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October 12, 2017
San Francisco, California
ERNIE KENT: My opening statement would be traveling with me is Malachi Flynn, who is with USA Basketball, 19 and under, one of the best point guards in the West. Reminds me of Luke Ridnour who played for me. And then Robert Franks had an opportunity to go to China this summer with Athletes in Action.
Any success we're going to have this year will ride heavily on those two guys, because they've had outstanding off-seasons and they've been tremendous leaders.
With that, I'll open up for questions.
Q. Coach Kent, how much more of a hand does Malachi have on the offense? Do you expect the assist ratio to increase?
ERNIE KENT: With Ike leaving our program, all of that totally falls on to Malachi in terms of what I call the point guard leadership. But along with that, we have Milan Acquaah that sits there, that nobody saw last year because he redshirted. Those are two really good guards. Both can play the point. Both can play the off guard spot. So he has an opportunity to get spelled by moving off the ball with that other great point guard in our program right now.
I think Ike was somebody that had to play a lot of minutes because of the experience. Now Malachi has that same type of experience, and fully expect him to just embrace that role of being the man, the guy, the leader of this team.
Q. What did you challenge Robert Franks going into the off-season with? What are some of the things that you wanted him to come back and improve on?
ERNIE KENT: Robert has been like a two-year project. He's lost 50 pounds in two years. He doesn't want me telling you that, but he has. His body looks tremendous right now. We challenged him just coming back a stronger player and again, taking ownership of this team. He has to not necessarily do everything that Josh did, because Josh was a tremendous rebounder, inside and out, but Robert Franks is one of the best shooters in this conference, and he has to be able to put points on the board for us.
So the challenge for him was to come back, play with confidence, having that experience to go overseas and play in a program where there was no Josh, there was no Conor, and he had a chance to really grow up himself.
ERNIE KENT: I don't want to use the word numb to it, but that's difficult for people to see all of the programs in this conference. I had three guys last year that redshirted that would have made all the difference in the world with our program last year. But we kept them on that bench, and I'm glad we did because it's going to give us even more depth with this team.
I've got four guys coming into the program that nobody has seen that's going to elevate this team as well too. Kwinton Hinson is that big wing we've never had. Physical, can score. He's skilled. Out of Tyler, Texas. 6'5", 220. Yet we pick up Carter Skaggs, another 6'5" big wing that is one of the best shooters on this team right now. We're getting him late, and have him for three years.
With the pieces we have in place, it's difficult for everybody to understand where we're at, but at the same time, having built these programs before at St. Mary's and Oregon, we're on pace for where we need to be, and it's time to make a push.
Q. Do you expect Milan to start alongside Malachi?
ERNIE KENT: We're probably too early into it to say who is going to start. But I certainly think, when you look at Milan, Malachi, Kwinton Hinson, Carter Skaggs, Viont'e Daniels, those are five really good guards. Those guards are going to be significant in what we do when we talk about having everybody in the program that you've recruited now. We talk about implementing that style of play, and we're able to do that.
Now, we have a slowed down considerably with a big guy like Conor on the floor because we've relied on him to score so much. Now we can speed tempo up, press, do some other things. Malachi and Milan give us the opportunity to have two great guards that at any point in time they could be the point guard, the off guard.
And you'll see also with the skill set we have this year that even some of those other guys that I mentioned will be at the point guard spot as well.
Q. During your time at Oregon, you had a bunch of guys that could run up and down the floor. You had a ten-man rotation. Do you expect the rotation to be that deep this season?
ERNIE KENT: I certainly do. I think that will make a significant difference in our team to have that kind of depth and that kind of fire power.
Q. You've coached at a Nike flagship school like Oregon, and now coaching at Washington State. What are some of the differences that that makes in recruiting and how you have to approach it?
ERNIE KENT: I think the biggest thing for Washington State is realizing where we're at. It's not a big recruiting base sitting over in Pullman. But there wasn't a big recruiting base sitting in Eugene either. The two schools were similar in those regards.
The thing about Washington, though, and I've always said this, even in Oregon, if there was a Final Four team sitting in the Northwest and the talent is sitting there in the Northwest, and all you have to do is look at the history of what's come out of Washington -- the Nate Robinsons, the Jamal Crawfords, the Aaron Brooks, the Luke Ridnours -- there is some talent coming out of there that if one of these schools -- Gonzaga, a U-Dub or a Washington State, an Oregon, Oregon State, if we get enough of the local talent, you're going to be successful.
U-Dub has proven that. Gonzaga has proven that in a sense as well too.
It's very important that we understand we've got a base sitting over in Seattle, which is why I hired Ed Haskins, to open up that avenue to get into Seattle and pay those dividends of all that talent over there.
