WSU coach stays close to roots
PULLMAN – There’s really only one thing you need to know about new Washington State men’s basketball coach Ken Bone.
Except for two youthful years spent in Turlock, Calif., he’s lived his entire life in Washington.
Even during the past four, when he made his NCAA tournament reputation coaching in the Big Sky Conference at Portland State, Bone and his family lived on the north side of the Columbia River in the Vancouver area.
But, really, what do you expect from the son of Seattle-area school teacher and basketball coach who attended Shorecrest High and Seattle Pacific University, earned a coaching job at his alma mater and married a girl from the old neighborhood?
Heck, if not for an inability to woo an athletic director, he could just as easily be sweeping the gym each night in Coulee City instead of drawing up the fine points of a UCLA cut on the white board in his new WSU office.
“What I envisioned myself doing was being a high school coach, that’s what I wanted to do,” Bone said this week during a nearly hour-long interview in that still-sparsely furnished office. “Maybe one day down the road I would get a chance to be a college coach.”
And that’s another thing you need to know about Ken Bone. He’s a basketball lifer who is living more than his dream.
It all started with his dad, Walt, who coached at the no-longer-with-us Queen Anne High and the new Nathan Hale High. Ken and his older brother Len – four years his senior – would tag along to practices, shooting, playing, soaking up the game.
An excellent high school player limited some by bad knees, Bone played a year each at Shoreline and Edmonds junior colleges before finding his true home on the north slope of Queen Anne Hill at SPU. He would spend 18 of the next 22 years there.
“I could still be at Seattle Pacific and be totally content,” Bone said.
Maybe that’s because, after spending a year helping at Shorewood High while doing his student teaching and being unable to land a head coaching job despite interviewing at Coulee-Hartline High and Seattle Prep, he followed Claude Terry to Cal State Stanislaus.
After assisting for a year in Turlock, hard in the farm country of the San Joaquin Valley, he took over as interim coach when Terry returned to Seattle Pacific. In his one year, Stanislaus was 5-21.
But Bone did learn something.
“Trust me, there’s a lot to do with coaching, but you better have the horses, you better have the players,” he said. “It’s critical to have good players.”
And you better like where you’re living.
In Bone’s case, that would be in Washington, and he moved back to become Terry’s assistant. Four years later, he became the first alum to guide the Falcons.
Under Terry, SPU was basically a .500 team. Under Bone, the Falcons became a Division II power.
His second year they were 23-8. His fourth year they were in the NCAA tournament. His fifth year they won an NCAA game. By 2000, they were in the Final Four.
“I’d like to say it was the execution and how good a teacher I was, and being able to execute, give me a little pat on the back,” Bone said of his success at Seattle Pacific. “But it wasn’t that. I really think we, compared to other teams, I felt we executed well, but I also felt we went out and got good players.”
Talent yes, and something more.
“I think what we did a pretty good job, is identifying kids who fit their roles,” Bone said.
Having put Seattle Pacific on “solid ground,” as he terms it, Bone was ready to change roles. Not looking for a new job, one found him when old friend Lorenzo Romar – they had played pickup games against each other in college – took over as the University of Washington head coach.
“Seattle Pacific was a great job,” Bone said of the place he built a 251-97 record. “We were getting to the Sweet 16, the Final Four, we were having success. It was a nice niche, a great fit for me.”
Bone met his wife, Connie, through friends. They married in 1987 and were raising three daughters together. In UW, he saw a chance to move up without moving.
“When Lorenzo came to town, and I knew I didn’t have to relocate – in this business, when you change jobs, you relocate,” Bone said. “I think to myself, ‘He’s a great guy, I think Washington can be successful, I’m going to do this, I’m going to go for it.’
“If I’m ever going to leave Seattle Pacific this is, in my mind, a low-risk move.”
In Bone’s three seasons with the Huskies, they won 58 games, capping it off with a NCAA tournament No. 1 seed in 2005.
“Bringing him on at the University of Washington, to me, was a no-brainer,” said Romar, who hired Bone without an interview because “I knew him well enough and knew he brought the type of things to the table I was looking for: someone who was very competent as a coach, yet at the same time wasn’t using the game to use others. He was using the game to help others.”
Still, his time at UW helped him land the coaching job at Portland State, a school not many people thought of as a basketball power.
“You have to understand, there are only so many jobs at the Division I level,” Bone said. “There are only so many jobs that I felt I was really comfortable being at. It narrows down big time.
“I’m a Northwest guy. I feel if I’m going to have success, my best chance is in the Northwest.”
A commuter school in downtown, Portland State had posted only three winning seasons since reinstating basketball in 1996, though the Vikings had won the Big Sky regular-season title in 2004-05.
“It’s just not your typical college campus,” Bone said. “It’s a tough, tough sell. That’s why we ended up going the (transfer) route the first couple years. We couldn’t get a high school kid we felt was legit.
“We didn’t have the resources to go around the country and the local kids just saw too many warts.”
But with players like Jeremiah Dominguez, Washington transfer Phil Nelson and Dominic Waters, after two building years Bone guided the Vikings to back-to-back 23-win seasons (a school record), back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances (the school’s first) and, this season, an upset of then-seventh-ranked Gonzaga in Spokane.
After the first NCAA appearance, Bone thought it might be time to move on. The Oregon State position was open and Bone interviewed for it at the Final Four in San Antonio.
The school chose Craig Robinson, and one of the few Pac-10 positions where Bone thought he could succeed was closed.
“I wasn’t devastated because as a Christian I do believe there’s a plan,” Bone said. “There’s a plan in my life and I feel like, if the Lord wanted me there, I would have been there.”
The rest is simple. Another NCAA berth; Tony Bennett surprises WSU and leaves for the University of Virginia; a weeklong search brings Cougars athletic director Jim Sterk back to the guy he was interested in all along, Ken Bone.
“I feel like I’m prepared for this position,” Bone said. “I’ve worked at a couple places where there are some hurdles. Seattle Pacific was one, Portland State was one.”
One of his biggest boosters in the WSU athletic department is women’s coach June Daugherty. Their paths crossed at clinics and at UW, where Daugherty became a Bone booster.
“Ken’s a winner,” Daugherty said. “He’s a wonderful man who is a basketball genius. He loves the game and his guys love to play for him. To me, he’s the total package.
“If my son has the opportunity to play college ball, Ken Bone is somebody who would be in our home doing a home visit.”
As long as it’s in Washington, Bone will know the way.
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