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Eastern Washington University Basketball

EWU basketball: Cedric Coward names WSU as ‘frontrunner’ in portal; other updates on roster, coaching search

Former Eastern Washington forward Cedric Coward said Washington State, led by ex-EWU coach David Riley, is a “front-runner” to land him in the portal.  (Steve Conner/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

Nine days after David Riley left Eastern Washington to become Washington State’s basketball coach, the Eagles’ roster looks dramatically different than it did then, even as an announcement as to who will rebuild that roster becomes imminent.

Eastern has narrowed its list of candidates to the last few, according to sources, and it is expected to name a new men’s basketball coach by early next week.

In the meantime, there has been a mass migration from the Eagles’ roster to the NCAA transfer portal. Junior forward Casey Jones was the first to announce his intentions last week, followed by reserve Andre Mulibea, Big Sky Freshman of the Year LeJuan Watts, second-team all-conference junior forward Ethan Price, first-team junior forward Cedric Coward and 6-foot-10 junior Dane Erikstrup.

On Thursday, Coward told The Spokesman-Review he made the decision to enter the portal when he found out Riley accepted the coaching job at Washington State.

“I believe they will bring in the right person (at EWU),” Coward said, “but at the same time, the people I’ve been with the last two years aren’t with the program anymore. I’d rather stick with the people I’ve been with.”

At this point, “Wazzu is my front-runner,” Coward said, although he intends to listen to his other offers, which at this point he listed at 17 programs and counting.

Coward led the Eagles on a per-game basis in scoring (15.4 points), rebounds (6.7) and minutes (30.5) last season, while also making 51 of 133 3s (38.3%) and 56.5% of his field goals overall.

But the loss of Coward and his production is just a small fraction of what the Eagles will need to replace next season.

In addition to Jones, Price, Erikstrup and Watts, the Eagles graduated seniors Jake Kyman and Ellis Magnuson, leaving them without seven players who accounted for 89.5% of the team’s total minutes played in 2023-24.

The four players still on the roster – freshmen Sebastian Hartmann (96), Mason Williams (65) and Vice Zanki (31), plus junior Nic McClain (six) – scored a total of 198 points last season.

Three years ago, when Shantay Legans left for Portland and Riley replaced him as Eagles head coach, the situation was similar: Eastern’s top seven scorers graduated or transferred, leaving the part-time starter Magnuson and then-unproven freshman Steele Venters as the leading returners.

Jones – who, according to The Portal Report has received interest from Stanford, Washington State, Grand Canyon, Utah, Saint Mary’s and other schools – and Price were part of Riley’s initial recruiting class to reload the program. They finished second (12.6 points) and third (12.2), respectively, on the team in scoring last season as the Eagles won their second consecutive Big Sky regular-season title.

Via text on Thursday, Price declined the opportunity to comment on his transfer process.

Erikstrup and Coward joined the program a year later as transfers, Erikstrup from Division II Cal Poly Pomona and Coward from Division III Willamette.

Erikstrup was a key reserve each of the past two years, but his role increased significantly as he averaged 10.8 points last season while assisting on 50 baskets and recording 24 steals. He also made 39 of 114 3s overall and scored a season-high 32 points against South Dakota.

Coward, who was the 2022 Northwest Conference Freshman of the Year at Willamette, is in the portal for the second time. This time, he said, he’s receiving interest from programs that weren’t giving him much attention two years ago.

“It’s an accomplishment in that the work I’ve put in has worked, the people I have surrounding me are good people, and the path ahead of me is an upward path,” said Coward, who has also declared for the NBA draft while keeping the door open for a return to college for his final year.

Coward said that while it would be great if the core of Eastern players could play together next season, “we’re all individuals, and at the end of the day you’ve got to look out for what’s best for yourself.”

As for Riley’s replacement as Eastern’s head coach, some names with local connections remain available, though the extent to which they have been in discussions with the Eagles is uncertain.

Dan Monson, 62, was fired last month as Long Beach State’s head coach after 17 years in the position. Monson, who coached at Gonzaga from 1988 to 1999 first as an assistant and then as head coach, is also a Moscow High School graduate. He has an overall head coaching record of 445-396 and is a generation older than the 35-year-old Riley.

Will Conroy, 41, was not retained by new head coach Danny Sprinkle on the University of Washington staff and has acknowledged being interested in the EWU job on social media. Conroy was the Huskies’ associate head coach last season and played for Washington from 2001 to 2005.

Rachi Wortham, Tacoma Community College’s head coach, played at Eastern from 2003 to 2005 and later was an assistant for the Eagles from 2007 to 2011. He also was on the basketball staff at Oregon State and Montana.

Ryan Looney, 48, grew up in Spokane and has been Idaho State’s head coach since 2019, but his candidacy seems less likely after the announcement that Dylan Darling, a Central Valley High School graduate and former WSU player, is transferring to play for the Bengals.