Washington State's seniors have at least three more games to play but the torch passing has already begun, according to Ernie Kent.
Senior Night is Saturday and Kent expects the WSU underclassmen to step up and assume the leadership mantle by making sure DaVonté Lacy, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Jordan Railey win their (maybe) final game at home.
"The seniors have done a terrific job of leading up until this point," said Kent during Wednesday's media availability. "There's a transition phase that's getting ready to take place when seniors play their last game because I put that pressure on the underclassmen. It's their job to make sure the seniors don't lose at home."
Of course, it might not be WSU's last home game. As I wrote this morning, the Cougars could still host a game in the College Basketball Invitational. Kent may have let slip that he agrees today, answering another question about Senior Night by saying that it will be, "maybe the last time you'll play at home."
The full transcript from our interview with Kent is below:
WSU coach Ernie Kent
Q: Is Josh Hawkinson getting back into a rhythm?
EK: Well, what I told all of you earlier on when everybody talked about him not hitting 3s, looking like he's a little fatigued – well, he's only a freshman. He only played two minutes a game last year so he's his freshman season of playing major minutes and every single freshman will hit the wall.
Every freshman in the country hits the wall and at some point in time they have to climb over that wall and get going again and that's exactly what happened to Josh. He's played some major minutes, he's been outstanding, he hit the wall a little bit and a lot of it had to do with the scheduling of the teams that we were up against and now he's climbing over it again. It is very, very difficult to have 18 double-doubles in a single year.
I don't care if you're a freshman, sophomore, junior or even a senior. That's very tough to do it and he's got that Cougar uniform on and he's doing it right here at Washington State, that's tremendous for our program.
Q: Is Brett Boese's confidence back after hitting a couple 3-pointers at UCLA?
EK: I certainly hope so and confidence is a very fragile thing where a relative can knock you out of whack, a girlfriend can knock you out of whack, reading social media can knock you out of whack and reading what you guys print can knock you out of whack. And a coach can knock a player out of whack, too. It's such a fragile thing dealing with young people in this day and age and that's why we try to spend as much time as we can reinforcing things in a positive way.
You've never seen me dwell on the negatives too much because there's enough negative in the lives of young people anyhow, we try to take the positive approach with everything we do. I'm hoping he continues to play well, we certainly need his jump shot and, not only that, I thought he played well in the USC and particularly in the UCLA game in his energy and what he brought to the floor defensively.
Q: Are Senior Night games typically sloppy because of the distractions?
EK: Yeah there's two different times of the year: Exhibition games are usually terrible at the start of the year and then Senior Night. It's just because of the emotion. You really have to honor them and some coaches have gone away from honoring before the game and honor them after the game for that reason. I like to do it better before the game.
You have to keep the emotions in check and that's hard to do because you're coming down to the end of senior seasons, it's the last time you'll maybe play at home and you have to go out and play a basketball game afterwards. So it's a little bit of a balancing act but hopefully we'll be able to manage that.
Q: What kind of impact did these seniors make during their one year in your program?
EK: What they've been able to do in a year is, No. 1 buy into the coaching staff, particularly with seniors when you've got a coaching change and they're used to doing things a certain way. They completely bought in and, not that we changed things 360 degrees but there still was a lot of drastic change in the program, they bought into it and that's huge because by them buying into it everyone kind of follows suit with that.
No. 2, their ability to open up, communicate and allow us to have relationships with them was huge because typically with seniors, we did not recruit them, that's very difficult to do. But here are three guys that allowed us to get to know them as people so we could better serve them as coaches. So that was huge and I thought it helped them in terms of their growth and helped our program.
And lastly, just their ability to at times, each one of them had their moment when they carried the team in a ballgame, and certainly in practice, and that was huge because what they basically have done is taught the young guys how to work, how to be responsible. The fact that they're going to graduate on time, the importance of the academic piece and all of that. I'm going to commend them for hanging with us, allowing us to lead them, allowing us to coach them and buying into what we wanted to do.
Q: How important was it to get DaVonté Lacy on board early?
K: Well, DaVonté's a player, he knows. And doing TV games you have a bit of a relationship with those guys already because you have them with the microphone in front of their face. For him, walking in the door when you've got a coach and, not to pat myself on the back or anything, but you've got guys sitting in the NBA and you've won this conference and you've been to two Elite Eights, that's hard to do.
