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The Pac-12 is pretty well settled at the top. Arizona and Utah are fighting for the conference throne, followed up Stanford and upstart Oregon State.
Everything gets pretty muddled after that. Four teams have 3-4 Pac-12 records thus far and so far there isn't all that much to separate No. 5 Oregon (4-3 Pac-12) and No. 10 Arizona State (2-5).
Injuries at Colorado and a shocking dismissal aren't making the conference hierarchy any more apparent.
— Yesterday WSU coach Ernie Kent spoke to the media about his team's current and upcoming challenges.
— It's hard to see how Washington returns to the rankings after dismissing Robert Upshaw.
— The Pac-12 goes behind the scenes with Arizona basketball.
— ASU's freshman point guard is out for the season with a fractured foot.
— California added a wide receiver to its recruiting class.
— Colorado has raised millions of dollars for a new athletic complex.
— Gary Payton The Younger won Pac-12 Player of the Week.
— Stanford will be the first team to benefit from UW's big loss.
— Jonah Bolden is a little closer to contributing to UCLA's basketball team.
— Are things getting better at USC under Andy Enfield?
— Jordan Loveridge has scored more than 1,000 points for Utah.
Ernie Kent addressed the media on Monday and acknowledged that his team may be getting a little winded.
In last week's loss at Colorado the Cougars shot just 38.7 percent from the field and were short on most of their misses, a telltale sign that a team is shooting with tired legs.
One example comes in the form of sophomore forward Josh Hawkinson, who began the year as one of WSU's best 3-point shooters but is 0 of 12 from behind the arc in conference play.
Kent credited playing two physical teams in Utah and CU and the altitude with wearing out the Cougars a bit. It may also be that the three underclassmen starters – sophomores Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu and freshman Ny Redding – are starting to hit a wall, particularly Hawkinson and Iroegbu who have each seen their minutes increase since conference play began.
Here is the full transcript of our meeting with Kent:
WSU basketball coach Ernie Kent
Question: Was the Colorado game the first step back in 'The Process?'
Ernie Kent: I don't know if I would call it "taking a step back" because that is such a tough trip. If you look at the teams playing the second games there in Boulder, I think they're 1-10 with Arizona being the only team that's gotten a victory there.
(This may not be the statistic that Kent was referring to but by my count the Buffaloes are 10-4 in the second home game against Pac-12 teams since joining the conference. — Jacob)
After I looked at tape, games are never as good as you think they are and they're never as bad as you think they are. Looking at tape I thought we played actually pretty well the first half, a lot better than I thought we were playing. They played super in the game. They shot the ball well, they had great rhythm and great confidence in the game so you have to give them some credit rather than saying we took a step back.
I didn't sense that at all, I'll have a better feel for that as we prepare and play this week though.
Q: A lot of their early scoring game from players that do not often score. Did they do some things that didn't show up in the scouting report?
EK: No, they just shot the ball extremely well. I think I read afterwards that (CU coach Tad Boyle) talked about he had the conversation with them to free themselves up and not to be so robotic in their play and just to "free their minds," as he called it. If you can get a team in that type of rhythm it's hard to shut them down. Like I said I'd give them credit for what they did because teams have run into us like that, too, where everything we've thrown up has gone in.
There's not much you can do outside of that other than to weather it as best as you can but I thought they did extremely well in the game.
Q: Does your team need a confidence boost right now?
EK: I don't think it's needing a confidence boost. If anything, with this team, I think I've got to be careful not to overwork them and make sure they can get reenergized and go back to work again.
The game like the Colorado game, I won't really even show them the tape of that game until we go back at them again and more or less just focus on what needs to be done this week to get them ready to play Cal and Stanford.
Q: How does playing a team for the second time change your preparation?
EK: I think from a coaching perspective the coaches won't be as in-depth and as thorough because we've played them, we have a pretty good feel for them just in terms of going through eight, nine, 10 games and things like that and watching them.
(California has) lost six in a row. I would say they're a team that's desperately needing a win and you need to make sure you guard against any type of a letdown in terms of not being ready to play a team like that.
Our job is to make sure we're ready with our confidence and our game plan and we will be.
Q: Jabari Bird will play for Cal in this game How does he change their team?
EK: There is difference because that's another guy that can really put up points for them and he's starting to find his rhythm, play a little bit better and find his rhythm in each game so it will be a little different for us, just in terms of game-planning and things like that knowing that he's back and he's going to be even better than he was a couple weeks ago when you saw them play.
Q: What do you need to do to keep Jordan Matthews from heating up?
EK: Well defensively I felt like we've struggled all year long. That was a game when we played them there where it wasn't bad and he still had a big game so he is a very difficult player to shut down because he can get rolling on you and he shoots the ball so well and he shoots so deep.
The biggest thing is just making sure you stay between him and the basket and when he catches you've got to be right there with him because if you're a split second late he lets it go and he's pretty pure with his shot.
Q: What is Bird capable of if he's on his A-game?
EK: I think battling through a freshman year and battling through some injuries have kept him off of his A-game. If he's on his A-game – very, very highly recruited player. He's a guy that can score inside, outside. He's tough to matchup with because he's strong, he's skilled enough to put it on the floor. I think people have yet to see the real Jabari Bird just because he's not been on his game due to the injuries and everything.
Q: Are the losses starting to compound for Cal?
EK: I think it's a coaching staff going through the Pac-12 conference for the first time. Again, the preseason is different than the conference because teams can sit on top of your offense, they tend to take things away. Teams know your personnel, they know your building, it's just so different when all of a sudden you hit conference play.
Sometimes as a coach you have to go through that to understand a little bit better, too, so I think they’ll be better the second half of conference season having gone through the teams now and seeing what everybody else does; I think they will prepare better and maybe differently and I think their team will play better.
So again, you've got to guard against taking any team lightly because anybody can beat anybody in this conference on any given night. You've got to be ready to play.
Q: Was the elevation difference a factor against Colorado?
EK: It is a factor but again, I always say it's the second game maybe. It didn't affect us at all during the Utah game and we got up and down pretty good. I thought at times during the Colorado game we looked a little winded but you sub guys in and out of the games. There's a physical factor and obviously a mental one, too, and obviously there's a reason those two teams have a lot of success with the second game.
Just look at where they've been and it's because of the altitude and everything but you have to play through it and I think again when you get your team to the level – it doesn't seem like it's bothered Arizona too much – to where you have the players where they need to be and go in there and play that it shouldn't be that big of a factor for you.
Q: Were you surprised fatigue was a factor despite the extra day off?
EK: Well, it's kind of the longer you stay the worse it is in that case. It wasn't like it was a huge factor in the game. Again, they shot the ball extremely well and played really well in the game. Maybe the game goes differently if you had two slow-it-down teams. Washington slowed it down and we slowed it down or Washington was a speed team and we were a slow down team to keep the game a little closer. But we're a an up-tempo team so we're going to run in that environment and everything.
As we came through it the biggest thing for me is we had three or four great days of altitude training and we should be great this weekend when we play.
Q: You've had three teams that have all had very good shooting nights. Why not try a man defense in some of those situations?
EK: When you talk about the three teams I'm assuming you're talking Oregon, Utah and Colorado? You're talking three of the better offensive teams. Colorado obviously had an exceptional night with some guys playing that hadn't put up numbers. But Utah, look at what they're doing to people. They're beating everybody by 20. That's a very good basketball team, well-balanced, they have a nice group of veteran players, they do not beat themselves.
Understanding again, you kind of pick your poison with those teams. Oregon the same way. I knew Oregon was going to be a game where you had to put points on the board to beat Oregon because they score so well, they're very skilled, they get up and down the floor so there's not going to be any zoning or man-to-man against them.
