Ernie Kent is a great guy. He is positive, poised, and helps build good young men in life. However, Kent is an absolutely atrocious basketball coach.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it is hard to build a winning basketball program at Washington State University. The program has been consistently bad with the exception of a few seasons, but something has to change.
The WSU Cougars lost a game last Sunday night to the Montana State University Bobcats…who? The Bobcats came into the game with a 2-6 record and were ranked 314 in the kenpom.com adjusted efficiency margin.
This defeat has sent the Cougars’ record to 4-3 on the season with embarrassing losses to Seattle University and Montana State…again, who?
These losses are a perfect summary to the Kent era of basketball in Pullman.
Now, let’s go back to last season—where everything really began to fall apart.
Last year was his fourth season as the head basketball coach of the Cougs and he had a chance to mold his own team with his own recruits. WSU was actually off to a hot start and began the season 6-0 with an impressive non-conference tournament win in the Wooden Legacy.
It actually appeared that the Cougs had a chance to make the NCAA Tournament—or more reasonably, the NIT.
But then, as always, his team began to self-destruct and suffered three humiliating non-conference losses in a row to the University of California, Davis, The University of Idaho, and The University of Texas at El Paso.
The main problem with his team is that they lack any form of consistency. The reason they lack consistency is because they don’t play defense; they really fricking—and I wanted to use a different F word—don’t play defense.
They don’t pressure the ball, they don’t box out, they don’t foul hard, they don’t clog the paint, they don’t contest the three, they don’t do anything.
What is further frustrating is the fact that he believes players should shoot every open shot they get. Guess what, Ernie? The Cougs aren’t the Golden State Warriors and you’re not at The University of Oregon anymore, so find a new strategy.
There are open shots that are bad looks because that’s how basketball works. For example, when LeBron James was younger, opposing teams wanted him to shoot wide open three-pointers because there was a high likelihood that he would miss that shot. Maybe Kent hasn’t figured this out yet; who knows?
Furthermore, when you chuck up wild shot after wild shot, it allows opposing teams to get easy looks in transition, which makes defense even harder.
But the biggest mistake last year was taking the ball out of Malachi Flynn’s hands. Flynn was the Cougs’ point guard and he was a damn good one at that.
He reads the game well, gets teammates involved, drives hard to the hoop, makes three-pointers, and hit a couple Kobe-esque clutch shots.
He was good enough that he was invited to tryouts for the U-19 National team. But Ernie didn’t want the ball in his hands.
Instead, approximately one-third of the time he let some fifth-year transfer forward named something like D’Brick—I don’t know man I forgot his name—take the ball up and play some weird point-forward hybrid position.
It turns out that his name is actually Drick Bernstine. Bernstine was a solid player, but he was no Flynn—and no point guard for damn sure.
Considering the fact that Flynn had multiple 20 games last season, this absolutely makes no sense whatsoever. It turns out that he didn’t like the strategy either, so he decided to transfer to San Diego State University, a non-Pac-12 school so he could play some real basketball. Man, it’s sad just writing that.
The Cougs are already an under-talented team and losing him was the nail in the coffin for the Kent era.
Sadly, that wasn’t the only roster mistake he made last year.
The Cougs have a talented forward by the name of Robert Franks. Franks is a big body and has a solid touch around the hoop. But in Kent’s system, he shoots a high volume of three-pointers instead of dominating the paint. Now, don’t get me wrong: Franks is a good long-ball shooter; he actually set the Cougs’ record for the most three-pointers in a game last season. But these are not winning shots.
He is still on the roster this year and continues to chuck up the long ball. He actually does play inside the paint more this season, but not enough to establish a consistent presence in the post.
At the college level, a player like him is a treasure. All he has to do is stick his big butt into the opposing player’s torso, back him up, and lay the ball into the hoop. There is a high likelihood he will make the shot or draw the foul.
It’s really a very simple formula: Attack the opposition’s body until they don’t want to defend him anymore. If the opposing team sends a double, hit the wide-open man for a three in rhythm—the key world being rhythm.
It is comparable to having a bruising running back in the NFL. The runs might not work in the first, second, or ever third quarters, but eventually, the defense will wear out and the big runs will come.
He is a well-rounded player and has a chance to be a star overseas. He just needs the right coaching to get him there, but right now, it’s not happening.
I could literally tear apart every personnel mistake Kent made last year, but since WSU basketball only has two fans, I’ll keep this short and only focus in on one more player.
Jeff Pollard is a forward for the Cougars. He is not the most talented player offensively, but he is a terror on defense and a great rebounder. He is that guy at the gym that everyone absolutely hates to play against, but everyone wants on their team.
He has the ability to guard and shut down most Pac-12 big men, or at the very minimum make them work hard for every basket they take.
Due to his lack of offensive fluidity, Kent refuses to give him consistent minutes. This is a huge loss for WSU defensively. With no post presence in the paint, opposing teams attack the lane at will like an NBA regular-season game. The Cougs might as well “walesh” them through, if that’s even a word.
His hustle alone will get him 10 points a game, but not in Kent’s system. Because he can’t shoot the deep ball, he doesn’t get to play. There’s not much more to say here.
Cougar fans should be appalled at the direction our basketball program is going. This year’s team could have an elite point guard and two strong post players. That is enough for most teams to make the NIT, but that is not happening.
Instead…Montana State…why…how…I don’t know.
He is under contract through the 2021-22 basketball season, which puts WSU’s basketball program in a terrible position. At this point, the school is stuck paying him no matter what.
However, there are alternatives. The Cougs could hire some no-name coach for an extremely cheap salary and give Kent the boot. WSU’s athletic program is already in a huge deficit, so why not find some random guy and give him a chance?
There are many people who would coach a Pac-12 team for a minute salary. We have nothing to lose at this point.
Hire me; I’ll do it for free.
In all seriousness, there is still a lot of basketball left to be played this season and in the wild world of sports anything truly can happen.
But unless the Cougs start playing some defense and develop a new offensive strategy, this is never going to happen.
Please, Ernie try something new. If not, go be a life coach or something.