All in the family
- Jason Vondersmith
- Portland Tribune - Sports
UO coach Ernie Kent isn't far from his loved ones during games
Before the news conference introducing him as Oregon basketball coach in 1997, Ernie Kent gathered his wife and three children around him.
Just as his team does, the Kents chanted 'One, two, three, family!' Or maybe they said, 'Team Kent, let's go!' as Athletic Director Bill Moos recalls.
You get the point.
Kent, who played on the great UO 'Kamikaze Kids' teams of the 1970s, joyfully returned to his alma mater to coach Ñ and brought some help with him. He told Moos, 'You're not only getting a great coach, but a great family that will sell out for the University of Oregon.'
Eight years later, sold-out family members can be spotted all over sold-out McArthur Court. Ernie Kent roams the sidelines as one of Oregon's most successful coaches ever. His younger son, Jordan, is a 6-5 sophomore guard with terrific athleticism. His older son, Marcus, leads the student chants and monitors the vulgarity in 'the Pit Crew.' His daughter, McKenzie, cheers on the rally squad. And his wife, Dianna, sits in the stands directly behind the Oregon bench, wearing a bejeweled '#2' pin in honor of Jordan.
'The CEO of the Kent family,' Marcus calls her.
'It's neat to bring them into an environment where you work and do your job,' Ernie says, 'because you spend so much time doing your job. At the same time it is an added pressure. A father-son combination in coaching, there's a different pressure from fans and media. With a daughter and making sure she doesn't have a bad hair day, that can be added pressure.
'But I'm going to cherish every moment of it.'
Adds Jordan: 'You think about it, it's kind of like a Disney movie.'
All three children were born in Saudi Arabia, where Kent coached from 1981-87.
'It wasn't just my dad's journey back to the University of Oregon, but our whole family's odyssey,' Marcus says. 'We all have a love for Oregon.'
Marcus joined the Ducks as a walk-on player in 2001-02, the year Oregon made the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament. He hurt his right knee, and has undergone four surgeries. He served as team manager the next season.
'I've always wanted to be part of the team,' says Marcus, who turns 22 on Jan. 29. 'I don't want to toot my own horn, but I don't know many athletes that would pick up players' dirty laundry and serve them water.'
His father often gestures to 'the Pit Crew' to amp up the noise, but being an ex-player, Marcus usually knows the right time to lead the raucous group.
'I really admire what he's done,' says Jordan, a state champion in track and field and basketball at Churchill High, and two-sport UO athlete, of his brother. 'Terrible luck with the knee injury Ñ I don't know what I would do Ñ and he's handled it so well.
'I'm not just playing for myself, but him also. No way do I think I'm better than him.'
Jordan, 20, doesn't listen to those who say he should have just run track or left the Kent nest.
'In order to grow as a man, you have to grow within the family and get along with them,' he says.
Faith is top priority
At times during games, Ernie, who turns 50 on Jan. 22, will talk with Jordan. The kid walks over and puts his arm affectionately around his pop's neck.
'He's in a tough position at times, because he's the head coach and he can't give me a whole lot of praise, and we both realize that,' Jordan says. 'With everything going on in a game, I like to show, 'I'm still glad I'm your son, I'm still happy with the opportunity to play.' '
McKenzie, 18, played basketball and golf in her youth, but each gave way to rally.
'Definitely got the looks in the family,' muses Jordan, who ritually hugs his sister or taps her on the head before games.
Dianna chooses not to speak to media, a UO spokesman says, but Marcus says: 'Let's not lie, Mom is the boss of the family, the glue that holds everything together. She's humble in the background and doesn't need the attention.'
The family attends Jubilee World Outreach, a church administered by Pastor Keith Jenkins, the UO team chaplain. Broadcaster Jerry Allen says Ernie often speaks about priorities, listing God, family and basketball, in that order.
Marcus says faith has pulled the Kent family through some tough times, including when mold damaged their Eugene home and forced them to vacate it.
'The past 10 to 12 years, (Christianity) has been a big emphasis in our lives,' Marcus says. 'Ultimately you live in a glass house in this life, and faith gets us through it.'