Because I think there is enough talent in state. Not saying you have to live and die in state, but there is enough there to build our program. Viont'e Daniels, Player of the Year. Malachi Flynn, Player of the Year. Roberto Gittens committed to us, Player of the Year, had to go JC.
So we feel that personnel in the state will get us to where we need to get to, with maybe taking a few pieces here and there out of L.A. and the Midwest somewhere.
Q. To follow up on that, did the Nike ties at Oregon help you when you were recruiting out of state?
ERNIE KENT: I think any school in the country that's wearing Nike sneakers are helped. Because kids coming out of high school love that swoosh and playing in those shoes. And they're great shoes. They are certainly one of the pioneer leaders.
I wore -- the first Nike basketball shoe was worn by my team back in 1976, I believe it was. When they introduced that shoe and where they've evolved to today is amazing to me.
So I think any of us that are Nike schools have a great opportunity to come in there and say we wear Nikes. That's a big deal.
Q. How disheartening has it been to see everything that's happened with the investigations and the key programs here in the Pac-12 the past few weeks?
ERNIE KENT: Yeah, what's happening in college basketball has affected every coach in the country, because I think all of us take a lot of pride in what we're doing in this game. It's going to take all of us -- all of us -- to build back that reputation, build back that integrity back into our game.
We're all aware of that too. There is no place for it in college basketball. We understand it as well. And I think, more importantly, coming out of all of this, it will give the NCAA an opportunity to maybe hit a reset button.
What I mean by that, this game has grown significantly when you look at the players, when you look at the grassroots and you look at the AAU programs and all of those things.
Yet I don't know how much we've grown internally. It might be time for all of us, all of those people involved in college basketball, which is going to include your NBA, your players associations, your NCAA, your coaches, and sit down and ask: Are we doing the right things? Is there something we can do differently to continue to grow this game? Because it's certainly changing rapidly.
Q. When you say it's a big deal to be a Nike school and that opens doors, why do you think that is? What is the inherent benefit of being Nike as opposed to another shoe company?
ERNIE KENT: I think if you were going to shop for a suit and there was an Armani suit there, and someone gave you a choice between Armani and this, they would say, "I feel more comfortable in that suit."
So they make a great, great product that these kids have grown up playing in. So if you talk about an advantage. Kids are comfortable in Nikes and want to play in Nikes and your school wears Nikes, it's an advantage.
Q. Are there kids out there that wouldn't consider schools that are sponsored by other companies?
ERNIE KENT: No, I wouldn't say that. I think kids are looking at other schools because of who is coaching at the schools as well. Head coaches, style of play, proximity to being at home, academics, all of those things go into play when you're talking about recruiting.
At some point in time you get down to sitting with the young man and say we wear Nikes, we play with a Nike ball or we wear adidas or Under Armour, whatever, that all plays into it.
But when kids are making major decisions, it's going to come down to your coaching staff, opportunity to play, style of play. Those things are more important.
Q. The Pac-12 has created a commission to look into the scandal with the NCAA. If you're asked to speak in front of those commissions, what is one change you would advocate for?
ERNIE KENT: I would look at it -- and maybe I'm looking at it from a different set of eyes, having played in the Pac-8 and coached in the Pac-10, and coached in the Pac-12 as well, even being on your side of it and being on the TV side of it as well too.
I think the things that I would say is that this is a great, great game that has grown immensely. It's enhanced a lot of people's lives, and even in terms of the media as well too.
I would caution, number one, that everything that I have seen centered around this, there's been four faces that are constantly blasted around the country and is looked at to perceive this is a black assistant coach problem. That is not the case, and I think people need to be well aware of that. This is a college basketball program that we have an opportunity to do something about.
We already have such a declining number in terms of African-Americans and coaches at this level, and all of a sudden you open up something and look at the story, there they are. That's not fair, and that's not right. I would make sure they understand it.
This is a college basketball program. We have an opportunity to make right, right the ship, send it in another direction and make sure we take full advantage of that.
Q. One thing you hear around the industry is that African-American assistant coaches are often labeled as (indiscernible). How much does that bother you, I guess?
ERNIE KENT: It bothers me immensely. That goes back, I think, when you look at all sports across the board. You have to put in a Rooney Rule for football because they're looked at as good coaches, but they couldn't coach. They had one point in time where someone couldn't quarterback. I don't think that's fair. I think you have to understand in our society today, when you're dealing with young people, it's about relationships and being able to mentor and communicate.
There is a reason in the last ten years the African-American graduation rates have skyrocketed from 40% to 78%. College basketball in general has gone from 62% up to 80%. Why is that? Why are athletes graduating at such a high rate right now? It's because of the mentoring that's taking place in these programs more so than anything of having your arms around these young people.
That's why I give kudos to all assistant coaches. Because as a head coach, my job, sometimes, I'm limited to how much access I can spend with my guys. But at the same time I've got great personnel working with me that do a nice job putting their arms around kids and leading them in the right direction.
