Ernie Kent’s Washington State basketball program isn’t a democracy, but the coach will occasionally consider player input. One such occasion is an annual survey of his team that the coach conducts at WSU’s retreat, held this year in the Tri-Cities.
The question: How many minutes should you play this season?
There are only 200 minutes available in a regulation college basketball game. The sum total of the Cougars’ responses was 296 minutes.
“Obviously, somebody’s going to have to scale back,” Kent said with a smile.
But the coach likes where his players’ heads are at in that so many of them believe that they will be major contributors this season. That’s because Kent wants a cohesive group adding up to a whole greater than its individual parts.
Kent doesn’t want an alpha dog. He doesn’t want another DaVonté Lacy.
As a player and as a program spokesperson, Lacy was ideal. A cavalcade of injuries and setbacks never seriously derailed his record-setting college career, and his decision to not transfer to a winning program at the start of his senior year undoubtedly made Kent’s life a lot easier, smoothing the coaching transition and helping make Kent’s inaugural season a success.
But Lacy, a former standout at University Place’s Curtis High, was the major remnant of a system under former coach Ken Bone in which the team’s offense started and ended with one dominant player. Like Klay Thompson and Brock Motum before him, Lacy put the team’s scoring load on his shoulders every night and it was difficult for other players to escape his gravity.
Even in Kent’s more egalitarian offense, Lacy took 23 percent of WSU’s shots last year. The Cougars probably don’t have a single guard on this year’s team who is as good as Lacy was.
But they may have the pieces to replace everything he brought to the table, and by spreading his responsibility around make it tougher on other teams.
“Vonté was a great player, but now I feel like we’re more well-balanced,” said junior guard Ike Iroegbu. “Everyone can score, everyone can shoot the ball well, and it’s going to be harder for teams to guard us.”
Iroegbu will be counted on to score on fast breaks like Lacy, and Que Johnson has the natural ability to be the volume scorer when the Cougars need a hot hand. Lacy had a raw desire to prove his worth to highly regarded opponents that appears evident in junior college transfer Charles Callison, and Renard Suggs has shown a Lacy-like ability to stretch defenses with his shooting.
One departed, under-recruited South Sound player is replaced by another in true freshman Viont’e Daniels, the state 4A player of the year at Federal Way High School, and sophomore guard Ny Redding can be the steady ballhandler that the Cougars can rely on when other teams turn up the pressure.
The Cougars probably won’t have one dominant player this year — it would take too long to get him the ball. Through two exhibition games, WSU has shown a desire to get in passing lanes, turn turnovers into points and have the leading scorer be whoever happens to fill the lane for the most fast-break layups on a given night.
There is no Lacy on this year’s team, and there is no player who can replace him. The Cougars don’t even want to try.