May 27, 2009
Q: Now that you’ve been here for a few weeks, what are your impressions of the team and the guys who are here and are coming?
KB: I like the culture of the program right now. It’s a good group of kids. I’m very impressed how they did academically this spring. I was also excited with the enthusiasm they brought to the court during our workouts. There were 6 workouts from the time I came until they had to leave for summer break. I thought they did a nice job. They were coachable, they worked hard on the floor, and I didn’t see anything different from that in the weight room. So, from what I’ve seen, I’ve been very impressed with the kids in the program. Now, we are very young, we’ve got a very young group. Nikola Koprivica is the lone senior this year and we have no juniors so we’re a very young group, but that’s alright. It’s a good core group of kids to bring along, teach our philosophy and I think in the next few years we’re going to get better and better.
Q: Speaking of the next few years, what do you have for goals for the coming year and for the five years after that?
KB: That’s a tough one, Larry, because I don’t know the team and the league well enough after six weeks on the job. I think for now, for this year to be competitive in the conference. The last year was 8 and 10 and that’s competitive. It’s almost .500. I hope we can maintain that record from last year. I don’t see us being a Top10 team in the country, like they were a couple of years ago. There’s a lot of really good talent that’s left the team in the last couple of years: Lowe, Weaver, Cowgill, Baynes, Rochestie, Harmeling, Forrest. There’s a lot of kids that invested in the program, came in as freshmen, had great success, they’re gone. And now it’s like there’s a new group of kids coming through.
Q: Speaking of that new group, what do you see as some of their strengths, some of their potential?
KB: There’s a little bit of athleticism there. I think one of the biggest things is Coach Bennett and his staff did a great job of identifying good kids who are coachable and understand what it takes to be successful as a team. And it’s not just a bunch of selfish kids that individually who are flamboyant out on the basketball court. It’s guys that buy into the team concept. Like Klay Thompson. He’s really good, but he’s also unselfish. He gives up the ball frequently when there’s even times I’ve seen that are like, “You need to look to score a little bit more,” because he really can score. I like the fact that they’re an unselfish group and they appear very coachable.
Q: You know the Pacific Northwest really well, you have some deep roots growing up in Seattle, playing there, coaching there, and then at Portland State. I know you’ve already started the recruitment process. Reggie Moore I understand is coming here. What other potential do you see in the Northwest?
KB: They’re right there. [showing a spreadsheet of potential recruits]. It’s going to need to be our prime recruiting area. We need to be able to recruit the Northwest well. There’s kids that come out of the Northwest every year that play at a high level. Those kids are going to Gonzaga, University of Washington. Others are going across the country. And a lot of those kids are even getting into the NBA. So there’s kids coming out of the Northwest who can really play, and we need to have our foot in the door with those guys to see if we can’t land a guy here or there out of the Northwest. And naturally, we’ll recruit elsewhere. If you consider the guys I mentioned, one was from Hawai’i, one was from Texas, one’s from Australia, Weaver’s from Wisconsin, they’re from all over. But we need to have a presence in the Northwest, without a doubt.
Q: The Bennetts were known to be tough on defense. That was their hallmark, a defensive team. What would a Ken Bone team look like? How would that be different from the style that was here before?
KB: There would be more balance, for right or wrong or good or bad. More emphasis on being solid on both ends of the court. Don’t get me wrong, they were solid…the Bennetts did an excellent job on being defensive-oriented, but their offense helped create their defense. When a shot went up, they did a great job of sprinting back to protect the paint. But, you also give up offensive rebounds. You don’t get offensive rebounds. So on the offensive end if you slow things down and work the ball around a lot, and there’s some validity to that if that’s the style you want to play. The numbers show, “wow, what a great defensive effort.” But a lot of it had to do with half the game you were on offense theoretically speaking, and if you take the air out of the ball 20, 25 seconds per possession, naturally the other team’s not going to score very much. So in their whole system, it worked extremely well. It all fit. What I perceive as being a difference, a little faster game. A little more up tempo, in that we’ll extend ourselves defensively a little more than they did. We’ll also try to push the ball a little quicker. And there’ll be some quicker shots taken, as long as we’re making them. You can’t just come down and jack up three-pointers, just for the sake of doing it. You need to have some guys who’ll make the basket. I do understand that. But I would like to see a faster style of play.
It’s a different style. Their defense, their offense, their transition defense, it all fit together the way they wanted to play. What we want to do is good, but it should look a little quicker.
Q: Do you think when the season comes around, you’ll be able to continue that defensive strength and keep that as part of your team?
KB: I hope, but that’s how it comes back to that balance. I’m hoping it’s not like the emphasis is 75 percent offense, 25 percent defense, we only want to score points. But I also don’t want 75 defense and 25 offense. I want us to spend close to equal time on offense and defense. And within that, a kind of special teams game, whether transition O or transition D, out of bounds play. To balance the amount of time on both.
