Hoops recruit spurned by Wazzu back on the market

ST. LOUIS — When Sean Lancona’s son signed his National Letter of Intent to play basketball for Washington State in November 2012, the dad started buying Cougars gear.

“Do you know how many hats I have that say Washington State?” he said by phone Thursday afternoon. “And how many stickers? And how many blankets? And how many pairs of sweatpants and jerseys that we have in the house? I bought every family member, for Christmas, something from Washington State.”

Why wouldn’t he? His boy, Tanner Lancona, was signed, sealed and soon to be delivered to Pullman, Wash., where he would be a sports management major and play for Ken Bone’s men’s basketball team next season. Or so he thought.

Instead, his son — a 6-foot-9, 230-pound senior at Tesoro High School in Las Flores, Calif. — is spending this weekend visiting Saint Louis University. Next weekend, he’ll tour Kansas State. Then, he will make his pick between those two, Colorado State and BYU. All good options. All options he shouldn’t really be considering at all.

You see, the Lanconas thought they had this whole recruiting thing wrapped up. That’s what signing a National Letter of Intent is supposed to signify. It’s an agreement between kids and coaches. It stops the kids from jumping ship, and it guarantees said kids will have a spot on a team. Sean Lancona tells a different story.

According to the dad, Washington State did a 180-degree turn on what it thought of Tanner Lancona. He says Bone and Washington State assistants recruited his kid hard as a stretch-four player, the position he plays best. Cougars coaches showed up at games, sent text messages and often called. Then came Thursday, April 11, when Bone and the assistant who was in charge of Tanner Lancona’s recruitment showed up at the family’s home in California and changed their tune.

“They said that after their meeting with the athletic director [Bill Moos] at the end of the season, that the program is going to be headed into a different direction,” Sean Lancona said. “I’m going to try to stay classy here, but there were a lot of things said that left the impression that the program was headed in a direction that wasn’t going to fit Tanner’s needs anymore … We allowed the conversation to go on for about 15 or 20 minutes. Before some things that were going to be said were said, we stopped the conversation and asked to be released from our duties to Washington State … It had to do with a coach on a hot seat, a coach that needed to go in a different direction immediately.”

Sean Lancona is mad, and with good reason. This recruiting stuff is important. And he doesn’t want people to think his kid flaked out on his pledge to the Cougars. Washington State was the plan, until Bone and Co. delivered an unexpected message loud and clear.

“I’m never going to divulge the whole conversation, because it really didn’t go well,” Sean Lancona said. “But, the conversation was basically, ‘You don’t want to go here anymore. You don’t want to be here.’ So, we were basically coached, I guess, into what to do. We’re not stupid. We don’t need to be anywhere near anybody that doesn’t want Tanner.”

The ordeal was labeled as ‘mutual agreement’ between Tanner Lancona and the school, a tidy phrase Tanner Lancona himself stuck to when he posted the news to Twitter. That doesn’t really fit his dad’s take, though.

“Don’t you offer a kid because you want him?” Sean Lancona said. “Don’t you let him sign because you want him? Don’t you talk to him every single day — up until to two weeks before that happened — because you want him? … Don’t you do all of that because you want the kid? All of a sudden, you get to a Thursday, midweek, out of the blue, and now you don’t want the kid? You tell me what happened there. I’ll never know, obviously, the true story. Whatever happened, that coach, at that point, apparently no longer wanted that kid.”

Maybe Bone, under mounting pressure after his first losing season at Washington State (The Cougars finished 13-19 and went 4-14 in the Pac-12), decided he needed the extra space to get better faster. After Tanner Lancona was issued his release, the team announced the addition of a junior-college transfer, San Jacinto College point guard Danny Lawhorn.

Maybe Bone was following in the footsteps of his colleague, Washington State football coach Mike Leach, who pulled a football scholarship offer out from under a Texas defensive back named Myron Turner last year (At least Leach did it before the kid signed his NLI).

Or, maybe Bone is just a fan of questionable recruiting.

Whatever the reason, the coach probably wishes Sean Lancona would quiet down and stop making such a fuss. But Sean Lancona has a bone to pick with Bone, along with a pile of Washington State gear that is worthless to him now.

You can follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred) or email him at frederickson.ben@gmail.com