When Ken Bone took over the Washington State basketball program from the departing Tony Bennett in the spring of 2009, he knew what he had but it wasn’t necessarily what he needed.
It was sort of like he was at the bus depot waiting for a train.
Bennett’s basketball philosophy is unique in the country. He prefers a plodding style on offense, working the ball around patiently waiting for the highest percentage shot. Then at the other end, he likes sticky, in-your-face man-to-man defense.
Bone is an up-tempo offensive coach who puts an emphasis on zone defense.
Bennett’s style, passed down from his coaching father Dick Bennett, worked for him as well as for the program. Tony was his father’s assistant for three years (2003-2006) at WSU then was head coach for three years (2006-2009). Tony’s teams tied a school record with 26 wins in both his first two seasons and the Cougars advanced to the NCAA Tournament each year.
His success earned him step up to coach the Virginia program, allowing Bone to take over.
But up-tempo Bone inherited a team of plodders. Not that they were slow or unskilled but they were used to playing basketball one slow way. It was ingrained in them.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar once described Bennett’s style players as like someone going to a yard sale. While most people ignore a particular unremarkable lamp, it takes that one person to see how that lamp would fit perfectly into his décor.
Bennett brought in players that may have been passed over by most programs but he recognized how valuable they could be in under his style, like pieces in a puzzle.
Yet when he left, Bone had to find a new purpose for a bunch of overlooked lamps. He had to turn on another switch.
This is a totally different way of playing than when coach Bennett was there,” Romar said. He played a slower, physical half-court game. We had the same thing our first year in St. Louis (1999). We wanted to up-tempo but we had those slow physical players. They were good. We went to the NCCA our first year, but we have to learn a whole other way of playing.
Now it’s taken a year to adjust. They’ve added some players that will fit and they have adjusted to the current system.”
It’s a system that demands faster play and zone defense, quite a departure from Bennett’s departure.
Bone said his players are fine with it. They enjoy the freedom of getting up and down the court.”
Based on how the Cougars played in the non-conference season, it’s been a transition that has transformed. The Cougars went 10-2 during their non-conference schedule, 5-1 on the road.
They’ve had some impressive outings. They beat rival Gonzaga (81-59) and lost by just five points to then No. 5 Kansas State (63-58). They also upset No. 15 Baylor (77-71) last week at the Diamond Head Classic.
During the off-season, Bone got a bonus that set up the season. Klay Thompson, a 6-foot-6 guard who was an all-Pac-10 first team selection last year, decided to return for his junior year. It was believed that Thompson, son of NBA legend Mychal Thompson, would declare for the NBA draft.
With that in mind, Bone had recruited junior-college transfer Faisal Aden from Hillsborough CC in Tampa, Fla. He had known and followed the 6-4 guard for nearly two years and figured he would an adequate replacement for Thompson.
To his delight, he now has both of them.
He (Thompson) and taken off from where he left last year. He’s more of a complete player now and doing a good job on the defensive end,” Bone said. He’s rebounding well. He has really good basketball instincts and a good feel for the game.”
Thompson leads the Pac-10 in scoring at 22.3 ppg. He also is third in assists at 4.33 per game, second in steals at 2.25, third in three-pointers made at 2.83 and collects 4.2 rebounds per game.
He seems to be more of a complete player this year,” Romar said.
Aden gives the team another scoring threat. He’s averaging 16.1 points per game, fifth in the conference, and 3.6 rebounds.
Reggie Moore, a 6-1 point guard who was on the Pac-10 All-Freshman team a year ago, gives the Cougars a steady hand. He dished 4.0 assists a game and has committed just 16 turnovers.
Bone rotates a pair of forwards, 6-8 junior DeAngelo Castro and 6-10 sophomore Brock Motum. Each has his own level of expertise. Castro leads the league in blocked shots at two per game while Motum leads the league in field-goal percentage at 65.2.
Rob Lodwick, a 6-8 junior forward, and Marcus Capers, a 6-4 sophomore guard, each has started every game.
The numbers don’t show it, but Marcus has done a real good job defensively.” Bone said. He has shot the ball well (57.7 percent) and his assists-to-turnover ratio is outstanding (33/6).”
Bone recruits represent about half the team now, so it’s still a program in transition. Seven of the Cougars are from Washington, four west of the mountains. Bone, Romar’s assistant for four seasons, is not afraid to venture into Husky country for his recruits.
It’s not easy. It’s not easy,” he said. But that’s what you have to do. You have to recruit somewhere. We like to recruit local kids. We’ll continue to try the Northwest.”
Next year, he’s bringing in a Tacoma standout, 6-4 guard DaVonte Lacy of Curtis High.
He’s a good recruiter and an excellent coach,” Romar said of Bone. Let’s not forget what he did at Portland State (2007-09). It was remarkable. He went to the NCAAs two years in a row (first time in school history). He found ways to get it done. Now with more resources and a higher level of play, there is no reason anyone should be surprised what’s going on.”
Bone said while his players are taking little steps almost every game. They’re getting better and better as time goes on” he doesn’t believe they’ve caught up to the Huskies.
They get up and down more than we do,” Bone said. They’re also extend the defense more than we do.”
The Cougars do not play the Huskies until the end of the first round of conference games, Jan. 30 at Washington State. That’s when they’ll give the Huskies their due diligence.
We aren’t worried about them till we play each other,” Bone added. We are well aware how good they are. We’ve seen them on TV. Washington is definitely the team to beat right now. But looking at the Pac-10, there are a lot of other good teams.”
Count Washington State among them.