David Riley is ready to dive into his 'dream job' as the new Washington State men's basketball coach

Apr. 5—It was going to take a special spot for David Riley to leave Eastern Washington, where he coached men's basketball for the last 13 years, and the Spokane area, where he lived for nearly two decades.

It turns out the "dream job" was just an hour-and-a-half drive down U.S. 195.

Riley was introduced as the 20th men's basketball coach in Washington State history during a news conference Thursday at the press box at Gesa Field.

"This is a dream job for me, this is unbelievable," Riley said. "It's a college town where you can really focus on what matters and ... there's no distractions here for anything other than that. These guys want to get better at basketball, they want to go as far as they can in the game, they want to get their education, they want to be around each other, build a real family, and that's what I'm most excited about."

After starting out as a graduate assistant at EWU in Cheney in 2011, Riley slowly rose through the ranks — first to assistant coach, then to head coach in 2021.

As a head coach, he compiled a 62 — 38 overall record, a pair of Big Sky Conference regular-season championships and even a couple of wins against the Cougars.

Now, he's tasked with leading a program that saw its greatest heights in recent history last season after going 25-10, finishing second in the Pac-12 Conference and qualifying for its first NCAA tournament in 16 years.

"We've got some hoopers in here that don't really want too much of an offseason," Riley said. "They want to get going again. I'm excited to get to work, I'm excited to be a part of this."

Long ties to the Inland Northwest

From his playing days as a deadly 3-point shooter at Whitworth University in Spokane, to a grandfather who coached ball with the Idaho Vandals, to his 13 years leading the Eagles in Cheney, Riley, 35, has more than a few long ties to the Inland Northwest.

Riley was born in Seattle before growing up mostly in Palo Alto, Calif., right off the campus of Stanford University where his father was a professor (and, coincidentally, where WSU's former coach Kyle Smith is now headed).

But both Riley's parents were Whitworth alums, and his uncle, Mike Riley, grew up in Wallace, Idaho.

Mike Riley went on to have a successful football coaching career, including stops at Nebraska (2015-17), Oregon State (1997-98, 2003-14), the NFL's San Diego Chargers (1999-01) and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League (1987-90).

David Riley's grandfather, Bud Riley, was an assistant football coach with the Idaho Vandals (1962-65), Oregon State (1965-72) and the head coach of the Blue Bombers (1974-77). His grandmother, Mary, was from Mullan, Idaho.

"There's just so many ties to this area," Riley said. "When I was growing up I fell in love with it. I love the Northwest, I love the basketball culture up here, I just love everything about it."

Riley's "space and pace" offense all about big numbers

While it might not be as well-known as former WSU coach Tony Bennett's "pack line defense" he made famous at Virginia, or as catchy as his predecessor Smith's "nerdball" philosophy, Riley is sticking to the trend of Cougar head coaches doing things their own way.

Riley's teams are known for their "space and pace" offenses that emphasize sharing the basketball, playing freely and putting up big scoring numbers.

This season, the Eagles (21-11) finished in the top 5 in the NCAA Division I in two-point field-goal percentage, the top 15 in assists, the top 30 in scoring and the top 50 in pace of play en route to winning the Big Sky regular-season title.

The Eagles have also had five of the last eight Big Sky MVPs at several different positions from post, to guard to wing players.

"There's all different players who can play in that system and that's the beauty of it," Riley said. "You don't have to be put in a box.

"Our first goal is to be the most-cohesive team in the country, because winning shouldn't lead into cohesion, cohesion should lead into winning."

A couple of players Riley helped coach went from being walk-ons to superstars: Tyler Harvey, who was selected by the Orlando Magic in the 2015 NBA draft, and Steele Venters, whose stellar play earned him a spot with the Gonzaga Bulldogs this season.

Relishing the challenge

Riley knows he's stepping into a challenging situation.

Ten Cougars have entered the NCAA transfer portal since the season ended, including Pac-12 freshman of the year Myles Rice and fellow starters or co-starters Andrej Jakimovski, Rueben Chinyelu and Oscar Cluff.

And forward Jaylen Wells on Thursday declared for the NBA draft while keeping his option to return.

But the good sign for Riley is Jakimovski, Chinyelu and Wells were all on hand Thursday to welcome him to Pullman.

"My first goal is to retain. I want every single one of these guys back," Riley said. "I don't have some preconceived idea that I know things differently. These guys are incredible players (and) they mean a lot to this university."

Regardless of how much he has to rebuild in the offseason, it's not something Riley is new to.

When he took over as head coach at EWU in 2021, the Eagles won 18 games despite replacing their seven leading scorers.

The next two years, the Eagles won back-to-back Big Sky regular-season titles.

Riley stole a quote from WSU football coach Jake Dickert, saying "We want guys that want to be here."

"I want guys who want to be here because that's when you're going to be at your best," the coach continued. "When you're all in, you're not dipping your toe in that thing and you're diving into it, that's what really matters and that's what helps development.

"We're going to make it fun, we're going to have a family atmosphere and whatever that looks like we're going to be ready to go."

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, or on Twitter @StephanSports.