Washington State Magazine

Spring 2015


Spring 2015

Sports
WSU basketball coach Ernie Kent. Courtesy Pac-12 Conference

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WSU basketball coach Ernie Kent. Courtesy Pac-12 Conference

A winning style

by | © Washington State University

While most reporters covering Ernie Kent focus on his affinity for fast-paced basketball and his ability to recruit, inevitably the subject of his sartorial splendor arises. He’s the “man of a million clothes,” according to The Seattle Times and in the Oregonian’s view, a “clothes horse,” with “tight ties,” and “sharp collars.”

Whether he’s coordinating plays or coordinating outfits, Ernie Kent is a man with a brand.

“What happens in environments where teams have not had a lot of success, they can really fall into the rut of accepting mediocrity. That’s wrong. We have to change the mentality.”

“In this day and age, your brand is huge,” says Kent. “If you don’t understand that at a young age, it’s going to be a shock to your system as you go from the bright lights of college athletics to the bright lights of the real world.”

WSU’s new men’s basketball coach takes that lesson to his players because understanding how they’re perceived will go a long way toward their future success. “Let’s do the dress rehearsal now,” says Kent. “When you go into corporate America, you will already know that you need to dress right, look right, act right, talk right, be on time, be accountable every single day.”

“You should embrace every day what you do. Just like in the game of basketball, we say ‘Value every possession.’ We have to go through all these pitfalls, all that adversity, to get the team there. I’m asking the fans, ‘Hey, embrace all this.’”

Kent often shares his experiences with the 15 men on his roster. He joined the Cougs last March, after a four-year sabbatical from college coaching. He draws on nineteen years as a head basketball coach (13 at his alma mater the University of Oregon), five NCAA Tournament appearances, and two Pac-10 Conference titles. He has rounded out his experience by commentating for Fox Sports and the Pac-12 Network, and by serving as president and board member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, a USA men’s basketball coach, and a coach in Saudi Arabia.

He also leverages his own basketball career, both as a player and a coach, to train the young players. One of 10 children in Rockford, Illinois, Kent found his future in basketball. He was a Parade Magazine All-American his senior year. He then played at the University of Oregon and graduated in 1977. Knee injuries prevented him from pursuing a professional basketball career. While at Oregon, he received an outstanding community service award and carried that motivation into coaching. 

“I want to be a guy that energizes people. You have a different personality now on the sidelines. I’m that guy who says, ‘I want to be George Raveling all over again.’”

Drawing on his time in the Middle East from 1980 to 1987 while coaching the al-Khaleej Club in Sayhat and then working for the Arabian American Oil Company, Kent talks to his players about adapting to a new environment. He and his wife lived in a Shiite community for two years, were often the only Americans around, and depended on a translator to communicate. The strict cultural practices even altered the flow of the games. “Prayer time would hit in the middle of a game and you would see an entire arena empty out,” says Kent. “You had to wait for the crowd to come back for the second half because of their religious beliefs and customs.”

He stresses the importance of service, decorum, and academics. Under Kent’s guidance, the Oregon Ducks men’s basketball team ranked first among Pac-10 schools in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate for several years. “It’s about giving them a platform to be successful,” says Kent. “It’s all about accountability.”

“If you want to play like a first-class team, then first look like, dress like, talk like, be like a first-class team. It’ll get you there a lot quicker.”

On his side, he’s working to be accountable to the players, the school, and the community, making many personal visits to regional clubs and organizations to reengage the Cougar basketball fans. Kent asks that they embrace the process of growing a winning team. “Anytime you set your sights on a particular goal—in this case it’s a Pac-12 championship, it’s an NCAA championship—you hope to get your program to a point where people are excited about what you’re doing,” he says. “You don’t just walk in and your team is jumping up to that level.”

But he’s keeping the bar high. Kent insists his players travel in coat and tie, be on time to meetings and classes, sit in the first three rows of their classes, and, of course, learn how to excel at basketball. “I tell them, ‘You’re not only going to get basketball knowledge, I’m going to give you life knowledge.’”

“My coaching style is about relationships. I want to get to know my players. I’ve learned that’s more important than the Xs and the Os, the ability to have those young people trust in you, believe in you, follow you, do what they need to do to be successful.”

Categories: Athletics | Tags: Basketball

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