PULLMAN – It’s a shared experience for most everyone who’s played in a rec-league game, or a pickup game, or in their driveway, or in their bedroom with one of those little Nerf basketball hoops.
You miss a wide-open layup. An opponent banks in a 3-pointer with your hand in his face. You try to dunk after jumping from your bed and wind up face-planting into the carpet instead.
The reaction, usually, involves a quick, four-letter declaration of anguish, perhaps beginning with the letter “f,” or invoking the Lord’s name in a manner not supported by the Ten Commandments.
Or, if you’re Washington State basketball coach Ken Bone: “Gosh, dang it!”
But only when he’s really, really mad.
The gee-golly of it: Bone, now in his fourth season as WSU’s coach, doesn’t swear. So he doesn’t allow his players to swear, either, a unique approach in big-time college athletics.
It’s about discipline, to a certain extent. About doing everything right and representing the program in a respectable way.
It’s a practice that started when Bone was head coach at Seattle Pacific. His daughters were young then, and as Bone says, “since I’m the head coach, there’s a couple little things that I’m going to have control over. And I don’t care to hear it. I don’t think the fans there care to hear it, (and) I don’t really care for my young daughters to hear guys coming out of games or in the game or whatever, cussing and swearing.”
When they do, they run. This is a more common occurrence in October, when freshmen and other newcomers are still trying to eliminate those nasty words from their vocabularies.
Or, at least, mutter them quietly enough that nobody notices.
Assistant coaches and managers help in this endeavor, reminding violators to watch their language. If they don’t, the whole team lines up on the baseline and sprints to the other end of the court and back.
It’s an adjustment, for sure, though Bone says it’s not much of an issue after the first few weeks of practice.
“You don’t try to do it. You get upset or something, it’s part of competing,” said Mike Ladd, who played high school ball at Rainier Beach and two years at Fresno State. “Coming from my old school, Coach didn’t really mind because my coach would swear here and there, you know? Especially my high school, growing up. My coach would cuss me out if I did something wrong.”
“Every time you miss a shot, you have a swear word to say,” junior forward D.J. Shelton said. “That’s just off of playing hard. I come from a few programs where the coaches get in you and swear at you and that’s all you hear is f-bombs and m-er f-ers and all that, so it was hard not hearing it when he yells at us because you kind of expect it.
“It’s different, but he has a good approach to it and he gets to us in different ways without swearing and I think everybody now respects that rule and we rarely run during practice. It’s a few guys that slip up just off of real frustration, but we all respect it.”
One is left to wonder, then, how Bone still manages to get whistled for technical fouls. There seems to be a sentiment among basketball observers that to pick up a T, there needs to be some kind of vitriol behind a coach’s words.
Bone might stomp and yell and clasp his hands over his head in disbelief. But he does it about as respectfully as he can.
“Sometimes I watch video and I’m like, ‘Gosh dang, settle down,’” Bone says of his in-game actions. “So I see exactly what you see. It’s hard when you’re wrapped up in a game, and people vent different ways and you have a choice sometimes. You can drop an f-bomb, you can cuss your way through it, you can yell at the players, you can scream at the ref. And I guess I choose to sometimes just try not to go there if I can help it.”
So why the occasional T?
“It’s more just I need to back off,” Bone said. “Sometimes make your point and then shut up and sit down. Instead, I make it twice, three times. They don’t like that.”
Ladd, for one, says he’s never heard Bone use a swear word. Not once. And if he ever does?
“I would be very surprised,” Ladd said, “but then I’d be like, ‘There you go Coach! Finally! Let it out, Coach! You’ve probably been holding that in for the longest.’”
Not that everyone knows this. During the broadcast of WSU’s game against Arizona State on Thursday, play-by-play man Kevin Calabro noted Bone’s animated behavior during a timeout, and surmised he was imploring his team to rebound better.
Brevin Knight, the color analyst, joked that he was glad Calabro paraphrased, implying (likely incorrectly) that Bone’s language might not have been very PG before adding that the broadcast was “a family program.”
Well, gosh. So is WSU.