There’s a building in downtown San Francisco that is sinking. It has about a 16-inch lean and there are already lawsuits upon lawsuits hunting for blame and accountability. Something must be done or this tower — in the heart of San Francisco’s SOMA district — is going down with everything else around it. The word is that this building was seemingly tossed together without much of a plan. To build something great, you’ve got to have a buttoned-up, dedicated plan. Is there a plan in place for basketball in Pullman? Because I really can’t figure the direction of Ernie Kent’s program. He’s sitting at what he calls the pivotal third year with just eight conference wins to his Washington State name (and only one of those came last year). The Cougars have what feels like a newer roster, introducing five freshmen and two transfers despite the presence of four experienced seniors. They’re definitely leaning but I won’t yet say sinking. This is 2016 college hoops, though, and roster turnover in the third year isn’t so much a barometer of program health as it is a reality. But as we saw significant third-year improvements from Andy Enfield at USC (NCAA Tournament), Tad Boyle at Colorado (NCAA Tournament), Larry Krystkowiak at Utah (23 wins), Dana Altman at Oregon (NCAA Tournament) and Wayne Tinkle at Oregon State (NCAA Tournament in year two), we’re left to wonder what the direction of Cougars basketball is right now?
There’s only UP to go from Washington State’s one conference win last year, and the Cougars should exceed that total this season. I want to be optimistic! I would love to see Josh Hawkinson have a romanticize-able senior year. He’s had a fantastic two-year run and is the most lovable senior big man to come out of Pullman since Brock Motum. Have there really been that many since, though? His sophomore and junior campaigns went somewhat overlooked. He’s had a top-five defensive rebounding percentage in each of the last two seasons and at times can be unstoppable around the rim. Could he make a nice senior leap into Pac-12 superstardom?
Channeling further optimism, Connor Clifford had flashes of being a more-than-capable seven-footer last year; and I’m intrigued by the final season potential of Ike Iroegbu and Charles Callison. Unfortunately, romantic senior years aren’t plans. They’re wishful and happy thoughts that do not a basketball program make. What usually does, rather, is player development and youthful influxes (see the aforementioned early success of the other Pac-12 programs), plans that build things to not sink or fall. Of course, Kent introduces five new freshmen, presumably the future of the program. It isn’t a highly-touted group but it’s also nothing to completely dismiss, if for no other reason than Kent is a very positive speaker. Milan Acquaah is the highest-rated newcomer, a three-star point guard from Los Angeles. In future planning, Kent has secured two 2017 commitments in Davontae Coooper (center) and his high school teammate, Kwinton Hinson (guard). Perhaps that’s a nice start, but when Ernie cites year three as a critical one, it’s not a good look to be picked last again.