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Cougars picked to finish last; Kent says no way

October 26, 2018
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FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2018, file photo, Washington State head coach Ernie Kent, right, speaks with guard Carter Skaggs during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against California in Pullman, Wash. For the fourth consecutive year, Washington State is picked to finish last in the Pac-12. They went 12-19 last year, including 4-14 in the Pac-12. Kent is entering his fifth season and has yet to post a winning record at WSU. (AP Photo/Young Kwak, File)
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FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2018, file photo, Washington State head coach Ernie Kent, right, speaks with guard Carter Skaggs during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against California in Pullman, Wash. For the fourth consecutive year, Washington State is picked to finish last in the Pac-12. They went 12-19 last year, including 4-14 in the Pac-12. Kent is entering his fifth season and has yet to post a winning record at WSU. (AP Photo/Young Kwak, File)

For the fourth consecutive year, Washington State is picked to finish last in the Pac-12. But don’t tell that to coach Ernie Kent.

“This team is ready to be in postseason play,” Kent said, when asked if WSU could finish above .500 this season. “We’re marching toward a championship. We don’t look at .500 or just barely being above .500.”

Actually, .500 would be a big improvement for a team that went 12-19 last year, with half the wins coming in the first six games.

The offseason brought good and bad news for the Cougars. Leading scorer Robert Franks (17.4 points per game) tested the NBA waters and decided to return for his senior season. But point guard Malachi Flynn, the second-leading scorer at 15 points per game, decided to transfer to San Diego State.

Kent, who is entering his fifth season and has yet to post a winning record at WSU, went out and found seven new players.

His team is tall and contains strong shooters, Kent said.

“Right now we’ve got seven guys shooting over 40 percent from the 3,” Kent said.

Washington State led the Pac-12 by attempting 905 3-pointers last season, nearly 30 per game, and this year shouldn’t be much different, Kent said.

“They’ve got a green light to shoot it,” Kent said. “With the speed of the way we play the game and the way we spread the floor, it’s such a weapon for us this season.”

Kent has a 47-77 record in four seasons at WSU. But he’s worried more about beating the league’s top dogs than he is about his job.

“What do we need to do to beat Oregon and beat Arizona and beat UW?” Kent said. “That’s how we practice, that’s how we think and that’s how we work.”

Franks, who was named to the Julius Erving small forward of the year watch list, and senior guard Viont’e Daniels are the returning starters.

In addition to his 17 points, Franks averaged 6.6 rebounds. But he found he wasn’t ready for the NBA.

“The biggest thing I learned after testing the waters is you’re right there, but you’re not there yet,” Franks said. “There’s still a lot you’ve got to learn and get better at.”

Franks won the Pac-12 most improved player of the year award last season, and said he wants to be the league’s most valuable player this season.

Washington State will need big offensive contributions from long-ball specialists Carter Skaggs and Daniels to snap a six-year string of losing seasons. But Kent is not feeling any extra pressure.

“Personally, they’re all make-or-break years,” Kent said.

Things to watch at Washington State this season:

LIGHT SCHEDULE: The nonconference schedule seems manageable, with New Mexico State perhaps the biggest challenge among an assortment of lesser-known schools.

DOWNTOWNERS: Skaggs nailed 69 3-pointers as a part-time starter last year, while Daniels shot 45 percent from 3-point range. Other returning veterans are Arinze Chidom, Davante Cooper and Jeff Pollard.

GOODBYE: The lettermen lost include Flynn, Drick Bernstine, Milan Acquaah, Jamar Ergas, Kwinton Hinson, KJ Langston and Steven Shpreyregin.

WELCOME: New recruits include Ahmed Ali, Marvin Cannon, CJ Elleby, Aljaz Kunc, Jervae Robinson, James Streeter and Isaiah Wade.

HOME COURT: The Cougars averaged just 2,800 fans per game at 11,000-seat Beasley Coliseum last year, and need to generate some excitement at home.

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