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Cougars coach Ernie Kent signs heavily-recruited 7-foot center Conor Clifford

PULLMAN – Ernie Kent won his first major men’s basketball recruiting victory for Washington State, signing a player coveted by far more established programs.

Junior college center Conor Clifford sent in a national letter of intent to WSU on Monday, accepting a scholarship from the Cougars over offers from Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Utah, and many more.

“He had 55 offers, all across the United States in almost every conference,” said Andy Ground, Clifford’s coach at Saddleback College in southern California.

He chose WSU “because they needed a big guy bad, and I also want to say their coaches did the best job. I think they recruited him the hardest and they deserved to get him.”

None of the other members of WSU’s six-man, 2015 recruiting class reported scholarship offers from Power Five conference schools other than Washington State.

Kent said that for Clifford to turn down schools with much more recent success than WSU indicates that he will be able to recruit off his inaugural season, which included a 13-18 record but also four more conference wins than the year before.

“Not only (did Clifford have) the most options, but he’s also kind of the missing piece, particularly with this group that’s coming in the door,” Kent said. “We 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.”

What the Cougars are getting in Clifford is a 7-foot, 270-pound center to slide alongside junior forward Josh Hawkinson for the next two seasons. Clifford averaged 14.7 points and 6.2 rebounds and was named the Orange Empire Conference MVP and the Southern California MVP while leading the Gauchos to a 33-2 record and state championship.

Kent said Clifford will fit well in his motion offense, the ever-elusive big man who can score in the paint while threatening teams with a face-up game. Kent and Ground each noted that Clifford has an unusual amount of skill for someone his size, explaining why he was so coveted by coaches who never have enough capable big men.

“He can score with either hand with his back to the basket, 75 percent free-throw shooter,” Ground said. “He’s very skilled and can pass out of the post. He’ll be a very good player for them.”

Clifford’s presence should mitigate the graduation of ordan Railey, who started at center for WSU most of last season.

The Cougars will also add Valentine Izundu, who sat out the year after transferring from the University of Houston, giving them more options in the post and relieving the rebounding burden off Hawkinson, who averaged 14.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per game last season and was the only Pac-12 player to average a double-double.

In fact, the Cougars could be marked by their size next season. Robert Franks and Derrien King are both 6-7 forwards who can play on the wing, so their versatility will give Kent the option of going with big lineups.

Clifford is the fourth incoming JC recruit, so the Cougars will look very different next season.

“(Clifford is) going to be surrounded by some really good players,” Kent said. “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 in his decision.”

UW signs Green

A highly-rated, in-state prospect announced a commitment to play for the Washington Huskies, the Tacoma News Tribune reported Sunday and the school confirmed on Monday.

Dominic Green, a 6-foot-6 small forward from Hazen High School in Renton, will become the sixth incoming freshman in a recruiting class already ranked by Scout.com as the ninth-best in the nation.

Green is rated as a 4-star recruit and the No. 77 prospect in the 2015 class by Scout.com. He previously signed a national letter of intent with Arizona State, but ASU granted him a full release after firing Herb Sendek.

Also, Jernard Jarreau, a fifth-year-senior-to-be, is leaving the UW program.

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