Washington State University basketball has achieved unparalleled success in recent years, attracting a rhapsody of roaring fans to Beasley Coliseum and a national spotlight on the Palouse.

Glory came first for the women’s team led by Head Coach Kamie Ethridge. A streak of three NCAA Tournament appearances included last year’s victory in the Pac-12 tournament, a first in program history.

Former men’s basketball head coach Kyle Smith, now at Stanford, and his tenacious squad followed suit this year. Their heroics, including two victories over top 10–ranked University of Arizona, catapulted the men’s team into their first NCAA Tournament invite in more than 15 years.

WSU mens basketball team members celebrate at a basketball game
WSU men’s basketball team celebrates on the sideline of a game
(Photo Christopher Creveling/USA Today Sports)

The seven-seed WSU men’s team defeated ten-seed Drake University in the first round before falling to tough two-seed Iowa State University in round two.

The WSU women, meanwhile, drew a one-seed in the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitational Tournament (WBIT).

Ethridge is now in her sixth year as a WSU coach. For Smith, seeing Ethridge and her team achieve unprecedented success in recent years was a joy to behold.

“Kamie is the most humble person I’ve ever been around,” Smith says. “She’s an Olympian, her jersey hangs from rafters at the University of Texas, and what she’s accomplished here as a coach has put the bar pretty high to reach.”

Smith sought the same kind of success as the women’s program and it was matched by his support for the program, Ethridge recalls.

“He’s always been so thoughtful, kind, and respectful of us and what we’ve accomplished,” Ethridge says. “To watch what he’s done this year has been one of the most incredible coaching jobs I’ve ever seen. It’s been amazing to see the fans really get behind both of our teams.”

Last season, Ethridge became the first coach in program history to be named the National Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year by the Athletic, the sports section of the New York Times. Ethridge’s 92 victories are the most of any coach in program history in their first six seasons. The 2023–24 season marks the fourth straight appearance in post-season play for the women’s team.

WSU women basketball team members with hands together
WSU women’s basketball team (Courtesy WSU Athletics)

This spring, Smith became the fourth WSU coach and first since Tony Bennett to be named John R. Wooden Coach of the Year for the conference. At the Pac-12 tournament, the men’s team reached the semifinals and finished the season ranked among the top 25 by the Associated Press. This year’s NCAA Tournament selection marks three consecutive years of post-season play, a first for WSU men’s basketball.

Gritty, hardworking, and under-recognized players have formed the backbone of both squads in recent years.

The men’s basketball squad was led by Andrej Jakimovski, a veteran stalwart from North Macedonia; Isaac Jones, who reinvented his game along his unconventional route to success; Jaylen Wells, a transfer from Division II Sonoma State University; first-year players Isaiah Watts and Rueben Chinyelu; and Myles Rice, who won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year after battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma last year.

The women’s basketball team has featured its own array of talents in recent years, led by Charlisse Leger-Walker. The New Zealander was voted the 2023 Pac-12 Tournament’s most outstanding player by media, averaging 19 points per game.

This year’s women’s team was hampered late in the season by an injury to Leger-Walker but saw the emergence of first-year talent Eleonora Villa. Both Leger-Walker and Villa were named to the All-Pac-12 team this spring.

The women’s team punctuated their 2023–24 season in the WBIT by defeating Lamar University and Santa Clara, and then Toledo in the quarterfinal, before falling to Illinois in the semifinals. They ended their season 21–15 overall.


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Wheatfield Underdogs: the story of the 2023–24 WSU MBB team (Daily Evergreen, Brandon Willman)