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Originally published Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

Will basketball coach Tony Bennett stay at WSU?

Athletic director say no other school has approached him about hiring Tony Bennett.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

It didn't take long. Nor will resolution on whether Tony Bennett is going to remain basketball coach at Washington State.

Two dubious reports surfaced Saturday concerning Bennett and the Cougars, less than 48 hours after North Carolina shoved them out of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

One, an Internet site, claims Indiana has offered Bennett its job. The other, in the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote that Bennett "is expecting to leave" WSU and is on the short list at California to replace Ben Braun.

Chances are good there's something wrong with both dispatches. First, The Indianapolis Star reported Indiana athletic director Rick Greenspan was at IU's spring-football practice Friday evening, while Bennett accompanied the Cougars on their charter return home. So unless Greenspan accosted Bennett almost as soon as he left Bobcats Arena in Charlotte, or called him on the phone to offer the job, it didn't happen.

Saturday morning, Bennett told ESPN.com, "I haven't had one conversation with [Indiana] and so, no, I haven't been offered the job."

As for the second account, "expecting to leave" ranks as some of your weirder phraseology.

Washington State released a statement from athletic director Jim Sterk on Saturday night saying that nobody had approached him about Bennett.

The Web report may well become true, just not yet. One undercurrent coursing through the Charlotte regional was that Jim Delany had thrown his considerable weight behind Bennett for the Indiana job. Delany is the influential Big Ten Conference commissioner, and his affirmation probably would mean something to Greenspan.

As conventional thinking goes: Indiana offers, and Bennett leaps.

I'm not so sure.

Washington State people are edgy because Bennett has had ample opportunity to disavow interest in the Indiana job, and any other. He said flatly more than five weeks ago he wouldn't talk about Indiana, and he shut down any conversation about a job switch after the Carolina loss, saying the night ought to be about his senior class.

That's Bennett, wedded to his scruples, preferring the story be about somebody other than him. So his silence is not necessarily indicative of anything.

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This one just doesn't feel like a fit.

Start with this: Greenspan has been under some fire for his hire of Kelvin Sampson — no matter whether he had a lot of pressure to do it. If Bennett does due diligence on Greenspan, he may not be completely satisfied.

If he goes to Indiana, Bennett suddenly switches motherboards from everything he has known since he was a player at Wisconsin-Green Bay. He loves the underdog role. That disappears as soon as he gets to Bloomington, as do top-shelf players Eric Gordon and D.J. White, as do any illusions of patience if Bennett falls back on what he knows best — a developmental, brick-by-brick approach.

Two years into a meteoric head-coaching career, Bennett has always been around programs where seniors matter most. What does he do when the next Eric Gordon is coming out of Indianapolis, mortgage the philosophy for him? And how do the fans react if Bennett doesn't get him?

So you argue the Cougars just bumped their heads on the ceiling at WSU, that it's never going to get any better. Do we know that? Bennett recruited guys like Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low to a downtrodden program on nothing more than a promise. Who's to say, able to show prospects a Sweet 16 bracket, he might not improve on that talent?

Incoming next fall is a 6-foot-6 swingman, Klay Thompson, who blew up to top-30 national status this season. There are enough spare parts around — most of them intimately familiar with the system — to suggest WSU won't be reprising the Paul Graham regime anytime soon.

Of course, Bennett could leave, because anybody courting him would throw more money at him than WSU can. But he seems to like WSU, gets the challenge of matching moves against the highest-level coaches in the game in the Pac-10, and the Cougars appear to be working to improve some nettlesome issues surrounding charter travel and guarantee games.

Going forward, those will be key elements for the Cougars. Can the school satisfy one of the hottest young coaches in the nation?

In a reflective moment in Charlotte the other day, Bennett said, "Pullman is a unique place." He hastened to add, "But a wonderful place."

We might soon know the depth of his feeling.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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