LAS VEGAS – Washington State lost a basketball game Wednesday. As expected.The Cougars might lose a basketball coach as soon as today. As expected.
“I have not been told a thing about my future at Washington State,” coach Ken Bone said after the underdog Cougars gave Stanford a good run before bowing 74-63 late Wednesday night in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament.
The only thing more shocking than Bone’s return to the Cougars next season would be the return of Tony Bennett. Bone’s predecessor is making a run at a national championship with sixth-ranked Virginia, so he’s probably not pining for another crack at Pullman nightlife just yet.
Asked what he expects to happen to Bone, senior forward D.J. Shelton said, “I don’t know. No comment.”
“It’s unfortunate if he doesn’t come back,” junior guard DaVonte Lacy said.
Five years of the good, the bad and the ugly – often extremely ugly — Bone Ball on the Palouse almost certainly came to an end with a loss in which the Cougars permitted Stanford to shoot a sizzling 58.5 percent from the field.
Bone, of course, was fired in the court of public opinion long ago. WSU athletic director Bill Moos did not hire Bone; has rarely had much good to say about Bone or his teams; and has led everyone to presume Bone will be bounced by regularly informing reporters and fans that the money left on Bone’s original seven-year contract will not impact his decision on whether to retain the coach.
Moos did not respond to a Wednesday morning email seeking a comment on Bone’s status. Asked after WSU’s 17th loss in a row to Pac-12 teams away from Pullman (11 this season, counting a home game with Colorado in Spokane) if he expects to be back, Bone said, “I sure hope so.”
After five seasons under Bone, the Cougars have no point guard, no inside scoring presence and, too often, no hope. The Cougars owe Bone $1.7 million ($850,000 per year), or roughly $1 for every wayward shot, pass and defensive play the Cougars have butchered the past five years.
If $1.7 million seems like a large sum of money on top of the $1 million or more the new coach likely will command each year, consider how many dollars would have generated by doubling this season’s embarrassing home attendance average of 2,800. Mind you, the latter figure represents tickets distributed, not actual butts in seats.
Mimes draw more spectators than the Cougars. Mimes also make about as much noise as WSU fans these days.
Moos says he always keeps a list of potential coaching replacements handy in case the need arises. Most WSU fans are adamant that a 23-40 record over the past two seasons (7-29 Pac-12) provides ample proof that the need for change is now.
Who replaces Bone? Better consult your Quija board on that one. Moos has an extensive network of contacts near and far, which helped him shock the free world by hiring Mike Leach as football coach a couple years back.
The next Wazzu basketball coach inherits a roster thin on size, depth, offense, defense, quickness, toughness, etc. Recruiting has been awful for years.
Moos has opted to invest most of Washington State’s athletics dollars in football, the only money-making sport at most major conference schools. WSU’s basketball facilities are not horrible – aging Beasley Coliseum was a noisy nightmare for rivals when the Cougars packed ’em in once upon a time – but they lack a “wow” factor compared to many schools.
The Cougars played hard and quite well at times in their season swan song. Shelton said Bone’s shaky status did nothing to inspire the troops.
“That’s nothing we discuss or think about,” Shelton said.
The 11th-seeded Cougars trailed by four points or less much of the game and briefly took a 50-47 lead midway through the second half. Stanford (20-11), the sixth seed, quickly responded with a 10-0 spurt to take the lead for good.
Lacy led all players with 25 points and four 3-pointers, and Shelton led everyone with 11 rebounds. Shelton, who finished third in school history with 297 rebounds in one season, scored 15 points.
“I played my heart out,” Shelton said.
Shelton and Lacy were asked how they will remember this long, painful season.
“Rough,” Lacy said. “It was very, very rough.”
“A lot of losses,” Shelton said, “but I really enjoyed this team. The guys (teammates), the coaches. Everyone’s of high character. It made it fun, even though we were losing. We still came back the next day and worked harder.”
Still, Shelton may have unwittingly summed up one of the biggest issues facing the Cougars when he said, after 31 games, “We’re still looking for our identity.”
Soon, they may be looking for a new coach. If, indeed, a decision has not already been made.