What will WSU team look like under Bone?

PULLMAN, Wash. — There was little doubt how Tony Bennett's Washington State basketball team would play each game: Clampdown defense and almost painfully slow offense.

How will the team look under new coach Ken Bone?

He didn't give a lot of clues during an introductory news conference this week. But what he said indicated the Cougars would no longer try to win primarily by holding opponents under 50 points.

"I like to get up and down the court, push in transition, and I like guys who can shoot the ball," Bone said. "We allow guys to play pretty loose. We shoot a lot of threes."

That will be quite a change from the six-year reign of the Bennetts — the first three under Dick and the second three under his son — that saw the Cougars rely almost exclusively on one of the nation's top defenses to win games.

While that style allowed the Bennetts to rebuild the Cougars by limiting the athletic advantages of the blue bloods of the Pacific-10, it did have its limitations.

This year's team allowed a national low of 55 points per game. But the Cougars could muster only 59 points per game themselves, and the result was a 17-16 record and a first round loss in the NIT. Only three players averaged in double figures, led by Taylor Rochestie's 13.2 points per game.

There have been grumbles for several years that many top recruits avoided WSU because of the slowdown offense. And the Cougars had trouble holding onto scorers.

Josh Akognon led the team in scoring with 11 points per game as a sophomore, but couldn't stand the style and transferred to Cal State Fullerton. He averaged more than 20 points the past two seasons to become an NBA prospect. Mac Hopson averaged 4 points per game in one season at WSU, then crossed the border to Idaho and led the Vandals with 16 points per game this season.

Bone's Portland State team averaged 73 points in going 23-10 last season. They shot 835 three-pointers, 300 more than the Cougars. They topped 80 points eight times, something WSU did only once.

That's likely to sit well with Klay Thompson, WSU's leading returning scorer at 12.5 points per game, and DeAngelo Casto. Both were named to the all-Pac-10 freshman team.

"I was sold," Casto said after meeting Bone.

Nik Koprivica, who will be a senior, was enthused, saying he could have a "great year" under Bone's looser style.

"They did a great job," he said of athletic director Jim Sterk and school president Elson Floyd, who hired Bone.

"He'll play a lot," Bone deadpanned, breaking up the audience.

Style aside, Bone, 50, seemed genuinely grateful to get a chance to coach in the Pac-10.

"At my age, I didn't know if it would happen," he said.

While WSU coaching jobs are often used as stepping stones by young coaches, Bone said he would be happy to finish his long coaching career in Pullman.

"It is a little emotional to me," Bone said at the press conference.

Bone is widely respected in the Northwest coaching fraternity, and previously enjoyed great success at Seattle Pacific and as an assistant at Washington. He left Huskies because he wanted to run his own ship, and was 77-49 in four years.

The Cougars hope Bone can land recruits from populous Western Washington, which has been fallow ground for them for decades. The last WSU star to come out of Western Washington was Mark Hendrickson in the early 1990s.

Bone joins women's basketball coach June Daugherty as a former Washington coach now running a basketball team at WSU. Daugherty has head women's coach at Washington, while Bone was an assistant to Lorenzo Romar for three years.

Bone may have won over some skeptics by saying he felt hugely privileged to be hired by WSU, and by declining to say anything about recruiting disadvantages. Instead, he remarked on how outstanding the Cougars had been in recent years.

"To have an opportunity to take over a program like that is absolutely amazing to me," Bone said. "This is a place I'd love to be as long as I can stay."

He has some big shoes to fill. The telegenic and articulate Bennett quickly became a fan favorite. He was named The Associated Press national coach of the year after his first season, and took the Cougars to the Sweet 16 his second year. Even in this rebuilding year he got them to the NIT.

Bennett's particular strength was recruiting on a national scale, and he was able to land players who were instant contributors in the Pac-10. During the Bennett era, the Cougars went from league doormat to league power.

Bone acknowledged that, and said he wants to do even better.

"We want to build this up from where the Bennetts were able to get this program in the last few years," Bone said.

Like Tony Bennett, Bone seems to share a deep commitment to family that can be rare in the major conference coaching ranks.

"The most fun I have is hanging out with my family," Bone said, mentioning tickle fights with his three daughters.

"My wife, too," he added quickly to laughter. "We like to have fun."

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