Washington State Basketball: Rebuilding Summer Camps, the Ken Bone Factor and the State of the Program


Nov. 14 2012; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Ken Bone walks the sideline against Utah Valley Wolverines during the first half at the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

While taking the unique opportunity to officiate the Washington State basketball team camps this week, I find myself at an interesting crossroads with the program. On one hand, I was not the biggest Ken Bone supporter as 2012 wore on, as was evident with a few of my pieces following some of the more disappointing losses of the season. But that’s neither here nor there.

On the other hand, and again, I love the guy! Coach Bone is such a likable person that it makes me want to route for him 100% but watching the Cougs steadily decline in talent and wins over these past four seasons has been disheartening to the point that a very good chunk of Cougar nation has mostly been pleading for a change.

To be fair, a good portion of bad luck has struck him between the eyes, with Que not qualifying last year and Reggie Moore making it impossible not to dismiss him from the fold before the season even began. That’s two very important cornerstones that would have made the team a whole lot better and it’s really almost indescribable the amounts in which those two would have changed the game for WSU last season. But during the season it’s still tough to watch loss after loss pile up and at the end of it, it’s only natural to think about “grass is always greener” scenarios. At the same time, if Bill Moos has faith (even if it IS a “possible” financial stranglehold that makes that faith necessary) then who are we, or at least most of us, to say “boo”?

It’s tough as a fan to understand the full fire and passion of a coach when you’re watching the game and hear the downtrodden press conferences after what seem to be losses that should be avoided. But let me tell you, coach Bone and staff are a truly passionate group of people and basketball coaches. I know that because I have watched the Washington State basketball team camp drastically decline in both amounts of teams and talent pool ever since Klay Thompson left campus over the past two seasons.

As a matter of fact I would genuinely say that there isn’t a single player in this years’ camp that will even sniff the Pac-12 level of collegiate basketball. As you probably know, that’s clearly not the point of a team camp at your University. The point is to get some talent that you can evaluate and hopefully interest into your school. I want to repeat, there is not one in my opinion who has the type of basketball talent or even size that it takes at this years’ camp or last to ultimately come in and help this program.

Yet there they are (the WSU coaches) talking and teaching these kids in clinics and the like as if they were looking at some of them for scholarships. They stick around all day and give the kids everything they have because they want there to be a generally enthusiastic response towards their program. Also, you can tell the kids mean something to them and that’s just a special quality that not every collegiate level basketball staff can pull off.

After talking to Rod Jensen, who has taken over the position of player development at WSU, another thing became clear; getting to the level that Ken Bone and his staff are at is not an easy thing to do and it is very difficult to be good there. In fact, a lot of things have to go right in order for that to happen and perhaps, just perhaps, in this day and age the axe falls much too quickly on coaches. There’s no doubt it’s “all about wins” today and the measuring stick for success has already begun to shrink beyond reason (all one has to do is look at a Ben Howland at UCLA). But this level of collegiate basketball is the best of the best and the Pac-12 is no slouch on the couch when it comes to every night competition.

“Coach” Jensen told me something I’m not sure I expected from a guy in his position at a high school team camp with so little at stake. When I asked him how his transition was going he said this:

"“I’m fired up! It’s not often you get an opportunity at this level and with a coach like this. It has me fired up to be here and it’s just been awesome for me!”"

I mean, that right there tells me volumes about what kind of rapport Ken Bone possesses and I’ve never heard a bad thing about him from his kids either. There’s a mutual respect there and it’s something I guess we just don’t think about on Friday or Sunday mornings after disappointing outcomes.

If you don’t know anything about anything except the boxscores, know this; The want is there. The fire is there. Nobody wants to succeed more than the coaching staff on board right now in the men’s basketball program.

Yes, in the end it still comes down to “what have you done for me lately?” But it’s important to understand that they’re working on it, because honestly as a fan you can’t always see it. I don’t.

Back to the camp for a moment, it needs to get back to where it was. Washington State has to go win before it will, but it sure would be nice to see some real high school level talent role through the Washington State campus. State champions, runners up, contenders in their divisions, you know what I mean. There’s no reason Curtis and Bellevue and Seattle Prep and Gonzaga Prep and Linwood and all the bigger schools are over on the East side of the state at this basketball camp. Football’s got those kids coming in, basketball needs to get those kids coming back.

I think just one good season could turn it around too. Here’s to hoping that season is 2013. Luckily for coach Ken Bone, he’ll finally have a full array of incoming talent and surrounding staff to get it done when he needs it the most. Like I said, it’s quickly becoming a “what have you done for me lately” business. Unfortunately, WSU has been losing the trust fund.

Go Cougs!