Q: You were very successful at Portland State, and before that at UW and Seattle Pacific. How do you hope to translate that success to WSU? Are there things that you’ll do differently in the PAC-10?
KB: It’s a more athletic league than I’ve coached in. As a head coach, I’ve only coached against PAC-10 caliber teams a handful of times. Our teams had some success against them, too. They’re more athletic; the kids are a little bigger, a little stronger, more athletic than the Big Sky level or the Division II level. Other than that, it’s the same game, same rules, same side of the court, everything else is relatively the same. I don’t see my coaching style changing. I just think it’s exposed more.
Q: The last few years, we’ve seen Cougar fans get really energized about basketball in a way that hasn’t been around here for a while. Have you heard from many of those fans, alums?
KB: I’ve received many, many e-mails from the moment Coach Bennett resigned to when I was hired and thereafter, from WSU supporters. They write, “welcome, we’re excited.” I can just feel the excitement in the air. Even walking around campus, students say, “Hey Coach, congrats, happy you’re here, can’t wait until basketball.” There’s just a lot of excitement about Cougar basketball, so I’m hoping we can sustain that.
Q: That probably translates onto the court as well.
KB: Yeah, the fan support here is outstanding.
As long as you’re winning. Doesn’t matter where you are, you need to win games. If we can win a few games, I think the fans will be here.
Q: Have any of them given you advice?
KB: No, some funny questions though. “Are you going to wear a tie, like Coach Bennett?”
Q: And your answer?
KB: I don’t know. Probably. A lot of comments are made, a lot in fun. I don’t think we’ll see any more t-shirts out there: “Our coach is better looking than your coach.” I think I saw those on sale for 99 cents at Dissmore’s. They were gone. One woman walked in with one on that said, “Our coach is hotter than yours.”
It’s an exciting team for our staff to be part of Cougar basketball. We hope to sustain what the Bennetts were able to do here in the last few years.
Q: So do you have all your staff in place?
KB: We do. We’re all here and ready to go. Recruiting, getting ready for camp June 20, and then June 22-24. The first is advance camp. The second is a community camp for local kids.
Q: How have you been adjusting to Pullman?
KB: My family’s still in Vancouver. My kids are still in school and I’m gone most of July recruiting. So it’s likely we, as a family, won’t move here until the beginning of August. Our middle daughter Jenae came last weekend with a girlfriend to hang out. My eldest Kendra, our sixteen-year-old, and our ten-year-old, last night were lobbying on the phone and text messaging, “Dad, I want to come over and hang out with you.”
Q: Do you and your family have some plans on what you might enjoy doing around the area?
KB: We talked about doing some things we’ve never done before, try snowmobiling, go fishing. We do have a couple of wave runners. We love the water. We’ll find places to throw the jet skis into the water.
Our kids only know the big city. They’ve lived in Seattle and Portland. So this is not quite that, not a lot of skyscrapers here. It’ll be fun. It’ll be much more intimate for us as a family. As a father of three girls, that’s not a bad thing. Good community, good schools.
Q: This question comes from Dan Curry, an alum, through Facebook. He asked what will be the biggest challenge for this summer, as you’re getting ready for the upcoming season?
KB: Good question. I think the greatest challenge is as a staff. Being educated and learning what it’s going to take to be successful at Washington State, both on and off the court. When I say off the court, it’s about recruiting. What players really should we identify and target, as, “Hey, this guy is a PAC-10 guy.” Now a lot of guys are no-brainers: Kevin Love, Kyle Sangler, Jon Brockman. The All-Americans are no-brainers. But WSU hasn’t had a lot of All-Americans come here out of high school. So, we’ve got to really do our homework and find which of those guys are simply good enough, and which guys have the capacity. Whether it’s coachability, the desire, the passion for the game, and a guy we can develop here over three or four years like the Bennetts did. That’ll be huge. And just getting to know our guys. I’m anxious about that. I’m asking, when are the guys coming back for summer school. I want to see them. I want to be around them, because that’s the best time of year to get to know them. They’re not fighting for playing time yet, they’re not getting yelled at in practice, they’re not sitting on the bench yet. So it’s a great time to get to know them and build that player-coach relationship. And I think it’s really important for us as a staff to take advantage of this summer to really get to know our guys the best we can. It’s a good question, because it’s critical to not sit around until the fall and say, “It’s practice time, time to go.” These next few months are important.
It’s a great opportunity for me as a college basketball coach and for my family to be here in Pullman and part of WSU. We’re ecstatic to be here. We’re fired up. It’ll be a fun time to be here and a great place to coach.