Los Angeles - Thursday morning was Pac-10 men's basketball media day in Southern California. All ten head coaches were on hand to give an overview of their team, the conference and the year ahead.
Had a chance to sit down with the new men's basketball coach at Washington State, Ken Bone. From a personality standpoint, there are some striking similarities to the man he replaced, Tony Bennett. Bennett left WSU to take over the basketball program at Virginia.
Coach Bone, his wife and three daughters are settling in comfortably in Pullman and adjusting to life in a small town. Previous coaching positions at Portland State, University of Washington and Seattle Pacific located the Bone family in metropolitan areas. You can call Pullman a lot of things, but metropolitan isn't one of them.
"...Pullman is just an extremely intimate town. There’s not quite as many distractions for the kids, or concerts going on or different things they might have done in Portland so I find them at home more often which is great. We hang out as a family. We have dinner together more often. We just have been doing more as a family together. They still have their friends. They still have a life. They just don’t have as much of a life. They have more of a life with my wife and I now... It’s worked out well. The biggest transition is the fact that there’s no Nordstom’s (in Pullman). That’s a big deal to those girls." - WSU Coach Ken Bone
Coach Bone has hit the recruiting trails looking for players for a small school (Seattle Pacific), a large school (UW) and one that falls somewhere in between (Portland State). Now that he's head coach for a Pac-10 school, things are different for him in terms of the recruiting process.
"It is (different). We have a Pac-10 label now instead of a Big Sky label. You’re able to communicate with kids and coaches maybe didn’t give you the time of day. So you can get in some other doors now. That doesn’t mean we can land those kids. We get a chance to talk with them. But to able to get those kids to sign on the dotted line, it’s pretty competitive." - Coach Bone
Changing the subject to the coaching staff was like asking a proud father to talk about his family. Coach Bone clearly is enthusiastic about his assistants as men of character and their knowledge of coaching.
"I love our staff. I was able to bring Curtis Allen with me who played at the University of Washington when I was coaching there as an assistant. Curt was with me all four years at Portland State. Then there’s Jeff Hironaka who was with me at Seattle Pacific for 11 years, from 1991 to 2002. Then he took over as the head coach for the last seven years and did a great job. We were able to retain Ben Johnson. Ben is just extremely valuable. He was on staff with the Bennetts. Played with Tony (Bennett) in high school and college. He played for Dick (Bennett). He has a feel for the culture at Washington State. Not just the players, but how everything works. He’s been so valuable to our staff." - Coach Bone
One of the biggest surprises for Coach Bone about his team is the attitude and aptitude of the players.
"I find them extremely coachable. Not that I haven’t coached guys in the past that were coachable. Every time I look at these guys, their eyes are right on me. They’re like sponges. They want to learn. They’re young and eager to see if we can’t put this together and be a solid ball club. I’m excited about that. (The Bennetts) did a good job of recruiting high caliber kids. Good character kids. I’m very pleased with the kids in the program and can’t wait until they get older." - Coach Bone
Washington State is going to have a new look team this coming season with the graduation of some very familiar players in Taylor Rochestie, Aron Baynes, Caleb Forrest and Daven Harmeling. They leave some big shoes, basketball-size shoes, to fill having left their mark on Cougar basketball over the past four years.
There will still be some faces who are familiar. Klay Thompson started every game last season, while both DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers saw significant playing time. One of the new members of the team might just remind Cougar fans of a player from just a few years back.
"The other guy I’d mention would be Reggie Moore. I think Reggie’s pretty good. A guard that’s a freshman. He’s a prep school freshman. Moore might remind Cougar fans of Marcus Moore. He’s not as tall but he’s got a scoring mentality. He can really shoot it. But he’s not just a shooter, he’s a scorer. He can score in a variety of ways." - Coach Bone
Not only will there be new faces playing for WSU this year, there might be a new look to the Cougar offense as well. Coach Bone tends to run an offense that is up tempo when compared to the deliberate style favored by his predecessors Dick Bennett and Tony Bennett. But when I asked him what the reaction was to his preference to run more on offense, my expectation was hearing just how much the players like his philosophy of playing up tempo ball.
"(The players) like it a little too much. They don’t realize that there was great success there playing very conservative, slow style of game. We do want to speed it up, but not to the point where we’re just running and gunning. That’s not the point. It’s to try and advance the ball and see if there’s an opportunity in transition. If not, we want to run a half court game just like the Bennetts did." - Coach Bone
Coach Bone had an early flight back north to continue leading valuable practice time for his very young squad of student/athletes. Though it's early and this Cougar team is just beginning to take form, I wondered about the coach's impression of team chemistry.
"I think the team chemistry is good. The guys seem to get along really well. But it will be different when games start, when there’s even more adversity. I’m anxious to see if we can keep that team chemistry of what we’ve been able to create so far come game time." -Coach Bone
Fortunately, Washington State doesn't have to dive right into Pac-10 competition. Their non-conference schedule is certainly easier going than when conference play begins. Will it be easier for the Cougs to get some wins under their belt over the first month of their schedule?
"It should be. But if you have some hiccups in there, then you have a monster. We need to be able to take care of business." - Coach Bone
No question Coach Bone is intent on preparing his team to be ready for another great season of Cougar basketball. As he said, "We need to be able to take care of business."
Originally published in Lew Wright's column on Examiner.com