As we build our program we know who we are and I'll say this again. If you look at this team the last two years they were last in defense the last two years, last in offense, last in field goal percentage, last in free throws. We can go a lot of lasts. We're trying to move them forward and I think offensively they're playing better in conference. Our numbers are better, our free throw numbers are better. The defensive part of it yeah, our bodies are our bodies. We haven't figured out that piece and it might come later on down the road for us and everything else but we certainly work at it hard every day. So we're going to have to junk or gimmick it a little bit.
You'll see us full-court pressing, you see us zoning, you'll see us (play man defense), it just depends on the opponent so when you look back on it and say, 'boy, should you have played man more?' probably. But at the time the way they were shooting the ball it wouldn't have mattered man or zone in that game.
Q: Do you expect Jordan Railey or someone else to support Josh Hawkinson's rebounding?
EK: What we've done with Josh if you notice who he's matched up with, that guy is always the guy that sits in that low block because he's such a good rebounder defensively we put him on the team's best low post guy. Even in Jordan's case he plays away from the basket a little bit more because he always takes that four man that maybe is not around the bucket as much, therefore Josh's numbers are going to be inflated because he seeks the ball so well and we keep him close to the basket because he is such a great rebounder.
He definitely needs some help from our guards, not just from Railey. We look at a guy like Que Johnson and how big he is and how athletic he is, he should average more rebounds. We've talked to DaVonte, he should average more rebounds. Brett Boese should get more rebounds but Josh does a good job of patrolling the boards and he gives you kind of a false sense thinking he's going to get every one and guys want to leak out. That's a discipline thing to know your job, do your job on a possession-by-possession basis and they could do a better job helping him out.
Q: Why has Hawkinson been so much more effective this season?
EK: When you look at the way we play the two toughest positions for us to find are the point guard position and the four-man because the four-man has to be able to stretch the floor. He's got to be able to shoot it, he's got to be able to rebound it, he's got to be able to put it on the floor, he's got to be able to pass it. He has to be very, very skilled and sure enough, that's what Josh Hawkinson is.
He's perfect for how we want to play, he's perfect for that position as well, too. As his body matures, he gets bigger he gets stronger this spring into the summer with weight-lifting and everything, he's only going to get better because he's got a nice frame on him. He's long, he's smart. He understands the game and knows how to position himself, he has a great feel for where the ball's going to be and does a great job of what I call "playing in space," meaning you really don't have to run a lot of stuff for him because he has such a tremendous feel for the game. He just makes plays and gets shots because of feel. And that's why that position is hard so to have a player like that in your program that's only a sophomore is pretty unique to play and put up the numbers that he's putting up and he only has an opportunity to get better as his body get stronger.
Q: What made you confident he could take on so much more responsibility compared to last season?
EK: Well I'm sure he would tell you there was a coaching change and with the coaching change a new style and new system came in that fit who he is as a player. He's not a back to the basket, low post player. He's a guy that needs to face the basket and play away from the basket and then you can put him down underneath every now and again as well. I think his development has come because of the confidence that was instilled in him that he's a perfect fit for what we're looking for, giving him the green light to go and play and shoot the basketball.
Keep in mind, here's a player that averaged three to five minutes a game that's putting up major minutes for us and night-in, night-out getting that body pounded right now. So, he's going to hit the wall a little bit and kind of has to regroup and get moving again so he's kind of at that stage right now. I could see a little fatigue in him and it wasn't so much again the altitude in the trip as he's logging a lot of minutes and people are pounding him with those minutes.
We can't get him off the floor because he's so good and does so many different things for us so down the road when you're talking about recruiting and things like that, he needs some help because he can't play those major minutes and play as hard as we need for him to play on both ends of the floor getting those kind of minutes night-in, night-out.
Q: Besides strength are there any other aspects of his game you think could use improvement? His 3-pointers haven't been falling.
EK: He's a tremendous shooter, one of the best shooters on the team. What you're seeing, if you look at his shots they're all short. That's fatigue. And again I would say with the minutes he's having to log it's very important we continue to hit the refresh button on him because he's good in the games. We've just got to get him to the games with the right kind of focus and stamina and work from there. If there's a thing he needs to improve on it's going to be his defense and his quickness.
He may not get any quicker as an athlete but certainly he can get sounder technique-wise and as he gets bigger and stronger, gets into his junior and senior years, and now you're looking at that player – if you look at the Butler players in the past, in your junior and senior year when you're mentally stronger to know your job, do your job – and now all of a sudden he's a senior against somebody else's freshman or sophomore who jumped from five minutes to having to play 30 minutes and you'll just see an even more dominating player because he's mentally tough enough to grind through games because, maturity. So, as he matures he's going to get better. He'll get better physically and he'll get better mentally and as his body gets stronger he'll get better defensively, too.
After spending months committed to playing at USC next year, Taeon Mason changed his mind this week.
Just days ago he told the USC coaches that he changed his mind and on Sunday he used his Twitter account to announce his decision to play at Washington State.
OFFICIALLY A COUG!!!👏👏👏— 1⃣8⃣™ (@taeonm18) January 25, 2015
Scout.com lists the 6-foot, 170-pound Mason as a four-star receiver, ranked No. 47 in the country at the position. Rivals.com also gives Mason four stars, but as a cornerback where he is rated No. 34 nationally.
Mason plays at Muir High in Pasadena, California and dealt with some injuries this season, missing the season-opener because of an issue with his back. But he came back after the injury and obviously played well enough to keep schools interested.
His commitment only helps WSU's precipitous rise in the recruiting rankings and it seems all but certain that the program will sign its most highly-ranked recruiting class since the online services became prominent in the early 2000s.
Scout.com ranks WSU's class No. 23 in the country and gives six of WSU's committed recruits four-star grades and Rivals.com has the Cougars 29th with four four-stars.
Here is a video of WSU's newest announced recruit:
Here are some links before I get the heck back to Pullman.
— Our game story from WSU's 90-58 loss at Colorado.
— The Buffaloes ended a four-game losing streak.
— WSU's director of football operations got some recognition yesterday.
— Vince Mayle had a couple catches at the Senior Bowl.
— Quoting Lorenzo Romar before Washington game at Utah.
— Arizona beat up California in Berkeley.
— Arizona State's defense had no answer against Stanford.
— Cal's "take flight" warm-ups were no help against the Wildcats.
— Oregon's shooters were locked in during a blowout win over still-reeling UCLA.
— Oregon State just keeps winning, this time against USC.
— The perseverance showed by Brandon Taylor has paid off for the Utes.
Washington State's director of football operations Dave Emerick got some recognition from CBS.
From linebackers coach Ken Wilson:
What does a director of football operations do, exactly? Here's a Spokesman-Review profile of Mike Leach's chief of staff from 2012
Wilt Chamberlain never scored 37 points in a quarter. Neither did Larry Bird, nor George Gervin (although Iceman came close).
But last night Klay Thompson did. Just watch:
There were no Pac-12 games yesterday but here are a few links:
— The Cougars play at Colorado tonight. Here is our story previewing the game.
— The Buffaloes are in the middle of a tumultuous season.
— Here is a story about Thompson's big night.
— The women's basketball team beat Utah thanks to a strong second half.
— It's crunch time for this year's recruiting class.
Because Utah and Washington State played their game on Wednesday they got to take Thursday off.
But there was plenty of Pac-12 action on Thursday, so here are the links:
— Yesterday morning we took a look back at the Utah game in our day-after post.
— Washington beat Colorado with a last-second shot.
— Arizona had an unlikely hero in its win over Stanford.
— Arizona State creamed California by 35 points.
— Cal's Cuonzo Martin took credit for the loss.
— For Colorado it was just one more close loss and missed opportunity.
