'What happened?' " senior forward Nikola Koprivica said of Bennett's departure. "There was no rumor. It was pretty quiet. That's why guys got surprised. There was no preparation time.

"Last year, they were saying he might go to Indiana. This year, no one knew anything about it."

When Washington State hired a replacement, the administration didn't behave like a program scrambling to fill the job. Sterk was familiar with Bone's work at Division II Seattle Pacific, where Bone coached for 12 seasons.

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar knew Bone, too. Romar was a UCLA assistant in 1995, when then-Bruins coach Jim Harrick was looking for another assistant. Romar recommended Bone, but Harrick didn't follow through. Romar followed his own advice and hired Bone on his staff at Washington in 2002. The Huskies went to two NCAA tournaments in three seasons before Bone left after the 2004-05 season for the job at Portland State, which never had been to the NCAA tournament before Bone's arrival.

"He's great with Xs and Os," Romar said by phone Monday. "He doesn't have this regimented style. He's flexible in terms of personnel. He has a great rapport with people.

"It's hard not to like him."

While Romar and Bone share a mutual admiration, it's only a matter of time before they meet on the recruiting trail. Part of the reason Bone was hired was to create recruiting inroads in the Northwest, specifically Seattle. As an assistant at Washington, Bone was the main recruiter on five-star center Spencer Hawes, a Seattle native. He also recruited Jon Brockman, who is from Snohomish, Wash., about 25 miles north of Seattle.

Romar said he wouldn't be surprised if he and Bone end up in some recruiting battles in addition to facing each other twice during the regular season.

"Coach Bone is not going to say, 'Lorenzo is my friend and let's take it easy on these guys,' " Romar said. "If he's there, we're going to be competing. It will be a healthy competition."

The previous regime in Pullman proved it didn't need to recruit Seattle for a successful program; most of its key players under Bennett weren't from Washington. But making inroads in Seattle couldn't hurt. It just means Washington State will have to compete with Washington and Gonzaga, which have both been more consistent than the Cougars in recent seasons.

Seattle doesn't have great depth in talent, but it has produced its share of college stars. The Seattle metro area has produced 16 Rivals150 members since 2003, but none ended up at Washington State. In the 2009 class, Washington landed five-star guard Abdul Gaddy from Tacoma. After signing Terrence Williams out of Seattle in 2005, Louisville went back for guard Peyton Siva in 2009.

Hawes, Marvin Williams (North Carolina), Rodney Stuckey (Eastern Washington) and Aaron Brooks (Oregon) played prep basketball in Seattle before landing in the NBA.

Bone already is making inroads in Seattle. He signed guard Reggie Moore at the end of April. Moore played at Seattle's Rainier Beach High before spending one season at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire.

"I'd like it to be a piece of the puzzle in recruiting," Bone said. "We'd like to do a decent job of recruiting in the Northwest. It will be extremely competitive."

For now, Bone won't inherit a perfect situation at Washington State, but he's not taking over a disaster, either. After making consecutive NCAA tournaments, the Cougars lost their NIT opener to finish 17-16 this past season. Most of the key players who starred on Washington State's 2006-07 and '07-08 teams that went 52-17 are gone.

Bone's first team in Pullman will include only one senior, forward Koprivica. That's a long way from the roster Bone is used to having. His last team at Portland State had only one sophomore and no freshmen in the regular rotation. At Division II Seattle Pacific, Bone's teams often were led by 24- and 25-year-olds who came from other programs or overseas.

"I can never remember coaching a team so young," he said of the Cougars. "You've got to be patient with these guys and educate them that it's going to be a process."

The sophomores who are in the program are good, though. Guard Klay Thompson was an all-freshman selection in the Pac-10 after averaging 12.5 points. DeAngelo Casto came off the bench last season to average 4.4 points and 4.0 rebounds in 16 minutes per game.

"We need to build around Klay Thompson," Bone said. "He's really good, and he's the one guy in the program who has proven he can play at a high level."

Thompson, Casto and the rest of Bone's new players also will have to prove they can play at a higher tempo. Bone plans to speed things up at Washington State, which played a deliberate offense under Bennett. Bone hopes the team will be able to push the pace in transition, score on the fast break and extend its defense.

"Only one or two of them have shown what they can do on the court," Bone said. "The young guys are going to need to experience some success early on in the season to believe in themselves and believe in the system."

Even though most of the team was recruited to run Bennett's system, Koprivica says the returning personnel is prepared for the change.

"It's difficult to play for Coach Bennett, especially in his style," Koprivica said. "Most of the guys in high school played run-and-gun; it's going to be easy for them to get used to."

Fans in Pullman will get used to a Seattle native and former Husky on the bench, too, if it leads to meaningful games in March.

David Fox is a national writer for He can be reached at

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