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Originally published Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

Washington State should go after Ken Bone

The Portland State basketball coach would be a good at recruiting in the Puget Sound area

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Today, we won't meander long. We'll get to the meat of it in the same manner Washington State aims to hire a basketball coach to replace Tony Bennett.

Go get Ken Bone. Dial up Portland State and say that you're sorry, but everybody's got a place on the food chain, and you're pulling rank. Get him a parking space and a key card and let him start binding the wounds of the Cougar Nation.

Why Bone? Let's go back to one of the theories making the rounds about why Bennett left. This one holds that Bennett caught lightning in a bottle with Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low. That he looked around one day and questioned whether he had enough talent — on hand, incoming and prospectively — to get where he wanted to go in the Pac-10.

And he decided that wasn't enough, and he didn't see it changing. And he skipped.

That's where there's a connection to Bone. One of the enduring mysteries about the WSU program is that it hasn't managed to tap into the Puget Sound-area talent lode in a meaningful way.

Here you have one of the nation's founts of high-school players, and WSU, a state school in a prestigious conference, can't get a sniff on the west side.

Of course, Washington has done a good job in recent years keeping local talent at home. And it will always have an edge there. It's understandable that Martell Webster and Spencer Hawes wanted to stay home. But isn't there a next-level guy interested in a Pac-10 school not far from home?

Bone could help WSU with that deficit. He grew up around here and has old connections to Seattle-area basketball. And even if, worst-case scenario, he can't reverse an old trend, he's still a solid strategist who has had Portland State in two straight NCAA tournaments.

Bone was waiting for a serious look last year from Oregon State, and it never came. He'd probably walk down the Gorge for the WSU job.

As for Bennett, if he found his future at WSU sobering, he gets to perk up today at his introductory news conference at Virginia, which announced that he will make $1.7 million a year (compared to $1 million in Pullman), plus a $500,000 signing bonus and a $500,000 retention bonus if he stays five years.

That's a better fate than that of Bennett's WSU staff. Assistant Mike Heideman confirmed Tuesday night that only Ron Sanchez is joining Bennett, leaving Heideman, Ben Johnson and Matt Woodley to hit the bricks.

Meanwhile, San Diego coach Bill Grier told The San Diego Union-Tribune he's not interested in the vacancy, and WSU athletic director Jim Sterk disputed a report in the Spokane Spokesman-Review quoting sources that the basketball program's charter travel was an item facing potential budget cuts.

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"Tony was told we were not backing down on commitment to charters," Sterk wrote in a text message. "It was even discussed to enhance."

As for cutbacks in staff travel to the Final Four, also mentioned in that report, Sterk said, "We told basketball that the state was restricting professional travel and they would need to use "excellence funds" [a multiuse fund created by donors in recent years] to go. Men's basketball has plenty to cover their travel in "excellence' accounts."

In Elk Grove, Calif., Ray Thames, father of WSU point guard signee Xavier Thames, said his son will take the unusual step of asking for a release from his letter of intent, although he still has an interest in sticking with the Cougars. He wants his son to be a true free agent while he's re-recruited.

"I just don't believe people give you the wholehearted truth if you've got that deal already signed," said the senior Thames.

One more reason for the Cougars to get a move on. They ought to hurry and hire Ken Bone.

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

Copyright © 2009 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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