— Oregon staved off USC's upset attempt.
— Chalk up another win for Oregon State, this one against the plodding UCLA Bruins.
— Stanford lost at home for the first time this season.
— Life without Tony Parker hasn't been rosy for the Bruins.
— USC almost completed the comeback against the Ducks.
— Beating the Cougars wasn't enough to satisfy the Utes.
We dissect Washington State's 86-64 loss to Utah in our usual day-after post.
Perhaps the Cougars are on a bit of a slump. Perhaps, as Vince Grippi suggested, they just don't play well against former Montana coaches. Or maybe something about playing the Pac-12's top two scoring defenses threw WSU for a loop.
Whatever it was, the Cougars lost again last night and Utah, the nation's No. 12 team playing in its own house, never seemed very threatened.
— Unlike the Oregon State game, the Cougars were actually able to play at their own pace and forced the Utes to run with them for the games first 10-15 minutes. That might not have been the best thing for WSU, however, because the Utes had the athletes to keep up with WSU and the defensive skill to force WSU into bad decision.
The Utes showed an occasional trap defense and forced WSU into 17 turnovers. WSU's fast-break offense worked against it, increasing the number of possessions and increasing the speed at which the Utes were able to distance themselves from the Cougars.
Those turnovers threw WSU out of its offensive rhythm and WSU's only effective offense the rest of the game was early in the second half when it made 6 of 7 3-pointers, not all of which were great looks.
— Senior Jordan Railey had an interesting game in his first extensive action since the California game. After the best game of his career in Berkeley, Railey played just five minutes against Washington and then 10 minutes in each of the last two games, ostensibly because of personnel matchups.
The glaring stat from Wednesday's game is Railey's 2 of 9 performance at the free throw line, which admittedly isn't great at a shot so easy the original basketball architects decided to put "free" right in the name.
Put in every other regard Railey actually played pretty well, scoring 12 points and collecting eight rebounds in 24 minutes. He also had a career-high five blocks and by getting to the line so frequently he kept Utah's bigs in foul trouble efor much of the game.
Some stats of note:
— DaVonté Lacy made three 3-pointers, moving him into fifth-place on WSU's all-time list.
— Freshman Trevor Dunbar's 15 minutes were his most yet in a Pac-12 game.
— Aaron Cheatum scored his first Pac-12 points.
Quotes of note:
Brett Boese on how WSU can better defend 3-pointers while in a zone defense:
" I think if you close out with high hands, hands in the passing lanes, everyone talks about the Syracuse zone how they're so effective, because their hands are always up."
Jordan Railey on attacking Utah inside since the Utes didn't have 7-footer Jakob Poeltl:
"I don't necessarily think it was anything to do with Poeltl himself, it was just what was available at the time.
Ernie Kent on why they lost:
"The number one thing we talked about today was taking away the 3-point shot and we did not do that. I thought our energy was good getting up and down the floor, I thought we battled back at times to cut it to 10 but you've got to take care of easy buckets."
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak on the game starting with a technical for dunking in warm-ups:
"I'm just happy now that we're enforcing all the rules of basketball."
Former WSU receiver Vince Mayle is turning heads with his stature and his physical play at practices leading up to Saturday's Senior Bowl.
Here is just some of what the reporters covering the reporters covering the NFL draft hopefuls are writing about Mayle:
He physically overpowered a defensive back in the second day of practice … NFL Media's Mike Mayock says the receiver moves better than he expected he would … He's standing out even in a group full of big, sturdy receivers … In fact all the local prospects are looking pretty good.
— Turnovers and missed free throws cost WSU yesterday in a loss at Utah. We've got postgame videos of Ernie Kent and a couple players.
— The Utes weren't very happy with their post play but the guards looked great.
— The Huskies face Colorado today in a building where they have not won since the mid-1970s.
— Arizona and Stanford will meet in a matchup of two of the conference's best teams.
— Arizona State's Shaq McKissic is creating quite a collection of Pac-12 posters.
— Cal's Kingsley Okoroh is rapidly improving.
— Colorado will try to avoid giving Robert Upshaw his customary five blocks or so in today's game.
— Oregon has a must-win game today against USC.
— Oregon State's new football coach says Wisconsin's high academic standards drove him to Corvallis. Wayne Tinkle is coming up with creative ways to keep his players' legs fresh.
— Stanford is hoping to end a long streak of losing to Arizona.
— UCLA coach Steve Alford hasn't forgotten his Indiana roots.
— USC coach Andy Enfield hasn't made a big impact, says Pedro Moura.
In the early afternoon yesterday the Washington State players and coaches found out that they will be without their starting center for the rest of the season.
We have a blog post about Shalie Dheensaw's career-ending knee injury and Thomas Clouse has more in his notebook.
We've got some good news for WSU women's basketball fans, however. Lia Galdeira's sick tip-in at Oregon made the Pac-12's highlight reel of the week's top plays. Today the men face the daunting task of trying to beat Utah on its home court. Here's our advance of that game. The football team received a verbal commitment from a Texas recruit yesterday.
Here's an article about WSU's apparent turnaround under Ernie Kent.
— The Utes are focused on stopping DaVonte Lacy in tonight's game.
— Washington's Lorenzo Romar gave some very frank answers about modern recruiting in this interview.
— It's about time Arizona showed some consistency.
— Some things to take away from Arizona State's win over Stanford in women's hoops.
— Two California reporters break down the upcoming games.
— Colorado's players are still motivated despite their discouraging record.
— Marcus Mariota could be reunited with former Oregon coach Chip Kelly in the NFL.
— The best stretch of Tony Parker's career could be halted by back spasms.
— A former USC football star has joined the strength and conditioning staff.
*I will be traveling to all day so no live chat today.
Washington State center Shalie Dheensaw will miss the rest of her senior season because of a right knee injury sustained on the final play of Friday's game at Oregon State. A Vancouver, B.C. native, Dheensaw started 50 consecutive games for the Cougars. She was third on the team in scoring (8.6 points per game) and led the team with 7.2 rebounds per game. Her 29 blocks ranked No. 4 in the conference.
Each week the Pac-12 Networks selects 12 plays of the week and Lia Galdeira's tip-in at Oregon came in at No. 3.
Galdeira's basket proved to be a critical play in WSU's 79-76 win in Eugene, an important bounce-back win after the Cougars gave up a 16-point second half lead in a 73-70 loss at No. 9 Oregon State two days prior. The video below contains all 12 of this week's highlights. Galdeira's play occurs at the 2:25 mark.
Spring, Texas cornerback Willie Sykes committed to play football at Washington State on Monday evening.
Britton Ransford of Rivals.com first reported the news, and says that Sykes chose the Cougars over scholarship offers from Purdue, Nebraska, Oregon State, Utah and others. Both Rivals and Scout.com rate Sykes as a two-star prospect but his scholarship offers seem to indicate he's a good prospect.
Sykes is 6-foot, 180-pounds and is supposed to be very fast.
He is the third defensive back Mike Leach's staff has recruited out of Texas, joining Charleston White and Darius Lemora.
Here is some video of WSU's newest recruit:
It's only Tuesday morning and the Washington State men's basketball team is already about to fly to Salt Lake City.
Because the Cougars play on Wednesday, everything is happening a little earlier this week. So, we already had our media availability with coach Ernie Kent and that transcript is included in this blog post about Brett Boese, who has emerged as one of WSU's key players.
We also have a blog post about WSU's newest football recruit.
In other Pac-12 news …
— Ted Miller recaps Washington's season.
— Arizona's star freshman Stanley Johnson is starting to fit in even better.
— There will be a lot of Bay Area ties in the upcoming Super Bowl.
— Colorado has suspended Xavier Johnson for one game, but he'll be back in time to play against WSU.
