Oregon head coach Ernie Kent shouts to his team during the second half of their NCAA college basketball game with Southern California Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010, in Eugene, Ore. (Rick Bowmer)
Washington State’s Ernie Kent and Washington’s Lorenzo Romar are going to have several knock-down, drag em out recruiting wars over the next five or so seasons. Where the Cougars weren’t able to compete for some of the top talent in the state, now they will and in fact it has already begun.
As I was reading the Cougfan article on some of the awesome things Kent was saying to us, the Cougar fans yesterday, I had a revelation on a dynamic that very few states possess when it comes to rival coaches at their respective schools. Both Kent and Romar are black and it might be more obvious than you think. A comment stuck out to me from the recent event that Kent spoke at in Spokane.
"“You have to always be recruiting. Even being out of coaching for four years I maintained my relationship with the shoe companies because they have their fingers on the AAU programs and the top players.I’ve already heard from top AAU programs in the Seattle area, looking to see where we are and what we’re looking for."
This is no racial debate so let’s not entertain that thought in the argument, I know I walk a thin line here but bear with me. The facts are that prior to March 31st, when Kent was hired, the Cougs had much less of a legitimate shot at a huge chunk of talent in the Seattle/Tacoma areas than did the UW or a bigger-named school. Part of it was because UW was a better choice competitively but part of that was also because Romar relates better with some of the more talented kids in the area, more-so even than that Washington is what it is as a University.
Now that said, Ken Bone, Tony Bennett and coaches before them even were smart and hired or retained black assistant coaches that could relate better with the young black kids from the Seattle and Tacoma areas. I don’t mean to discount the coaching ability of these assistants in any way, just saying there is most certainly an art to recruiting certain areas and part of that art is knowing how to make a first impression.
Look across the landscape of college basketball today, all the top programs are run this way, they have to be. Back to WSU, we never heard Kent’s type of comment from previous coaches. At least I’ve never heard anything close. The Seattle programs don’t really reach out to WSU, instead WSU generally has to reach out to Seattle.
Ultimately for a lot of these Seattle kids it’s not about going to the hometown school and it’s not about UW’s academics outweighing other options, some kids couldn’t care less about that stuff in the grand scheme of their choices. It’s about going somewhere where they will feel comfortable and be able to thrive as a basketball player.
Black coaches are all over the Seattle high school landscape because they relate to their kids in a way that nobody else can. There are plenty of white coaches in the area too and they are every bit as dedicated to their kids and every bit as good at their craft, don’t get me wrong, but some of these kids respond better in a situation where they feel a bond with their coach. It’s what they grow up around.
Fair or not, that’s the reality. It would be asinine to suggest that race had anything to do with the Bill Moos hire in this instance, but with recruiting being the number one priority, there are few that even stood a chance against Kent for the job for this reason.
Now, to Kent’s credit, he’s not playing into that whole ordeal when it comes to his hires and he doesn’t have to. He trusts Silvey Dominguez and Greg Graham as exactly what they are, basketball purists and great, well respected people. Whether or not his third assistant has to put African American, Caucasian or Other on his application is completely irrelevant to this argument. I mean after all, Kent’s got the shoe companies to back him.
All kidding aside I just wanted to run with that idea for a few because it made sense to me and I don’t think it’s something many people (race not withstanding) would necessarily grasp as a recruiting concept. I have enough officiating experience with several of the schools from the West side of the state of WA in AAU tournaments and Summer college camps over the years that I’ve been able to see the unique interaction between the kids and their coaches. I’ve also seen a serious decline in these schools at WSU camps these past five years in particular, but this has more to do with WSU’s ability as a program than anything else. The excitement is clearly already growing rapidly.
At any rate Ernie Kent’s reputation as a coach makes him the ideal fit for Washington State University and again, the shoe company involvements just can’t be overlooked when it comes to recruiting bonuses. Honestly think about the athletes that you know of that own their own shoes through Nike… who wouldn’t want those brands backing your recruiting efforts?
Ok enough with the shoe jokes. The point I wanted to make is that Kent’s racial background helps his stock in Seattle immensely, especially when it comes to recruiting against Lorenzo Romar and the Huskies for some of the talents that would value a comfort factor over all else. Again fair or not, it is a reality of fortune for Washington State.