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Ducks' Kent An Irish Candidate

Oregon basketball coach Ernie Kent will meet Thursday with Notre Dame officials to discuss the school's coaching job.

The meeting will take place at an undisclosed location, said Greg Walker, an Oregon spokesman.

WGN Radio in Chicago reported Wednesday that Kent already had been made an offer, citing sources "close to the situation." But Kent denied there was an offer to fill the vacancy created Wednesday when Matt Doherty left to take the job at North Carolina.

"I have agreed to talk to Notre Dame, but that is as far as any discussions have progressed," he said in a statement issued by Oregon. "I want to emphasize that I am perfectly happy to be the head coach at Oregon, and this is not something I have initiated."

Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White was out of town and unavailable for comment, but said Tuesday he would not talk about prospective candidates. Oregon athletic director Bill Moos was out of town on vacation, but said in a statement that he considered the interest in Kent "a tremendous compliment" to the program.

In his third season, Kent led the Ducks to a 22-8 record, their best since 1944-45. They went to the NCAA tournament for only the second time since 1961.

Kent signed a three-year contract extension last October, which is due to expire after the 2002-03 season. His total salary is about $420,000.

Kent has been a hot coaching property since his team advanced to the NIT semifinals in 1999. He was rumored to be a candidate to replace Lon Kruger at Illinois, but last month Kent ended the speculation without ever talking to the Illini, saying he was excited about his team's strong recruiting class.

Led by McDonald's All-American Luke Ridnour, the Ducks could contend for the Pac-10 title after finishing third last season.

The Irish went 22-15 and finished second in the NIT in Doherty's first season.

The Irish return Troy Murphy, a first-team All-American and Big East player of the year, and add transfer Ryan Humphrey, a 6-foot-8 forward who averaged 11.1 points and 7.5 rebounds in 1998-99 for Oklahoma.

Among other candidates mentioned by the media for the job are Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino, former NBA and Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo, Delaware's Mike Brey, Xavier's Skip Prosser and Utah's Rick Majerus.

Digger Phelps, who coached the Irish for 20 years before becoming a broadcaster, said he would be interested in returning if that's what it takes to get a Notre Dame man in the position.

"For the last decade Notre Dame has gone outside the family and it hasn't worked," Phelps told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I just think it's time to look into our family. We've had great players and great assistant coaches."

Phelps, 59, coached the Irish from 1971-1991.

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