Wednesday’s men’s basketball game is more than a sports event.
The Vandals play Washington State in the Battle of the Palouse, the longest standing basketball rivalry on the western side of the Mississippi River.
In September, the game received another twist.
Idaho men’s basketball coach Don Verlin served as the honorary chairman of the 15th annual Coaches vs. Cancer Gala Sept. 24 in Spokane. Verlin offered a Vandal basketball package, giving the highest bidder the chance to be an honorary Vandal basketball coach. The item included pregame hang-time, sitting on the bench during the game and calling the first play in the game.
The live auction for Verlin’s item was holding at $600, when seconds before the auctioneer said “Sold,” someone bid $2,000 for the item.
The bidder? Washington State men’s basketball coach Ernie Kent.
“When it got kinda stalled, I didn’t think it was going for enough,” Kent said. “Here’s a chance to do something coaches very rarely do — allow other people to step into their environment, around their team, on the day of a game, sit on the bench. That’s a lot.”
Kent said he hoped to drive the bid up and encourage others to continue bidding.
“And, I thought it would be pretty funny,” Kent said. “It was just a spur of the moment thing. I was just sitting there like, ‘I think I’m going to bid on this. I think it’d be pretty funny.’”
Verlin didn’t immediately realize who had bumped up the bid almost $1,500 on his item.
Then he turned around.
“He was sitting behind me and when the bid came in … and I just laughed,” Verlin said. “I thought, ‘Wow, what a great thing to do.’ I thought Ernie did a great job stepping up.”
If Kent puts a similar item up for bid next year, Verlin said he plans on bidding on it.
Verlin and Kent have known each other for over 20 years.
“He’s a great guy who stands for the right stuff,” Verlin said. “I really believe it was a great moment in that event.”
Kent said using the rivalry game will help bring even more awareness.
“For something like this to be brought to the national attention level, it would take two coaches,” he said. “For a brief moment, we can put the winning aside to bring awareness that will be greater than the game. What a better way to bring awareness.”
The event raised $110,000 in support of the Spokane American Cancer Society.
Coaches vs. Cancer is a collaborative program between the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the American Cancer Society to make a difference in the fight against cancer by empowering coaches, teams and local communities.
The duo hosts Suits and Sneakers annually in the last week of January. Coaches and staff members dress in suits and sneakers at games throughout the week, across the country.
Verlin and Kent’s involvement with Coaches vs. Cancer is personal — both men lost their fathers to cancer.
“I lost my dad in 2000,” Kent said. “It’s an event we put together to raise awareness for the fight against cancer. It also brings awareness to what we do as coaches.”
Verlin said he didn’t realize they shared this.
“It’s really cool for it to come full-circle,” Verlin said. “We both have a passion for raising money for cancer because it’s affected our families greatly.”
Verlin was the honorary chairman for the September event. Kent was the event’s honorary chairman in 2015.
Kent said he is looking to give some of the original package he won to the next highest bidder.
“Let them go to practice, let them shoot around, let them spend the day with the team,” he said. “I think that’s something neat for them to do since they bid on initially. What I would hope to do, and what we would hope to do in all this, is sit on his bench for the jump ball and then go about coaching our teams.”
Kent said being on the bench, even for a moment, will bring awareness to cancer.
“I don’t think it’s ever been done in college basketball,” Kent said. “I’ve never seen that before.”
Verlin said he doesn’t know what the exact game-plan is yet.
“Whatever it is, it’s for a greater cause,” he said. “Obviously, the game’s a big deal. But the focus — at the start of the game anyways — needs to be on cancer research, cancer awareness, cancer survivors. That’s what we’re really trying to do.”
Kent said he doesn’t know if Verlin will let him call a play.
“I’d be more than happy to call a play,” Kent said. “I can tell you we’re going to score on that play, but I don’t know if he’ll go that far. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Tess Fox can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tesstakesphotos