Sitting at the podium long after the game was over and the Big Sky Conference championship had been secured, his two youngest daughters...
PORTLAND — Sitting at the podium long after the game was over and the Big Sky Conference championship had been secured, his two youngest daughters standing beside him, Ken Bone started to tear up and his voice got husky.
For just a brief moment, because Bone usually keeps his emotions locked tightly inside, the Portland State coach started thinking about where he’d been and where he was about to go.
He thought about the players and games he used to coach at Seattle Pacific. He thought about those games at Royal Brougham against Western or Central or Alaska-Anchorage.
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He thought about those moments in practice when players understood his message and executed exactly as he had taught them. He thought about the last-second shots and thrilling games that barely made a ripple outside of the campus on the north side of Queen Anne Hill.
Back in those earlier coaching days, men’s coach Ken Bone and women’s coach Gordy Presnell (now at Boise State) used to vacation together with their wives in Mexico and Hawaii. They’d lie on the beach, in the sun, questioning the geometry of their lives and talking about their futures.
Both loved coaching at SPU, but both wanted more. They wanted to test themselves in Division I. Bone knew he could coach there. He just wondered where and when the chance would come.
“They way I looked at it,” he said at the Rose Garden last week after his Portland State team had beaten Northern Arizona to win the school’s first trip to the NCAA tournament, “if I couldn’t coach at a mid-major, in a conference like the Big Sky, then I should find some other work.
“I don’t want that to sound arrogant, but if I can’t coach at this level, something’s wrong. If I’m any kind of good coach, I should be able to succeed here.”
He applied for the Portland State job once and didn’t get it. Instead he kept adding to his résumé. In 12 years as a head coach at SPU, his teams won 20 or more games eight times. He won six conference championships and went to eight NCAA Division II tournaments.
He was good enough that Washington coach Lorenzo Romar added him to the staff in 2002 and, in Bone’s third season, the Huskies became the No. 1 seed in the NCAA’s West Region.
Now, in his third year at Portland State, he has made the Vikings into the dominant team in the Big Sky. They won the regular-season and tournament titles. They are 23-9 and are expected to be a No. 15 seed when the brackets are announced today.
“He’s a great teacher,” said assistant coach Curtis Allen, a former point guard at Washington.
Tall, with a boyish, easy smile, Bone, 49, has the demeanor of a church vicar. And that demeanor sometimes masks the competitive fire that he keeps stoked inside. He doesn’t throw chairs or tantrums and rarely raises his voice, either in games or practices, but he is tough and his teams play tough.
Ken Bone can coach. His teams, whether at SPU or PSU, are faithful to his offensive system. It seems he always has a brainy point guard who takes care of the ball. And every one of his teams plays defense.
In last week’s 67-51 championship win over Northern Arizona, his defense forced 22 turnovers and held Northern Arizona’s big man, Kyle Landry, who was averaging almost 18 points per game, to 10. They pushed him off the blocks, and he was never a factor.
It was typical of the way Bone-coached teams play.
“He was the main reason I came here,” said sophomore forward Kyle Coston. “I trusted him and knew he would do great things here. He’s made the city of Portland fired up about college basketball again.”
Oregon State, whose program has sunk to a level unimaginable for a school with a tradition rich in basketball history — names like Slats Gill, Ralph Miller, Terry Baker, Steve Johnson, Charlie Sitton, Lester Connor and Gary Payton — is looking for a coach to lift it out of the mire.
Many Beavers boosters want a “big name.” Among those mentioned are former UCLA coach Steve Lavin, Indiana Pacers assistant Connor and Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett.
The job should go to Bone, who knows how to grow and maintain programs.
“He’s taught me so much about the game,” said senior forward Deonte Huff. “He’s taught me that the game is so much more mental than physical. He’s taught me about reading the game, letting the play develop, being patient. He’s made me into more of a team player.
“He knows what he’s doing. He’s incredible. I’m sure they miss him at Washington. He has three great redshirts coming in next year,” including former Husky Phil Nelson.
Huff added, “He has this thing going now.”
Lounging on a beach in Hawaii, Bone knew his system could work at any level. All he needed was a chance.
Portland State gave him this chance. Oregon State should give him the next.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org