WSU coach Kyle Smith on potential extension: ‘We’re working on it’

Mar 18, 2024, 12:14 PM | Updated: Mar 19, 2024, 10:21 am

Head coach Kyle Smith has led the WSU men’s basketball team into the field of 68 for the first time in 16 years, with the surprising Cougars set to open the NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed on Thursday.

No. 22 WSU, No. 17 Gonzaga get their NCAA Tournament draws

Not many expected to see Wazzu in this spot, which came into the season with low outside expectations due to some notable roster turnover. But in the final season of the Pac-12 as we know it, the Cougars reeled off an 11-1 run during conference play – including two wins over No. 9 Arizona – and now go into the tourney ranked 25th in the country in Monday’s new Associated Press poll.

Fresh off of finding out the Cougs’ draw on Selection Sunday, Smith joined Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy on Monday and spoke about his team emerging as one of the best teams on the west coast this season in the era of NIL and the transfer portal.

Asked if he saw WSU’s success coming this season, Smith said he had an idea of the Cougs’ potential ahead of the season.

“Yes and no, I’d say,” Smith replied. “I knew we were pretty talented, but I also know how hard it is to put a team together in this new era so quickly and how they go through the experiences in that. And I knew they had a good chemistry, just working with them this summer. I tried to diffuse the situation – I said, ‘Listen, I’ve been doing this for 31 years. I think we have NCAA Tournament talent, and if we don’t get there, put it on me.”

Prior to coming to Washington State in 2019, Smith was head coach at Columbia from 2010-16 and San Francisco from 2016-19. But in all that time, he had never made the NCAA Tournament – until now.

“Someone commented last year that, ‘Coach, I don’t want you to be the best coach that’s never made an NCAA Tournament,'” Smith recalled. “So I said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what Phil Mickelson went through before.'”

That’s no longer a concern. In fact, the real concern now for Wazzu fans is whether or not Smith will stay in Pullman. Not only are the Cougs entering unknown territory after the demise of the Pac-12 (the basketball team will play at least the next two seasons in the West Coast Conference, which features NCAA Tournament fixtures Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s), but Smith has become a name to watch as a potential target for bigger programs due to WSU’s success this season.

Smith may have assuaged the fears of Cougars fans when asked by Seattle Sports’ Stacy Rost if an extension with WSU could be in his future.

“We’re working on it. They’re putting something together, and want to make sure that we can still sustain this level – obviously going through the transition, but that’s OK,” Smith said. “We love Pullman. … We love living here and it’s been great for our family. Once a Coug, always a Coug, so we’re working on it.”

Kyle Smith and the WSU Cougars meet 10th-seeded Drake in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament at 7:05 p.m. Thursday. WSU Radio Network coverage featuring play-by-play announcer Matt Chazanow and Cougars legend Craig Ehlo on the call will be carried on the Seattle Sports app beginning at 6:30 p.m. with the pregame show.

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