PULLMAN – The last time Washington State University went searching for a basketball coach, athletic director Jim Sterk shocked everyone by plucking Dick Bennett out of retirement in the Midwest.
When it came time to hire someone to replace Bennett’s son Tony six years later, Sterk went in the other direction, literally and figuratively, hiring Portland State University’s Ken Bone, seemingly the frontrunner from the moment Tony Bennett announced he was leaving for the University of Virginia.
“I’m anxious. I’m excited,” Bone told the Oregonian newspaper before leaving for Pullman on Monday night. “I’m a Northwest guy who lived in Seattle for most of my life, and I’ve always thought, ‘Wow, what would it be like to be in the Pac-10 as a head coach?’ And now that opportunity is there.”
Bone will be formally introduced as the 17th men’s basketball coach in WSU’s history at a 1:30 p.m. press conference today in Pullman.
But his pursuit was obvious from last Monday, when Bennett surprised Washington State with his decision to leave. At a press conference that night, Sterk admitted he had already contacted PSU for permission to talk with Bone.
Earlier this week, WSU senior-to-be Nik Koprivica praised Bone.
“I like their style, definitely,” Koprivica said then. “They went to the NCAA tournament this year which tells me that program is really good. They’ve gone to the tournament two years in a row so that says their coach is really good.
“Their players love him and I think he’s a great coach.”
The Cougars will return two players named to the Pac-10’s All-Freshman team in guard Klay Thompson and forward DeAngelo Casto. The two, along with freshman guard Marcus Capers and Koprivica, were part of the main rotation in their 17-16 season.
“I know I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” Bone said of replacing Bennett.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, but I’m excited about the challenge ahead.”
Washington State also has signed four recruits, including Xavier Thames, a 6-foot-3 point guard from Elk Grove, Calif.
“We had a feeling going in that he was a real strong candidate,” Thames’ dad, Ray, said of the selection. “Xavier is looking forward to talking with coach Bone and exploring his options.”
Thames also said the status of assistant coaches Ron Sanchez and Ben Johnson would play a part in his son’s decision whether to ask out of his letter of intent to Washington State.
Sanchez and operations assistant Ronnie Wideman have been offered positions with Bennett at Virginia, though their decisions have not been announced. And the future status of current assistants Johnson, Matt Woodley and operations director Mike Heideman is still unsettled.
“Given the success of the program I think there’s a good chance some of the assistants will be retained,” Sterk said earlier this week.
Bone was interviewed Saturday in Seattle by Sterk and associate athletic directors John Johnson and Anne McCoy, with school president Elson S. Floyd joining by telephone. Also interviewed there was Utah State coach Stew Morrill. University of Alabama-Birmingham coach Mike Davis and others were interviewed by the trio at the Final Four in Detroit.
Morrill and Davis pulled their names from consideration Monday morning.
Bone, 50, is a Northwest native who has spent almost his entire playing and coaching career in the region.
Since being named the head coach at Portland State of the Big Sky Conference prior to the 2005-06 season, Bone’s Vikings have posted a 77-49 record.
The past two seasons have been especially productive for PSU, with a school-record 23 wins in each and both culminating in NCAA tournament berths. The Vikings, however, lost in the first round each season.
This year PSU posted the school’s first upset of a ranked foe, stopping No. 7 Gonzaga, 77-70, in Spokane.
Before taking over at Portland State, Bone spent three years as an assistant at the University of Washington under coach Lorenzo Romar. During Bone’s stint at UW the Huskies appeared in the NCAA tournament twice.
A majority of Bone’s career was spent at his alma mater, Seattle Pacific University, a Division II school. In his 12 years as head coach at SPU, his Falcons posted a 253-97 record, won six Pacific West Conference titles and appeared in the NCAA tournament eight times. Sterk was associate athletic director at SPU during a period of Bone’s tenure there.
Bone’s overall record as a head coach is 253-167 in 17 seasons.
Before coming to Seattle Pacific as an assistant, Bone worked at Bremerton’s Olympic Junior College, Cal State Stanislaus and at Shorecrest, where he attended high school. His brother Len was head coach at University High in the Spokane Valley and is now at Snohomish High.
Bone and his wife Connie have three daughters.
With Bone’s hire, Sterk has dipped into the Big Sky Conference for his last two major hires, having plucked football coach Paul Wulff from Eastern Washington University in December 2007.