Vikings defeat NAU in day of firsts: Coming into focus

With his daughter Chelsea by his side, Ken Bone managed to keep his emotions in check during his postgame interview–that is until he was asked where the Vikings’ 67-51 win over Northern Arizona to secure an NCAA Tournament berth ranks in his career.

With his daughter Chelsea by his side, Ken Bone managed to keep his emotions in check during his postgame interview–that is until he was asked where the Vikings’ 67-51 win over Northern Arizona to secure an NCAA Tournament berth ranks in his career.

After choking back tears and taking several moments to gather himself, Bone was typically understated.

“It’s a nice win and it’s great being at Portland State, but I spent a number of years at Seattle Pacific University. We won our share of championships,” Bone said. “At the University of Washington, we were able to do real well and actually had a No. 1 seed one year. This ranks up there, but we’ve had some special moments.”

Make no mistake–this was perhaps Bone’s finest moment as a collegiate head coach, and his best team.

Bone arrived in the South Park Blocks months after Heath Schroyer fled to Fresno State following the Vikings’ 71-61 semifinal loss to Weber State in 2005. He was saddled with a team ill conceived to play his particular style of pressure basketball and not used to his laid-back style.

Schroyer’s Big Sky Tournament team was built around Seamus Boxley, a bruising inside stud that led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.

The Vikings were mediocre in Bone’s first year at the helm, going 12-16 and just 5-9 in Big Sky competition. The team struggled on defense and was unable to establish an offensive identity.

After rebounding to 19-13 last season, Bone said this year’s team is finally starting to resemble the kind of team he envisioned when arriving at Portland State: feisty and tenacious on defense, with the ability to be creative and versatile on offense.

After averaging 78 points per game last year while giving up almost as much, the Vikings’ scoring average dropped to 74.5 this season but the team has held opponents to 68 points a game and 44 percent shooting.

“I think it’s closer to the way we want to play. We had a number of injuries this year to where it seemed like we weren’t able to play 40 minutes of pressure basketball,” Bone said. “We’re very close to the way we would like to play and I think we can get there next year if we stay healthy.”

Senior center Scott Morrison, just one of two players on the championship squad not recruited by Bone, said he believes the coach is one of the best strategists he has seen.

“He’s good. Really knows his X’s and O’s,” Morrison said. “He’s recruited the right guys for his system over the three years and most of these guys, other than myself and maybe Tyrell [Mara], they’re all his guys. They fit in the system well and it shows.”

Bone has taken some time finding those guys. Ryan Sommer was his point guard for two years and ended up being ineffective at running the offense, often disappearing for entire games last year. Former center Anthony Washington had size but was inconsistent and never became the inside force Bone had hoped he could be.

However, Bone eventually found the right mix. He brought in senior guard Deonte Huff last year, as well as senior guard Dupree Lucas, who was Big Sky Newcomer of the Year last season and is the best on-ball defender on the team.

“I think he knows how to recruit good talent and how to bring it out of players. That’s the style we’ve seen and what he’s delivered here,” said athletic director Torre Chisholm. “He’s a great coach who looks at what he has and makes it work.”

Bone also brought in junior Jeremiah Dominguez, the diminutive Big Sky Player of the Year.

“Coach Bone knows his stuff,” Dominguez said. “He does a great job when we need an offensive quick hitter. He’s a great guy.”

Bone gave most of the credit to his players and seemed to grasp the enormity of what Portland State’s first NCAA Tournament appearance means to the university.

“I know how much goes into having a championship program,” he said. “It’s not just the kids in the program, [it’s the] administration, assistant coaches, strength coach. It’s an outstanding moment for Portland State.”

While Bone would not identify Wednesday’s victory as the most significant of his career, his wife Connie called it “the icing on the cake.”

“As a wife, you support your husband, you know he can do it and the time and effort that he puts in and the belief in his kids and then they finally get there,” she said. “It’s not old hat. It’s not expected. It’s not, oh yeah, we’re Duke and we’re going to go automatically. It’s just amazing to see how they pulled through and believed in themselves.”

Bone’s immediate future is certain. On Sunday, he will find out what team the Vikings will take on in the NCAA Tournament and start planning an upset.

However, with 42 wins the past two seasons, Bone’s name has already circulated as a potential candidate for one high-profile job–Oregon State and the hapless Beavers.

“I don’t know about what’s out there for him and obviously there’s always a lot of moves around this time of year,” Chisholm said. “Why wouldn’t he be a desirable coach? He’s proven he can win. We want him to stay and we hope things work out in our favor.”