The Washington State Cougars, relying heavily on talented veterans, suffocating defense and an oh-so-deliberate offense, advanced to national post-season tournaments in men’s basketball the past three years. That’s a first in school history.
So, naturally, Ken Bone arrived on the scene last April and immediately announced his intention to change just about everything Tony Bennett did during his three years as WSU’s coach.
The resulting uproar among Cougar players was predictable — but only in terms of positive feedback, particularly with regard to the freewheeling offensive style employed by Bone.
“I like it because it’s much faster,” senior guard Nikola Koprivica says.
“Both [coaches’ styles] are good,” sophomore guard Klay Thompson says, “but as a basketball player, you prefer this one.”
Koprivica and Thompson stressed their appreciation for what Bennett brought to the Cougar program. The key component was a gritty defensive style of play (first introduced at WSU by Bennett’s predecessor, father Dick Bennett) that wore down opponents physically and mentally.
Bone, however, has enjoyed great success coaching up-tempo basketball as head coach at Portland State, at NCAA Division II power Seattle
Pacific and also as an assistant at Washington. At the same time, observers at WSU practices have seen that Bone harps long and hard about the importance of strong defensive play.
Bone’s biggest obstacle in his first season at WSU won’t be the change in philosophy so much as the change in personnel. Koprivica is the team’s lone upperclassman, and he’s not a lock to start. The team lacks inside muscle and will be relying heavily on inexperienced, albeit extremely athletic, guards.
“I’d like to see more aggressive play, more toughness,” Bone says.
“I think there’s times our kids are just too nice.”
When’s the last time you heard that complaint from a coach?