What was it like being back at Washington State today?
It certainly allowed me an opportunity to revisit a lot of pleasant memories during my 11 years here at Washington State. I think perhaps maybe the most unique part of the visit has been the change in the physical structures on campus and particularly the athletic department. It's just stunning what has transpired over the last 10, 15, 20 years.
I don't know if I could find my way around in the building now. Every time I turn a corner I feel like I'm lost. But one of the things I said at the luncheon today and I think it's manifested in what I said about the positive physical changes in the campus, is that I think that one thing that's been consistent from 1972, when I arrived, until this very day, is the university's always been very blessed with sterling leadership and I think that's what's kept the university progressive, it's kept them being able to take advantage of and a lot of times because geographically, it makes it tough, the leaders have always been able to make a way out of no way.
And as we all know the university lost a great leader in the president and he certainly was a game changer, a positive difference maker. So when I look back from '72 to now, it's just mind boggling what's been achieved and I don't know that any of us in our wildest dreams would have thought that the university would be in the position it's in today from an athletic standpoint, facility-wise. And some of the buildings I've seen on campus from an academic perspective and housing perspective are gigantic steps up, too.
So all of those things, when you marry them together, it puts the university in a position to be a solid contributor in the Pac-12 conference. In the early days when I was hear, there was always this thought, a lot of it perpetrated by John McKay, that we shouldn't be in the conference and we were kind of the step child of the conference. But I think those days are gone forever and I think the university will continue to be a positive contributor to the conference in the coming years.
I think it's pretty obvious that Ernie's got the program headed in the right direction, he's got some really nice pieces. I love both of the freshmen kids, they're what I call keepers. Great attitude, camaraderie out there tonight. If people are looking for any overt evidence that Ernie's the guy, I think it was never more evident than it was tonight that he was the right choice at the right time and he's going to take the program to higher levels of achievement.
Ernie Kent has called you a mentor, do you see any of yourself in him as a coach?
Not really because I was a lot more emotional and cuckoo than Ernie. Ernie's got a lot more mental stability than me, I was kind of a rah-rah, crazy, crazy guy out there. I'd be jumping up, telling the students to get up and cheer and stuff like that. A lot of that was just mental desperation.
Ernie's a lot more civil than I am. So I don't know that we could compare each other, other than we're both African-Americans and we both coach basketball and love the game. After that, I don't know, there's not many similarities between us, because I was kind of cuckoo.
Are you able to watch the games as a fan?
No I watch them strictly as a coach. I'm sitting there thinking, he should have back cut or whatever. I'm kind of mentally coaching the game myself. It was a great feeling to be back here. Of all the places that I coach at, I always feel uncomfortable making comparisons because I always think the people at Iowa or USC think "oh, he didn't think we were good enough." But it really isn't that at all. It's just this is where it all began for me. You were really a coach.
When I came here, you were really a coach. Today you're a doctor, you're a lawyer. You have to where so many hats today as a basketball coach and when I was here, that was truly all you had to do, was to coach. Things have changed. It's a totally different culture now than when I was here.
What was your message to the players in the locker room today?
I would suggest that a lot of it was about opportunity, that they have a unique opportunity as student athletes and it's a wise person who takes advantage of opportunities when they're place in front of him. And they have to be mindful that the opportunities don't reside just on the basketball court but they reside all over this campus in the academic chambers, too, and that the greatest victory that they're going to have and the greatest lesson that they'll learn is how to win in the game of life. Maybe one of them will be lucky enough to play in the NBA but at the end of the day they've got to equip themselves to go into society and become responsible citizens.
They're learning a lot of great life lessons by participating in athletics but they also have to make certain that they take advantage of the academic opportunities that are provided here and be appreciative of them. So probably more a philosophical type of address but I hope I got a couple of them to think about what their responsibilities are to the team and to themselves and the university.