— Next year's starting quarterback at Oregon may not currently be on the team.
— The Utes recruiters landed an offensive lineman but lost a running back yesterday.
Offensive lineman Joseph Price of California's Redlands East Valley High will play at Washington State next season, according to his coach.
REVHS coach Kurt Bruich tweeted the news along with a picture of Price at his home with WSU coach Mike Leach. Offensive line coach Clay McGuire and linebackers coach Ken Wilson were also on the visit.
Scout.com lists Price as a 6-foot-6, 267-pound offensive tackle and gives him a three-star grade. He reportedly also holds scholarship offers from California and Fresno State.
Price is the fifth known offensive lineman in the 2015 recruiting class to accept a WSU scholarship offer.
Washington State's most improved player is Josh Hawkinson and it's not up for discussion. The sophomore forward has made one of the biggest jumps of any player nationally scoring 14.2 more points per game and hauling in 9.4 more rebounds per game than he did last season.
But three weeks into conference play it's starting to look like WSU's second-most improved player is Shadle Park graduate Brett Boese.
While Hawkinson has been arguably WSU's best player since the start of the season, Boese's improvement has been more recent. After averaging 15.5 minutes during WSU's nonconference games, he's seen his average spike to 27 per game in WSU's five Pac-12 games.
He's been easily the team's most dangerous 3-point shooter, hitting 43 percent of his perimeter shots, which makes him an especially valuable player on a team that has no other players shooting better than 36 percent from behind the arc.
Boese has played at least 30 minutes in each of WSU's last three games, playing a career-high 34 in Saturday's loss to Oregon State. Coach Ernie Kent says that's probably too many and that he would like to keep Boese around 20-25 minutes per game.
Still those would be borderline starter's minutes. An average of 22.5 minutes per game would be No. 5 on the team, right behind Ike Iroegbu's 25.7 minutes per game.
But Kent says he has no plans to insert Boese into the starting lineup, which typically consists of Iroegbu, Hawkinson, Ny Redding, DaVonté Lacy and Jordan Railey.
Instead, he prefers to keep the matchup versatility he gets by having Boese come off the bench to be used wherever the Cougars are showing a weakness. If the game dictates that Kent employ a small lineup, the 6-foot-7 Boese is able to come in as a stretch forward.
Should WSU decide to go with a tall lineup to rebound better or something, Boese can sub in as a wing.
Given the amount of shuffling Kent has done with his lineups this season, it's easy to see why he likes having a wild card.
"What's really cool about this system is coach Kent's really adaptive to what he has," Boese said. "I think he adjusts to who is playing well and who's on the floor so I don’t' think he has set positions guys have to fit into."
Boese has improved enough on offense to be a reliable spot-up shooter and in games against OSU and Washington he provided some early scoring when the rest of the Cougars offense was inert.
But the reason Kent is starting to play him so many minutes is because of what he's giving the Cougars on defense and that's where his versatility is most apparent. He's defended 6-foot-3 guards and 250 posts, most notably UW's Shawn Kemp Jr.
Kemp Jr. did shoot 6 of 9 in that game but wasn't able to get as many shots up in the post as UW probably would have liked against a smaller lineup. WSU's good post defense against the taller Huskies forced the UW offense to the perimeter, where the Huskies made just 4 of 19 3-pointers.
Kent talked about Boese's role and more during his weekly media availability on Monday. The transcription of his remarks is below.
WSU men's basketball coach Ernie Kent
Question: Will Trevor Dunbar see more time because of his effectiveness on Saturday?
Ernie Kent: In talking about the last game – we had an intense game with Washington, it was like an NCAA tournament game. And then you've got to go through all they hype, we talk about the students coming back, starting classes again and then we have an even more intense game against Oregon.
Consequently, we didn't have great legs against Oregon State and it cost us a ballgame. They played extremely well; we didn't have our energy. Trevor was the one guy that had fresh legs because he hadn't played a lot. So he gave us an opportunity to kind of get moving, try to change the game and everything.
His time will really be dictated upon how Ny (Redding) plays and how Ike (Iroegbu) plays, because they're ahead of him. More consistent, they've done more, they've produced more, they've given us more confidence in them as we get confidence back. So hopefully when he gets a chance to shine in practice, hopefully when he gets an opportunity in a game he will continue to grow because he could help us as long as he's on his A-game and it's taken him some time to make the adjustment from high school to this level, understanding everything that goes on at this level on the floor, off the floor.
Which is OK, because he's just a freshman and my whole thing with freshmen, come at your own pace as long as you come and he's starting to come on right now and that's a good thing.
Q: Is that also the case for Aaron Cheatum and Jackie Davis?
EK: They're out of the rotation. You're not going to play 13 guys – we play nine deep, maybe that tenth guy gets a few minutes. If you look at where they're at, let's talk about Trevor. Is he playing better than Ny, is he playing better than Ike? No. So he doesn't play ahead of them unless circumstances dictate – foul trouble, the fatigue factor, trying to change the game with more quickness on the floor and so forth.
Jackie is in a tough spot because he's got to outplay Brett (Boese), DaVonte (Lacy), Ike, Que (Johnson), Dex (Dexter Kernich-Drew) and he's just not doing that so it's hard for him to get minutes.
In Cheatum's case you're talking about Junior (Longrus) and Josh (Hawkinson). He's at Josh Hawkinson's position and Josh – we can't get him off the floor because he's playing so well so unfortunately they're just out of the rotation right now.
Q: What have you seen out of Utah?
EK: They are an excellent, excellent basketball team. They deserve their ranking. They ran into a little bit of a buzz saw with Arizona and that crowd and emotion in Arizona coming off a loss and those types of things. I think for us, it's going to be a very tough opponent going in there to play.
(Coach) Larry (Krystkowiak)'s done a great job with that team. I've watched that team grow up starting when they were freshmen, doing FOX TV and then on the Pac-12 Networks so I know all their personnel extremely well and they're all playing really, really well.
So, they're coming off a loss, they need to get going again. It's going to be an incredible college basketball environment. We're going to have to really be on our game similar to the Washington game, Oregon game, that type of performance to go in there and have any kind of chance of winning that ball game.
Q: If Boese continues to play around 30 minutes do you see him becoming a starter?
EK: No. He's perfect for where he's at. 30 minutes is probably too much for him and he's playing 30 minutes maybe because Que or Dex weren't on their games so you want more of Brett. But as those guys get better they will decrease (Boese)'s minutes, as they get more consistent they will decrease Brett's minutes.
That's too many minutes. He needs to be somewhere between 20-25 minutes. He can really be effective that way.
Q: Do you like to have a player that can play on the wing or in the post come off the bench?
EK: Yep. With the way we play in our system and everything the more versatile you are the more minutes you can get, the more you can play and that's why he is playing a lot. The same way with Dex. If Dex would accept and really get comfortable and confident playing the perimeter and then coming in and playing a big guy when we go small, it's great.
Brett has the ability to do that, it doesn't bother him at all. He guarded (Shawn) Kemp (Jr.) one game, he got out on the perimeter and he can guard out there. He's a guy that has enough versatility in his game that you can move him around.
We can't run a lot of offense when he goes inside but that's OK because we spread the floor and play what I call "small ball" and use his ability to shoot and stretch the floor.
Q: Is Delon Wright a threat to have a very high-scoring game against you the way Joseph Young, Nigel Williams-Goss or Corey Hawkins did?