So, your credibility was already there so it wasn't difficult to get them to buy in. It was more or less, "let me show you what you need to do to get to that level." And that buy-in was not difficult at all.
Q: Is Lacy good enough to play professionally?
EK: I certainly think he has the ability to do it. But the NBA, it's all about matchups and how you match up with different teams and what they're looking for. In this day and age, with the majority of players in this conference that have that NBA potential, they're going to have to get to a workout situation, which a lot of those guys will do, then see how they perform and see which team kind of locks in with who they are and what they need.
With the majority of these players it's not going to be about coming out and being a star in the NBA. You're going to be a bench warmer and be a team player so it's very important that you have that mentality to sit at the end of that bench while LeBron is the star – that's his team. So they look at a lot of different things but he certainly has the character, has the game. It's going to be really right team right time in terms of his workouts.
Q: Are there examples off the court that demonstrate his maturity and leadership?
EK: I think again, as I said, how he handled himself on that China trip. That was away from us, that was off the court what they did on that trip and how he became one of the leaders of that group of All-Stars.
And I read where Larry (Krystkowiak) said if he had selected captains that would have been one of his captains. That says a lot about his character to be able to go in that environment, be submissive with his game but have the leadership quality that guys at that level, the All-Stars in the conference, followed him. That says enough right there.
Q: How can his success help with recruiting in western Washington?
EK: I think any senior that leaves a program, your former players become your greatest asset in recruiting. And that's why it was so important to grow the program while they were here, have some success while they're on the floor with this system, style of play, build some relationships.
They leave here feeling good about themselves and what was accomplished this year in terms of the growth of the program because I think any three of those guys, when they go back into their environments later on, I feel very strongly that they would have no qualms about recommending any player and pointing them in this direction because, No. 1 the style of play, No. 2, the academics that you have over here, the college environment, college experience that all of them have had here, the relationships we have with our players and just the feel of the program and where it's going.
I think they would be probably our biggest sales people as they leave out the door. That tells you you've had tremendous success within if you can get players to turn around and sell on their way out the door.
Q: What needs to change to play better against Utah the second time?
EK: We need to a much, much better job defensively and not make as many, what I recall, bonehead mistakes because we had a lot of mistakes in the game. They capitalized on the mistakes and then we did not do a very good job defensively, which our numbers have told us. I feel like against USC, UCLA, we're getting better defensively late in the year. We've made some adjustments we don't need to talk about but I thought for us to have an opportunity to close the gap with either Utah or Colorado, both those teams gave us problems, we've got to play a lot smarter, a lot tougher and a lot better defense.
The smartness is on the offensive end of the floor, the toughness is just the game in general and the defense is obviously on that end of the floor.
Q: How do you prevent a similar carryover from Utah to Colorado game as last time if the Utah game goes the same way?
EK: It's just different. You're at home, you're not in the altitude, you're not sitting in hotels for a long time. It's a different environment coming home and closing it out in the seniors' last game. The piece that you guys have yet to talk about – in my programs in the past the seniors have done a terrific job of leading up until this point. There's a transition phase that's getting ready to take place when seniors play their last game because I put that pressure on the underclassmen. It's their job to make sure the seniors don't lose at home.
That's the transition, the seniors have led up until this point. Now the underclassmen get to take the responsibility that they're going to have anyhow as they head into the spring that they're going to become the leaders of this program and where it goes next year so this is huge, these games, in terms of how we handle the emotions, how we perform, how we compete, how we handle the success and hopefully send our seniors out on the right way.
It's just as important for the underclassmen to get ready to lead this program as we head into the future.
Q: Have any underclassmen stepped up already?
EK: I don't know if it's any particular person, that's what you're cultivating right now because that passing of the gauntlet is coming quick and they need to know that. When I look at this team and I talk about Ike and Que and Junior, obviously Brett, those guys have been through the fire. This becomes their team and more so than it becomes a freshman's team although Ny Redding has been good this year and very vocal, and his energy has really helped us a lot in practice. It's the returning players that have played the big minutes, hit the big shots, that have been in the games. It's their turn, their time to lead and that all starts whenever your season ends but for me that starts right now with your seniors and sending them out the right way and eventually they lead us into the spring workouts, summer workouts and all those things.