Since Ernie Kent took over in 2014, WSU is 47-77, including 18-54 in the Pac-12 while not finishing higher than eighth in the conference. However, his $1.4 million salary that expires after the 2021-22 season makes him virtually bullet-proof.
SAN FRANCISCO – Entering his fifth year with the Washington State men’s basketball team, Ernie Kent is preaching patience while still searching for his first winning season.
By most standards, Kent would be on borrowed time and in desperate need to fulfill promises he made to WSU fans back in 2014, when he inherited a team that went 10-21 the year before his arrival.
But if the 63-year-old coach with a $1.4 million annual contract that expires after the 2021-22 season is feeling any pressure, he wasn’t showing it Thursday at Pac-12 men’s basketball media day.
Ever the optimist, Kent’s vision of the Cougars doesn’t align with the projection of media who cover the conference, who tabbed the Cougars last for the fourth straight year in a preseason poll.
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“This team is ready to be in postseason play,” Kent said when asked if WSU could finish above .500. “We’re marching toward a championship. We don’t look at .500 or just barely being above .500.
“What do we need to do to beat Oregon and beat Arizona and beat UW? That’s how we practice, that’s how we think and that’s how we work. If you get them, you get them. And if you don’t, you’ll (be) right below them. But we never think about .500. We’re building for something much better than that.”
Admittedly, the reconstruction project has taken much longer than Kent anticipated.
Since taking over, WSU is 47-77, including an 18-54 Pac-12 record, and has not finished higher than eighth in the conference.
The Cougars return two senior starters (forward Robert Franks and guard Viont’e Daniels) from last season’s team that was 12-19 overall and 4-14 in the Pac-12.
Half of last season’s wins came in November when WSU started 6-0, including an 84-79 win over No. 21 Saint Mary’s. The Cougars finished 6-19 in the final 25 games.
“As a coach you see it coming (and) you try to prevent it,” Kent said. “We came back to campus and relaxed, and it knocked us out of stride.
“Hopefully, lesson learned because (Franks and Daniels) … they’re well aware of that and they won’t allow this team to get in that place this year.”
Washington State lost seven players and brought in seven newcomers, including four junior-college transfers.
Franks’ return (he considered leaving early for the NBA draft) offset a series of departures that included second-leading scorer Malachi Flynn (15.8 points per game) transferring to San Diego State and assistant Curtis Allen bolting for Pepperdine.
“The biggest thing I learned after testing the waters is you’re right there, but you’re not there yet,” said Franks, who averaged a team-high 17.4 points. “There’s still a lot you’ve got to learn and get better at. … I know what I need to do and what it’s going to take to get there.”
Franks, who attained a preseason goal and won the Pac-12 Most Improved Player of the Year award, is gunning for the league’s MVP honor.
Washington State, which led the league with 341 three-pointers, will need an MVP performance from Franks and great offensive contributions from long-ball specialists Carter Skaggs and Daniels to snap a six-year string of losing seasons.
“Personally, they’re all make-or-break years,” Kent said. “I don’t want to lose games and have to sit on the NABC board in a room with guys who have had a lot of success. That’s a lot of pride in there, but at the same time I’m very patient about what we’re doing over there because you build that thing from inside out, so long after Ernie Kent is gone that is still going to be a successful program.
“Hundred percent graduation with all of the players that have stayed with us. Good group. Good character guys right now. It’s coming.”