Q. How do you feel you're stacking up against the Gonzagas and Washington? You brought in Ed Haskins, Curtis Allen used to play at U-Dub, and Elwyn McRoy is considered one of the more underrated recruiters in the nation. Where do you stack up now?
ERNIE KENT: I think we've had success against U-Dub in the last couple years in terms of what goes on the floor. I think when you talk about stacking up, what I feel like is we have an opportunity to expand our recruiting right now, with Ed Haskins, one of the most successful high school coaches in the history of Washington basketball on the staff right now. Bennie Seltzer, who played at U-Dub -- excuse me, Washington State, second in the all time three-point shooter there that's worked with tremendous staffs and done a nice job recruiting and ex-head coach.
You just feel like from a personnel perspective, the energy that stepped into this program will give us an opportunity to match up with those programs quite well.
Now, if I can get Mark Few to play us, maybe we'd see an opportunity how well we stack up against them. He's a good friend. That's a joke.
Q. First question, how much credit are you taking for that? Second question, what can you say about (indiscernible)?
ERNIE KENT: When you look at those schools I've been at, we took over a school at St. Mary's that was in a rut -- players leaving, coaches had left the job. It took us four or five years to build that program. When I say build it, and putting things in place that allows it to have continuity.
Randy Bennett has done a great job. They're still having success today. Oregon was a tough job. It took us time to build it again. Putting those things in place. The academic integrity. Character, all those things. To build it would have a solid foundation. So the continuity could continue. Dane is doing an excellent job of taking it now to another level.
Now, we inherited a Washington State program that, again, from the inside out, we're building it. 100% graduation rate. Three guys that have gotten their master's, four more in line to get their master's degree. You're building it. That foundation is going to be huge. So that day I do decide to walk away, it still will be a championship program once we get it there. And that's been the basis of the success in terms of putting the system in.
Q. You mentioned it being a perception of a black assistant coaching issue. What can be done to combat that, do you think?
ERNIE KENT: To me, it's our coaching fraternity, Coaches Association. I think it's very, very important that we help to continue to educate all of you that this is a college basketball issue that we need to get right. It's not necessarily a bunch of African-American assistant coaches that have access to players and doing all the recruiting that this label gets put on them, very, very unfair. Because ultimately they are assistant coaches running these programs.
So I think it's something we need to make sure we take time out with as head coaches to help understand that we have a fraternity here that we have issues that we can address now.
Obviously the F.B.I. has given us an opportunity to address those issues in a way that maybe we can move the needle with our game. But that, again, is going to take all of those people that are involved with our sport need to be at the table. That might be the student-athlete, the NCAA, the NBA, the Coaches Association. That might be the media. There is a lot that goes into this in terms of making those decisions.
Do you continue with summer basketball? Do you go back and let kids go from high school to the NBA? What do you do? What changes can we make that puts this game back on a course where it has that ultimate energy and success before it's hit us right now.
Q. Do you think the one-and-done rule hurts college basketball? What is your opinion?
ERNIE KENT: I don't think it hurts college basketball. People get hung up on the one-and-done. I revert back to baseball, where baseball you can go out of high school to the pros. Come, stay three years, get your education, and then you can go to the pros. That's not hurt baseball whatsoever.
And people need to be cautious again, because I'll throw some more numbers at you, that since 2007 there's probably only been about 900 players that have left college early. Only 30% are freshmen, the other 30% are sophomores, and the rest are sitting there. So the numbers aren't as great as you would think they are in terms of one-and-done.
Anytime you have an individual at the college level that can go to the NBA and enhance his family and give generations an opportunity to have an income by being an NBA athlete, they need to go. They should go. No different than any of you at whatever age. If the best in your profession approach you and think you're ready now, you would go too. Why deprive an student-athlete of that opportunity?
Q. I think something like a little bit over 60% of all assistants are African-Americans, but only 16%, or somewhere along those lines, are head coaches. What do you think those numbers say about the hiring processes that these schools undergo when they're looking for head coaches?
ERNIE KENT: That would probably take you and I an opportunity to talk a lot about what I think about it. But the hiring practices are different now. You've got to go through agencies and all of those things to even get your name in front of an athletic director or president anymore and all of that.
So I think, again, it is something that really needs to be looked at because I believe the Big Ten today has no African-American head coaches. Your BCS schools, out of those 70 schools, there are only 12, 13 of us sitting there right now. Yet when you look at the makeup of African-Americans or just minorities in general in college basketball, the numbers just don't balance.
What you need to do about it, that's a long, deep conversation that trickles down from your presidents to athletic directors and those that go into hiring, and the whys and the why nots are these opportunities being looked at from there.
There are some really successful coaches out there, but it does make you wonder why.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports