Ernie Kent

Ernie Kent speaks during his introductory news conference during as Washington State’s new men’s basketball coach Wednesday. Photo by The Associated Press.

PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — New Washington State basketball coach Ernie Kent says the rebuilding project he faces in Pullman won’t be a long one.   

“I am feeling confident that you have a winning basketball team sitting there,” Kent said, pointing to the players who attended his introductory news conference Wednesday.

Athletic director Bill Moos said Kent signed a five-year contract that will pay him a guaranteed $1.4 million a year and includes incentives. The contract includes a $2 million buyout, and there is also a pool of $650,000 to hire assistants.

Kent replaces the fired Ken Bone, who had led the Cougars during a period of mounting losses and dwindling crowds.

His last coaching job was at Oregon, where he was let go after the 2009-10 season.

Kent, who had been working as a television analyst when Washington State came calling, said the time away from coaching amounted to a much-needed sabbatical.

“My energy and my passion for the game of college basketball and life is relentless,” Kent said.

He described himself as a workaholic who already worked seven-day weeks in preparation for a return to the sidelines.

Moos, who had hired Kent to coach Oregon when Moos was athletic director there, said he offered the job to Kent last Sunday.

While there has been some grumbling among fans about Kent’s age, Moos noted that he is a decade younger than Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who is coaching his team in the Final Four.

Kent said the facilities at Washington State were adequate for recruiting purposes and that he would be selling recruits on the Pac-12, the university and Pullman’s small-town charms.

“This is not a difficult sell,” Kent said. “This is a terrific environment to build a basketball team.”

Senior Royce Woolridge said Kent will be a perfect fit for the program. “Exactly what we need is somebody who can build some confidence,” Woolridge said.

Senior Davonte Lacy also was pleased with the hire, and echoed Kent’s confidence in the returning players.

“I don’t think we need to rebuild,” Lacy said. “We need to play to our potential.”

Attendance at Friel Court dwindled to 2,800 fans per game, last in the Pac-12, as the losses piled up last season.

But Kent noted that the 12,000-seat arena was electric during the winning seasons under Tony Bennett half a decade ago.

“I saw this building on fire,” said Kent, who was Oregon coach during those years.

Kent said he had settled on his first two assistant coaches. They are Greg Graham, an assistant at Bradley, and Silvey Dominguez, an assistant at Air Force. He is still looking for a third.  

“Everything is in place here for this program to have a lot of success,” Kent said.

Bone was fired on March 18 after five seasons during which the Cougars were unable to match the success they had under his predecessor, Bennett. Bone was 80-86 at Washington State and just 29-61 in the Pac-12, never making the NCAA tournament.

Moos saw firsthand at Oregon that Kent could create the kind of buzz and excitement he wants for the Cougars. Moos hired Kent in 1997 to take over the Ducks program after six seasons at Saint Mary’s that included a trip to the NCAA tourney in Kent’s final year.

During 13 seasons at Oregon, Kent took the Ducks to five NCAA tournaments, including two trips to the Elite Eight.

He’s the winningest coach in Oregon history, going 235-173 during his time there.

Under Kent, the Ducks were fast and exciting and he was able to recruit some of the top players in the country to Eugene, including Luke Jackson, Aaron Brooks, Luke Ridnour and Malik Hairston.


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