EK: Delon Wright has the ability to affect the game more than those guards because he can affect it at both ends of the floor. Probably the closest guy to him is Young because Young can disrupt you at the defensive end of the floor and get steals. But Delon Wright – most great players and I'm talking college and NBA, they have the ability to anticipate the game at the offensive end of the floor. They can see the play before the play happens. The great ones can do it at both ends. Michael Jordan, Lebron, Kobe and I'm not saying he's those guys, but he has that ability to anticipate at both ends of the floor so he can change the game or dominate the game on the defensive end – steals, blocks – as well as can on the offensive end – drives, scoring, dishing the ball. So it becomes a matchup nightmare because he's so good at both ends of the floor he can disrupt you and you've got to be able to weather that throughout the course of the game.
Q: How rare is it to find a 7-foot freshman as skilled as Utah's Jakob Poeltl?
EK: Very, very, very rare but the fact that he came from (Austria) – realize European basketball is different from high school basketball or AAU basketball because they could already be out playing against men. And playing in the leagues over there, they've got pro players. You could be actively going to third world countries and playing tough competitions under tough, adverse conditions so when they come here most of them come here smiling. Because they've played at such a higher level of basketball you really can't call them freshmen, even though they are age-wise but they're very mature players. They've got a gem in him. He's going to be a very good basketball player.
Q: You and your staff have overseas experience. Is there a particular assistant that handles international recruiting?
EK: Not necessarily an international guy but we have ties in a lot of places throughout the United States and overseas and we're looking at players abroad right now, particularly big guys because they're hard to find in the states right now. There is not an overabundance of 6-foot-11, 7-footers that are really skilled walking around.
So you do need to use every avenue possible and one of the things we want to do here is expand our recruiting base and if we can continue to put together the year that we're having right now to where people can see that style of play, they can see the energy – that's why it's so important to get people in Beasley. You can't build a program and then bring the fans because part of building a program is for recruits to see the fans and feel your success and see it even if your record might say it. So it's great to have these great games with all that energy in there from those students because that's great for us in terms of recruiting.
Q: How did playing good teams on the road earlier in the season prepare you for this trip?
EK: I think any time on the road, the thing that I've found in the past, I love taking teams on the road because not only do we compete but we fellowship on the road. Just the men are out there – and a couple of women come with us – but when we're out there on the road together it gives us a chance to really get culture and really get a sense of we're in this together. Because now you've eliminated a lot of distractions that you would have on your college campus of being a college student and everything.
The Washington game, as intense as the game was, just like Cal, those were possession-by-possession games. You had to really be alert because the momentum of the game could get away from you in those environments with the students and the fans. Once you have gone through that, weathered it, and had success in it, you have growth in your basketball team. Mental toughness, physical toughness, you understand what it takes.
The key to being successful here, when you talk about the teams like Butler where you call them mid-majors but they're not. They have that strong mental toughness because they're juniors and they're seniors. Not only does it help us for when we go back out on the road but it helps you for your future, also, because there are a lot of sophomores and juniors in this program.
The fact that we closed out the Oregon game with DaVonte on the bench, had banged knees and everything, didn't come back into the game, you're closing out the game with sophomores and juniors, the future of your program. That's huge because of understanding what it takes mentally to get it done.
So I'm hoping that when we go back out there for these two games and everything, we go back out with a lot of confidence because we're going to need it in the environments we're going into. Two of the top three best college basketball environments: Utah, Colorado, is where we're going to go play right now.
Q: What have you focused on in practice this week?
EK: Actually the OSU game, and we try to get through the game by easing up on their legs and giving them an opportunity to bounce back and we still didn't have enough time. If we had one more day it would have been great for us but unfortunately we didn't.
So for us right now it's about cold pools, rehab, rest, managing their energy level and everything. With it being Dr. King's birthday, we're going to take the team and go on a team bond and see the movie Selma today and that's how we're going to get ready to play that game.
It's important for us to do that together, it's important for them to understand why this day is so important. So we're going to step away from basketball for a minute, we'll do a little bit in the weight room but we need to get our energy back. We need to get more of our passion and commitment to each other. This will really help this team out as we leave tomorrow morning and go on the road.
We'll practice, we'll be ready to go on Wednesday. We need a day for them to get ready with walk-throughs and everything.
Q: Style of play dictated that Jordan Railey didn't play much last week. Has he been able to maintain his level of play in practice?
EK: He really has been and in fairness to him he probably should have played more in the last two games, even though the games were fast and up-tempo. He started the Oregon game pretty good and then that game got crazy fast and he got kind of lost in the shuffle because their athletes were good enough to run, their athletes were good enough to put it down and really play quick. They're like guards. It almost became a skilled-guard game even though Josh is 6'9 and a couple of their players in that 6'7, 6'8 range.
Oregon State, we all, we, all of us were a little beat up, a little fatigued in the game and nobody really got a lot done with the exception of Brett probably was pretty consistent and Trevor Dunbar and his performance. (Railey) could have played more in the Oregon State game but I felt like I had a whole team that was really out of wack, out of rhythm.
I've been in those situations before. You try to get them going, sub them in and out, get some energy out of them. We didn’t have a lot of energy in the game when it was all said and done. We're going to need him in both of these games because both of these teams have excellent inside games and he needs to give us some productivity. And I feel confident that he will do that.
The Cougars added the final piece to their defensive coaching staff on Sunday, hiring Roy Manning to coach the outside linebackers.
Here is our story on the new hire and the release from the school.
— Yesterday we took a look back at Washington State's loss to Oregon State. So did CougCenter's PJ Kendall.
— The WSU women had a nice road win over Oregon yesterday.
— The NCAA's Power Five conferences finally voted yesterday to have athletic scholarships cover the full cost of attending college.
— Washington completed an Oregon-sweep with Sunday's win over the Ducks. It was a local guy that torched UO.
— Find out what it's like to hang out with Bill Walton for a day.
- Utah picked up a couple Florida recruits.
As I wrote in our story from yesterday's game, Washington State's offense simply wasn't working yesterday. The quickest way to beat a zone defense is by shooting well from the perimeter and the Cougars had one of their worst shooting days of the season.
Brett Boese sparked the Cougars early with a quick eight points, but those early eight points made him WSU's leading scorer for about the next hour because it was just that kind of day for the Cougars.
Ultimately, the loss hurts because OSU is a team that does not have more talent than WSU, even if the Beavers pose some matchup problems for the Cougars. Missing the opportunity to go 4-1 in Pac-12 play heading into what could easily be the toughest road swing this year for the Cougars is bad, but as long as the dismal shooting is an aberration it's still just one loss.
If WSU can steal one next week from Colorado or Utah on the road they will still emerge from the first third of their conference schedule with a winning Pac-12 record.
What could hurt really WSU, however, is if the Beavers provided a prescription for how to beat the Cougars that other teams can make use of. WSU's ball movement and ability to share the ball has been impressive in recent weeks, and the Cougars got open looks from the outside against OSU by passing around the perimeter or passing inside and kicking to the opposite wing.
But at times the Cougars appeared to be over-passing and playing into OSU's hands by slowing the game down in their ongoing search for a better shot.
WSU isn't likely to shoot as poorly as it did against OSU often, but it also probably isn't going to make almost everything like the Cougars did in wins over Washington and Oregon.
Some noteworthy stats:
— DaVonte Lacy made two 3-pointers, tying him with Derrick Low (2005-08) for 20th on WSU's career 3-point list.
— Boese has now scored eight or more points in three consecutive games.
— WSU's 16 first-half points are WSU's second fewest this year. The Cougars had 12 first-half points against UC Santa Barbara.
A few extra quotes:
OSU coach Wayne Tinkle, a Ferris High graduate:
" It was fun. As a player I never played very well when I came back close to home and it was neat for our guys for a lot of reasons."
WSU guard DaVonté Lacy:
"As a team they were very long, every time we were about to take a shot they were right there."
WSU coach Ernie Kent:
"First of all I want to say that I thought our crowd the last two games was just fantastic."
