Ernie Kent is here at Palouse Ridge Golf Club helping Washington State host the Pac-12 golf tournament.
I'm here as well, covering the tournament for the S-R, so I took the opportunity to catch up with Kent and ask him about WSU's newest basketball signee. Kent seems pretty excited about signing Conor Clifford, a junior college center that he expects to play immediately.
Kent also answered questions about the other freshmen, the current team and the three players that left the program after the season. The transcript of our conversation is below:
Question: You've said that you didn't want to just add a post player, but a skilled big man. Is Clifford that skilled big man?Ernie Kent: He certainly is. He's very, very productive when he's on the floor and when he's in the game. When you have a guy with that kind of size that can score with the right-hand jump hook just as well as he can with the left-hand jump hook. He understands post play, how to use his body. People are going to be pleased when they see just how skilled he is for a guy with that kind of size.
Q: He is the most highly-coveted recruit you've signed at WSU. It must feel pretty good to fight off some competitive programs for his signature.
EK: Not only had the most options, but he's also kind of the missing piece, particularly with this group that's coming in the door. Needed a five-man, needed some size like that so I think the fact that he was so highly-recruited is also a really good indication of where our program is. It was a very difficult recruiting him, we had to hang in there, he had some excellent schools that we had battle. But I think, at the end of the day, he's a young man who has an opportunity to step in and play right away.
He's going to be surrounded by some really good players. Obviously, we have Josh Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu leading the way, but we've got some excellent players coming back and coming into the program, too, and I think all of those weighed heavily in his decision.
Q: What is his game like? Can he step out and shoot?
EK: He does. He has the ability to put in ball screens and pick-and-pop and shoot the 17-footer. I think that's the part of his game that has not been developed enough for him, because when I see him I see a young man who shoots the ball with a lot of confidence. But yet, he's so productive inside he hasn't had to spend a lot of time on the perimeter. We certainly feel like we can step him outside, shoot the ball, put him in ball screens to shoot the ball, but his forte is going to be his ability to score inside, score in that paint.
Q: How many freshman do you see starting or being significant contributors next season?
EK: It's hard to say yet. I'd like to say all of them are going to contribute but, at the same time, until you get them here – we'll have a better feel even when they come in this summer – but certainly when they come in this fall and you start to put together your team and see. Potentially, there is a redshirt player sitting there. But outside of that I'd say everybody else that's coming in the door is going to be counted on to play right away.
Q: Three players from the last class left the program this offseason. Did they have the option to stay?
EK: You know, I think when you talk about transferring, there were 600-something transfers taking place this year. It's just part of the game. And I understand those three players where, they sat down and talked and wanted more opportunity to play. And to do that for those three, they needed to move. They needed to look at some other situations and we just wished them well. They've been fantastic as they've closed out their years here just academically and in workouts and everything.
Q: Any idea where they will transfer?
EK: Not yet. But we're assisting them in every way we possibly can and they will have some options.
Q: You haven't been in town much lately but have you had any time with your players since the season ended?
EK: We have had a chance. We spent a lot of time with our players and the biggest thing that I can say about this team is that they gained a lot of confidence and a lot of skill work. As we've seen them in some of our individual workouts, as we close out this school year, I see a team that runs better, that shoots it better, that passes better, that has a really good understanding of how we want to play. We always talk about how it takes a year to put in that running game, and now, when that new group comes in the door you've got some teachers on the floor. Those players, along with the coaching staff, that have been through it that can really help bring that new group faster. At the same time, we feel like we've recruited players that really fit our style of play, and it should cut down on their adjustment time.