Butch T. Cougar mascot crowd surfing during a basketball game.
March 18, 2024


By RJ Wolcott
WSU News & Media Relations

Washington State University basketball has achieved unparalleled success in recent years, attracting a rhapsody of roaring fans to Beasley Coliseum and a national spotlight on the Palouse.

Glory came first for the women’s team led by Head Coach Kamie Ethridge. A streak of three NCAA Tournament appearances included last year’s victory in the Pac-12 tournament, a first in program history.

Men’s Basketball Head Coach Kyle Smith and his tenacious squad followed suit this year. Their heroics, including two victories over a top-10 ranked University of Arizona, catapulted the men’s team into their first NCAA Tournament invite in more than a decade.

Sporting a seventh seed in the East Region of this year’s Tournament, WSU’s men’s team is set to play No. 10 seed Drake University in Omaha, Nebraska on Thursday. The WSU women, meanwhile, are a No. 1 seed in the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitational Tournament and will host No. 8 seed Lamar at 6 p.m. Thursday inside Beasley Coliseum.

Coaches on parallel paths

Ethridge and Smith are in their sixth and fifth years as WSU coaches, respectively. For Smith, seeing Ethridge and her team achieve unprecedented success in recent years has been a joy to behold.

“Kamie is the most humble person I’ve ever been around,” Smith said. “She’s an Olympian, her jersey hangs from rafters at the University of Texas, and what she’s accomplished here as a coach has put the bar pretty high to reach.”

Smith’s drive to find the same kind of success as the women’s program has been matched by his support for the program, Ethridge recalls.

“He’s always been so thoughtful, kind and respectful of us and what we’ve accomplished,” Ethridge said. “To watch what he’s done this year has been one of the most incredible coaching jobs I’ve ever seen, and it’s been amazing to see the fans really get behind both of our teams.”

Closeup of Kamie Ethridge during a basketball game.
Kamie Ethridge

Last season, Ethridge became the first coach in program history to be named the National Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year by The Athletic, which is the sports section of The New York Times. Ethridge’s 92 victories are the most of any coach in program history in their first six seasons. 2024 marks the fourth straight year of post-season play for the women’s team with their top seeding in the first-ever WBIT.

Earlier this month, Smith became the fourth WSU coach and first since Tony Bennett more than a decade ago to be named John R. Wooden Coach of the Year. His team’s regular season record of 23-8 is the best since the 2007–08 season. At the Pac-12 tournament, the men’s team reached the semifinals and finished the season ranked among the Top 25 college men’s basketball programs in the nation by The Associated Press. This year’s NCAA Tournament selection marks three consecutive years of post-season play, a first for the WSU Men’s Basketball program.

Building success in tandem

Finding success on the court began with a base of support from WSU leaders and supporters.

“There’s always been a willingness to support us with whatever we needed to give us a chance,” Ethridge said.

From the firm foundation, both teams were able to build robust staffs and set out not just around the country, but the world to find outstanding student-athletes.

Gritty, hard-working, and under-recognized players have formed the backbone of both squads in recent years.

Closeup of Kyle Smith during a basketball game.
Kyle Smith

This year’s men’s basketball squad is led by Andrej Jakimovski, a veteran stalwart from North Macedonia, Isaac Jones, who reinvented his game along his unconventional route to college basketball success, and newcomer Myles Rice, who recently won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year after battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The WSU women’s basketball team has featured its own array of tenacious talents in recent years, led by Charlisse Leger-Walker. The New Zealander was voted the 2023 Pac-12 Tournament’s most outstanding player by media, averaging 19 points per game en route to WSU winning it all for the first time in program history. This year’s women’s team was hampered late in the season by an injury to Leger-Walker, but saw the emergence of first-year talent Eleonora Villa. Both Leger-Walker and Villa were named to the All-Pac-12 team earlier this month, the former’s record-setting fourth time earning the honor.