"DaVonte tried to get us going, he was banged up from the Oregon game. We didn't know how much he would be able to go and he did a good job of gutting himself through it and trying to push himself through it."
"To start the game we went right inside to Jordan Railey and his shot got block, we went back to Dex and had a layup that was missed. We didn't get a lot done inside to start the game and we started settling for jump shots and obviously that was working either because we were missing shots."
Washington State announced on Sunday that Roy Manning will join the Cougars and coach the outside linebackers.
Here is the release from the school:
Manning earned his bachelor's degree in general studies from Michigan in 2004.WSU Names Roy Manning Outside Linebackers CoachPULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State Head Football Coach Mike Leach announced Sunday that Roy Manning has been named the Cougars’ outside linebackers coach. Manning arrives in Pullman after serving the past two seasons at his alma mater, the University of Michigan.“Roy is an outstanding technical coach, a passionate recruiter and a great person who loves football,” said Leach. “He will be great for our players and our program.”In 2014 Manning served as the cornerbacks coach at Michigan after coaching the outside linebackers in 2013. Under his direction, Michigan’s SAM linebackers Cam Gordon and Jake Ryan combined for 70 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2013 while defensive back Raymond Taylor earned 2014 All-Big Ten honors in 2014.Prior to arriving back in Ann Arbor, Manning served as the running backs coach at the University of Cincinnati in 2012. That season Manning's group led the Big East in rushing in 2012, averaging 201.5 yards per game. Running back George Winn totaled the second-best rushing season in school history with 1,334 rushing yards (102.6 per game) and 13 touchdowns, both conference bests.Prior to joining the Cincinnati staff, Manning served as offensive graduate assistant at Michigan, where he worked with the offensive line and was part of a coaching staff that led the Wolverines to an 11-2 record and a victory in the 2012 Allstate Sugar Bowl. Manning's first coaching experience came at Cincinnati in 2010, when he worked as a defensive assistant.Prior to his appointment in Cincinnati, Manning spent three seasons in the NFL with five different teams. He signed as a free agent with the Green Bay Packers in 2005. He played in 15 games and started two contests as a rookie, tallying 41 tackles and one pass breakup. Manning tied for third on the team with 21 tackles on special teams. He also had stints with the Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cincinnati Bengals.Manning played in 37 career games and made 10 starts at linebacker as a fifth-year senior with Michigan. He was named the Roger Zatkoff Award winner as the team's top linebacker in 2004 after posting 39 tackles, six tackles-for-loss and one sack. Manning finished his career with 72 stops, nine TFLs and three sacks.
Washington State hired its second and possibly final coach this offseason on Saturday, tabbing Roy Manning to coach the outside linebackers.
Manning comes to WSU from the University of Michigan where he spent last year as the cornerbacks after coaching the outside linebackers in 2013. Manning was a four-year letterman for the Wolverines from 2001-04 and then spent three seasons playing in the NFL before returning to UM as a graduate assistant.
He has also coached running backs at the University of Cincinnati in 2012.
The UM school website conducted an interview with Manning shortly after he was hired in 2013.
"In coaching, you have to know it all, and that's the one thing I've learned," Manning said in the video. "As a player, you focus on your position and what you have to do … but in coaching, you've got to understand all of it, and sometimes your career will take you different places and you'll be in different roles."
He continued, "I think the important thing is to just embrace it, because it'll only make you better at the end of the day."
The hiring of Manning comes just three days after WSU announced the hiring of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. During an interview on Friday Grinch indicated that he would coach the secondary if the Cougars did not hire a defensive backs coach.
The two vacancies on the staff were due to the dismissals of defensive coordinator Mike Breske and outside linebackers coach Paul Volero shortly after WSU's season-ending Apple Cup loss.
The Cougars finished with a 3-9 record despite the country's seventh-ranked offense and ranked No. 123 out of 125 teams in turnover margin.
WSU coach Mike Leach also dismissed special teams coach Eric Russell midseason. While his replacement, Eric Mele, was dubbed the "interim special teams coordinator" indications appear to be that he will remain in the position.
Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated first reported the news late Saturday evening.
Michigan CBs coach Roy Manning has been been hired as outside LBs coach at Washington State per source.— Thayer Evans (@ThayerEvansSI) January 18, 2015
Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated reported last night that the Cougars have hired Roy Manning to coach the outside linebackers.
If true, and I see no reason to believe it isn't, that means new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch will solely handle the responsibility of coaching the secondary, much like Mike Breske did last year.
Manning coached cornerbacks at Michigan last season and is considered to be an excellent recruiter. We'll have more on WSU's reported new hire as soon as we get it.
Here are the links:
— Oregon State shut down the previously potent WSU offense yesterday. Here is another story from the Associated Press. We've also got postgame video of Ernie Kent and the players.
— OSU got a career game from Langston Morris-Walker.
— Arizona State picked up its first Pac-12 win over visiting Colorado.
— Arizona regained its place as the dominant team in the Pac-12 with a blowout win over Utah.
— Stanford whipped the defending national champion on the boards and the scoreboard.
— Jernard Jarreau's knee surgery was successful but Washington will be without the forward for a few weeks.
Alex Grinch may be a young defensive coordinator, but the Grinch defensive legacy in the Evergreen State is practically ancient.
Back in the days when Seattle's Ingraham High was a perennial football power, esteemed coach Tony Gasparovich's "GRINCH" defenses were the terror of the Metro League. Few iterations of the GRINCH were as fearsome as the 1971 League Champion one led by Gary Larsen, who went on to become a First-Team All-Conference linebacker at Washington State.
See Frank Inslee, the First-Team All-Metro defensive end in the second row? His older brother was a quarterback at Ingraham and then got into politics.
Gasparovich called his offenses "BLITZ" for the sole purpose of confusing amateur anthropologists half a century later.
So anyway, when you come to this state as a defensive coach with a name like Grinch you've got a lot to live up to.
We got the opportunity to speak with WSU's new defensive coordinator yesterday and here is transcript of everything Grinch had to say, as well as our story in today's paper. Howie Stalwick wrote a story off the teleconference as well and Jeff Nusser explains his thoughts on the hire.
On the blog we took a look back at WSU's win over Oregon and in the paper we've got an advance for today's game against Oregon State. We've also got a little video to pass along of Kevin O'Neill and Lamar Hurd talking about the Cougars.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12 …
— Washington's championship-winning volleyball coach is headed to greener (and more golden) pastures.
— One of the biggest games of the Pac-12 season happens today when Arizona hosts Utah. The Wildcats will have a tough time stopping Delon Wright but a freshman could make the difference in the game.
— Either way, Utes fans will be happy that football coach Kyle Whittingham isn't going anyhere.
— Arizona State knocked down the bleachers at Sun Devil Stadium yesterday.
— California announced the hiring of an offensive line coach.
— Colorado can't afford to lose today at ASU.
— Oregon may have lost the title match but Marcus Mariota just keeps winning things.
— Gary Payton II's old man was pretty good, but could he do this?
— Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan will return to school.
— UCLA's Bryce Alford is finally out of his slump.
— USC players past and present wonder why Penn State is getting its victories back but they are not.
Pac-12 Network analysts Kevin O'Neill and Lamar Hurd have good things to say about WSU guard Ike Iroegbu.
Ernie Kent has been adamant that Iroegbu is not a point guard, but I think he'd agree with O'Neill when he calls him the fastest player in the Pac-12 with the ball (even though Kent says Trevor Dunbar is the quickest player on the team).
Here is the video:
Indulge me for a second while I pastiche my favorite Aaron Sorkin soliloquy:
Offensive basketball when played almost perfectly is like music. It has rhythm and movement and pattern and harmony. These are the properties of music. And music has the ability to find us, and move us, and lift us up in ways that literal meaning can't. Do you see?
