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Originally published Thursday, April 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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WSU Basketball | Tony Bennett tells recruits he's staying in Pullman

Just when Washington State basketball fans exhaled with the revelation that WSU coach Tony Bennett was turning his back on Indiana, they...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Just when Washington State basketball fans exhaled with the revelation that WSU coach Tony Bennett was turning his back on Indiana, they had a new reason for concern when that job was filled Tuesday by Marquette coach Tom Crean.

Marquette is in Milwaukee, in Bennett's home state of Wisconsin, and Crean built it into a formidable program in the Big East.

Among those, however, who are keeping the faith that Bennett will return to WSU for a third season are some of the guys he's been counting on to sustain the program. Sunday, Bennett and his staff called their class of signed prospects to tell them he wasn't taking the Indiana job, and it's the recruits' impression Bennett intends to return to WSU.

Marcus Capers of Winterhaven, Fla., a 6-foot-4 guard, says he heard this message on his cellphone from Bennett: "Hey, Marcus, I haven't talked to you in a while. I just wanted to let you know I'm not taking the Indiana job, and I'll be there [at WSU] next year."

Bennett also called 6-6 Klay Thompson, considered the jewel of a solid recruiting class. Thompson, of Santa Margarita, Calif., was just named the state's Division III player of the year by Calhisports.com.

"It was just relieving, him telling me he wasn't taking the Indiana job," Thompson said. "I think it was him saying he's going to be there [at WSU] next year. He didn't really say he'd decline all offers, but I think he'll be there next year. I think he's excited about the recruiting class."

WSU assistant Ron Sanchez called forward James Watson of Stringtown, Okla. Says Watson, "He said [Bennett] wasn't leaving."

All this, of course, happened before the Marquette job opened. A Milwaukee columnist Wednesday made an early push for Bennett, but it's unknown whether the position would have allure for the 38-year-old coach who has been the hottest property of the offseason coaching carousel.

Bennett's father took Wisconsin to the 2000 Final Four, and Tony Bennett coached there as an assistant under his father, and later, Brad Soderberg and Bo Ryan.

The Bennetts were known to be chagrined when the school didn't retain Soderberg — Dick Bennett's replacement for most of the 2000-01 season when he resigned abruptly after several games — yet Tony stayed on and coached under Ryan for two seasons.

In the state, Marquette and Wisconsin are known as two schools that don't care for each other — one a private, Jesuit school, the other the flagship state institution.

Bennett and his assistant coaches are in San Antonio for the Final Four, and it's likely Marquette will have at least a preliminary conversation with Bennett.

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Other names advanced for the job include St. Louis coach Rick Majerus, who played at Marquette and was coach there from 1983 to 1986; Illinois coach Bruce Weber, a Milwaukee native; and Brian Gregory, Dayton coach.

Bennett also has been linked to the vacancy at Louisiana State because his wife Laurel is from Baton Rouge. The school is about to name an athletic director, and one report says the basketball job is likely to go to Travis Ford of Massachusetts.

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

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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