Well-executed offense is music and yesterday's game was 45 minutes of the opening stanzas of Baba O'Riley. At times the action was too quick to follow while trying to fire off a tweet or even simply mark a play in my notebook.
Just check out the sequence in this video captured by CougCenter's Jeff Nusser. A Vine video can only last six seconds and that one includes WSU taking the ball out of the net after a make, inbounding it and scoring.
Washington State made 14 of 24 3-pointers, almost all of them were wide open and most seemed to come when a player passed up a good shot for a better one. It certainly helps that basically every player had a good shooting night – Que Johnson was the only nine players that saw the floor to shoot less than 50 percent, and he made 2 of 3 3-pointers – but regardless of how well WSU is shooting the ball movement and knowledge of a new offense is impressive.
— The defense, obviously, could be better. Kent said afterward that it wasn't Jordan Railey's type of game – because of all the running, I believe, and that he's saying Railey is more suited to a half-court game like the Cougars played against California in which he excelled. But with Railey only playing 10 minutes the Cougars didn't have anyone to protect the rim and UO's Elgin Cook was able to score 26 points.
Joseph Young had a huge night with 32 points. WSU needs to get better at stopping high-level guards having now given up 29 or more points to Corey Hawkins, Nigel Williams-Goss and Young.
— WSU is now 2-0 in overtime games and has won three consecutive conference games that came down to the wire.
— Ike Iroegbu may not be playing point guard anymore but he is still WSU's shot creator on fast breaks, which is how he tied for the team lead with five assists. The Cougars have run the break very well in these last two games and if they score on an initial cutter they do a good job of finding the trailing big man, like in the video above and on a pretty pass that led to a Junior Longrus dunk.
Here are some more stats from the game:
— Lacy now has 1,302 career points and ranks No. 13 on the all-time WSU scoring list, having passed Carlos Daniel and Derrick Low yesterday.
— Josh Hawkinson had his 10th double-double of the season.
— WSU's 57 first-half points were the most first-half points scored by the Cougars in at least 15 years, and probably a lot more.
— Brett Boese scored a career-high 16 points. He's played 30-plus minutes in each of the last two games.
— WSU's 3-1 Pac-12 start is the best since the Cougars went 4-1 during the 2007-08 season.
Let's open up that quote book:
"We're being confident and calm. Coach always talks about not getting too high and not getting too low and I think we've done a good job of that besides the mishap at Cal but we bounced back from that and still won that game. But we've played two games and knocked down our free throws and taken care of the ball and that's what good teams do."
What's really impressive about this team is we only have three seniors and all the young guys – these two (Josh Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu) are sophomores and they're playing with really high character and high confidence in late-game situations. I don't know if we've had that in the past.
Coming into the game we knew how they were playing and they're very similar to us – they like to run and stuff. So coming into the game it was kind of a joke like we're going to put 100 up. That was like our motto, we're running and we're going to put 100 up. It was funny because right when we hit 100, I didn't notice it, but I looked at the bench and it was like, 'hey, we got a hundo.'
(How does your knee feel?)
It feels good. I wasn't 100 percent, I wasn't going to help my team out. If someone else was going to be 100 percent, I was probably like 85-90 percent but someone that was 100 percent was going to help the team better. It's just a little stinger but I'll be alright in the morning.
This was about my basketball team and the next hurdle that we needed to overcome. They played really good on the road in conference play. They needed to come back home and handle all the adversity of playing at home and sometimes you think there is no adversity, there's a lot of adversity because now you have classes, you have the students pack, you have people patting them on their back. You can really fall into a trap and not have them ready to go like you are on the road when we can keep them in hotel rooms, keep them together, keep them in walkthroughs. I was proud of the fact that they got themselves ready to play.
My staff did an outstanding job getting them ready to play with the scouts and everything and when you're in an environment where you have to come down to the wire with a chance to win and don't get it done and come back and play even better in the overtime, that's pretty impressive.
It seems like with this team the bigger the stage, the better they're starting to play and if that building continues to be on fire like that with the students coming back and the energy it provides and the energy from the community sitting behind my back, there's so much more basketball in us and you're seeing a team that's really growing up before your eyes. It's Washington State's basketball team and it's an honor and a privilege to coach them because that's an excellent group of young men down there that have really bought in and believe.
New WSU defensive coordinator publicly spoke to the media for the first time on Friday. Here is a transcription of what he said:
Question: What defense do you plan to run at WSU?
Alex Grinch: We'll base out of a 3-4, which, hard to say exactly whether similar or not so much to what’s been done in the past but at least similar up to that point in a 3-4 structure. Three down lineman with four linebackers and four on the back end.
So that will give us the ability to be multiple from a coverage standpoint and from a pressure standpoint so that would be a good initial base rundown of what it is.
Q: Could you describe your relationship with coach David Yost?
AG: I know coach Yost going back to the early 2000s so I've known him a long time, certainly our communication back and forth over the years contributed to that relationship and our most recent communication included the position that was available here at Washington State. That, without question, kind of started the ball rolling.
Q: How long did the hiring process take?
AG: Fairly quickly, and I would tell this to everybody, I was very comfortable in my role at Missouri. I was in a position to coach very similar to the Pac-12, to coach in the SEC, and we were able to win a couple championships the last couple years as well as January bowl games, which lends itself to a comfort level there.
I wasn't necessarily looking for a job but the opportunity to come to a place like a Washington State though, in the Pac-12, in the coordinator position, was something that I was extremely interested in and so really over the last week that kind of took shape and here we are.
Q: Have you had a chance to meet with the players or watch film on them?
AG: I've seen a little bit of film and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to watch a lot more. I'll do the best job I can in terms of keeping an open mind in terms of my personnel evaluations and that moving forward, just as I would hope that they would have an open mind with the changes that are presented to them in the next few months leading up to spring football.
So, I think it's important that both sides afford each other those opportunities. Watching film and getting a baseline evaluation for both personnel and the overall scheme from a year ago, obviously there are going to be some changes, obviously there is, like anything, there's not a whole lot of magic to any defensive package so I'm sure there will be some similarities as well and some changes in terminology and those things.
But I'll continue to work an evaluation of last year's tape and get a feel or baseline for where everything's at but otherwise over the next few weeks, I'm in Pullman now with nine student-athletes this weekend for official visits. I'll be on the road Sunday with the rest of the staff and really this next month will include weeks on the road recruiting, shoring up this class, and then weekends in town for official visits so it will be an aggressive month of recruiting while still trying to work to finish our staff on the defensive side of the ball while working through some playbook stuff and those things so we hit the ground running when we visit with our guys.
Q: Do you know what you will do with the final defensive coaching position?
AG: What we want to do is we want to get the best candidate available, any way you slice it. You could possibly go with two around the defensive line, two with the possibly inside-outside linebackers, possibly two in the secondary so our aim right now is to get the best teacher, the best recruiter we possibly can to bring in here to help us on the defensive side of the ball.
Q: How long are you signed on at WSU?
AG: I'm signed on to coach this team through spring football and next fall.
Q: How can you create more turnovers?
AG: Well there's not a magic answer and we're all searching for one but I think there's a couple ingredients: one is bringing guys into understanding how important they are and it's not a "try to" type of thing – it's imperative that we get the ball out, it's imperative that we attack the football when it's in the air. Every time that ball's throw is an opportunity to change possession if you're doing the right thing coverage-wise, so I think that's where it starts is making sure that the guys understand to try to create turnovers and attacking the football is not a self-conscious thing, it's not a hope we get lucky approach.
It starts in practice and it starts with as many bodies as we possibly can get to the point of attack and that goes back to scheme and making sure we're doing the right things from a soundness defensively, making sure guys are playing aggressive and you'll hear me in every interview talk about guys playing "downhill."
When you do those things the more guys you get to the football, the more confidence they have in their pursuit to the football, lends itself to an aggressiveness that when you're at the point of attack you've got a chance to be more violent when you get there because you know exactly what to do, where you need to be, how you need to fit so some of the things it does come down to our teaching and that and some of that is defensive scheme.
Some of it's how you practice. Every team in America will do takeaway, takeaway circus where you're stripping, you're scooping, you're punching so without question those are trained habits so that will be included but every single play in practice there's an opportunity to get a turnover, whether it's on 7-on-7 or 1-on-1, when you go 11-on-11 against the offense, so every play in a game lends itself to being an opportunity to get the ball back for our offense.
Really, the brainwashing needs to begin in earnest so the guys understand that their responsibility is to get the ball back for the offense. And again, some of it's mindset, some of it's technique and some of it's the defensive scheme being taught as such so the guys can be aggressive.
Q: Are there any challenges or positives you see coaching a young defense?
AG: Well I think the positive is you always kind of want to, the idea of having a little bit more of a clean slate allows you to train them in ways that you don't have to break bad habits so you may kind of point to that.
But hopefully when you're talking about young football players, and even guys that have experience, what we need is a room full of guys that are sponges to what we're teaching and so in a our world I think that's important: that every single guy in that room has the ability to get better. It's got to be our expectation as a coaching staff they do just that and then their expectations of us are that we do a great job teaching them and developing them so that they can be successful.
Obviously, more successful than last year, sure. But what our aim's got to be is practice two of spring football they've got to be better than practice one. And so when you're talking about, again, I think young and old but I think no matter what end of the spectrum you're at we need a room full of guys trying to get better.
Q: What will your recruiting area be?
AG: That hasn't been decided. Once we finish the staff that will obviously be a bit of a shakeup that way but at this point it hasn't been defined.
Q: How important is it for you to sell recruits that they should choose WSU for the same reasons you did?
AG: Well I think you bring up a good point. They're in a situation, almost to the man, where they obviously have other options. Whether they're in the conference or out of the conference.
Obviously in a completely different stage of life when you're talking career-wise, but I had options and my main option was to stay put exactly where I was. And so there was enough here in Pullman, enough at Washington State and specific to Mike Leach's program where he's been successful everywhere he's ever been, to make me want to I guess, quite honestly, leave a comfort zone to come out here and be a part of this program.
Any time you're making the transition from high school to college, unless you're from Pullman, you're going to leave your comfort zone in one respect or another. So without question you bring up a good point, it's probably more similar despite the different stages of life than you might assume.
Q: Do you approach junior college recruits in a special manner?
AG: One I think, part of the evaluation changes because when you're talking about a junior college player your time to develop them is obviously a lot shorter. Everyone can still develop whether they're coming from high school or junior college but again, you won't have as much time with them.
What you're hoping to get is someone that possesses a little higher skillset than a high school kid. So that's part of it. You want a guy that can make an instant impact on your program in some capacity or another.
Beyond that almost every single one of those guys is not confused as to the short duration that they're going to have an opportunity to spend playing in the Pac-12. So you've got to develop a plan very quickly, you've got to earmark a place where they can help you, to see the field right away, and then you've got to do a good sales job in terms of them understanding what you're going to do to develop them, to have a plan in place for a very short period of time.
So it is a unique recruiting process with junior college players.
Q: Did coach Yost contact you about the job?
AG: Quite honestly it was more of a call for a casual conversation about anything other than Missouri football or WSU football and then as the conversation progressed, I kind of mentioned my desire to look at coordinator opportunities if they presented themselves in the right opportunity, in the right situation and then obviously with the opening still here at Washington State that changed the tone of the conversation a little bit and it kind of went from there and it progressed.
Q: Did Yost go to Mike Leach at that point?
AG: That would be the long and short of it, yeah. Pretty quick back and forth I guess from there and then I had an opportunity to come out here this past weekend and get a chance to visit and talk.
Q: When did you have your original conversation with coach Yost?
AG: About a week or so ago.
Q: When did Leach get ahold of you?
A: Shortly thereafter.
Q: When did you arrive in Pullman.
Q: How do you react to people that would question if you're ready to be a coordinator?
AG: First, I haven't met anyone that was born into a coordinator role so based on my experience everyone has progressed through the ranks, if you will, to get an opportunity to run their own defense or offense over time.
Beyond that, all opinions will take place after a week we start playing games in the fall. I'm worried about the results that we produce at that time as opposed to everyone's feelings about me.
Q: Have you heard any good jokes about your last name?
A: I don't know what you're talking about. As a family, we've developed a lot of mental toughness.
Q: Has Leach decided for sure if Eric Mele will stay as the special teams coach?
A: That's a question for coach Leach.
Q: Has it been determined that you will coach the defensive backs?
A: Well we're still looking for one more hire here on the defensive side of the ball and trying to find the best candidate available regardless of position. I have a real comfort level on the back end and so if we got that direction I'd feel very confident in having all four (defensive backs).
Over the course of my career, other than really the last couple years at Missouri, have had the entire back end and there's some positives to that in terms of cross-training and those things so I would be comfortable if that was the direction we took.
Q: Have you talked to any other schools about other jobs?
AG: I have, I have. None progressed and none I felt were the right opportunity for my family and that would not just be this offseason but every offseason so this is the one that got the antennas up.
Q: Were any of them coordinator jobs?
AG: The majority of jobs I've talked about over the last few years have been coordinator jobs.
Q: How about this winter?
AG: This winter possibly.
Q: Did any of them progress to the point of an offer?
AG: I haven't found the right opportunity.
Q: What reason did you give coach Leach as to why he should hire you?
AG: Not to put words in coach Leach's mouth but along those lines my only aim in looking at this opportunity was to have an opportunity to help WSU win football games. Therein lies the motivation. This is an opportunity for me to do just that.
I think philosophically, my approach, what I've been in the past, where I've been in the past, and what we've been able to accomplish has developed that philosophy. Coach wants to find a way to be more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball. I think the package lends itself to that. He wants to produce more takeaways. I think our teaching and practice structure will lend itself to that. It's important to get off the field on third downs. There's going to be a huge emphasis on that. And then obviously it's important to play good defense in the red zone and make teams count in threes instead of sevens, that can have a huge impact on winning and losing as well.
So I think all those ingredients, I think play into it and all those things I think is stuff that you can sell to the players. It's something guys can kind of wrap their heads around and hang on to in terms of what we are as a defense and I think the final thing on all those things is making sure that not one team we face out-efforts us and making sure that the produce ton the field shows a group of guys that are absolutely flying to the football and dying to produce. So again, whether that answers your question or hits home with coach Leach, that's kind of where we're at.
Q: What confidence did your successful teams at Mount Union have and how does that translate into your coaching?
A: Well one, I appreciate you bringing up my playing career. Two, both there and really every stop along the way, like you said we've won the bulk of our games there and I think it developed an approach that we were going to find a way and it wasn't always going to be easy and we were going to have to grind it out. You don't win that many games by blowing everybody out.
But a "find a way" approach, if you've got to win a game 10-7 you're going to find a way to get that done regardless of what's going on on the other side of the ball. But I've been fortunate. A four-year run at New Hampshire where at that level of football you finish in the Top-10 rankings, play in the playoffs, and two bowl games in my three years at Wyoming, a couple SEC championships in my time at Missouri.
I think at every place I've been the common ingredients have included tremendous effort, it's included a great teaching system starting with the coaches and the product on the field has been a result, if nothing else, of at least those two things.