College basketball season preview:WESTERN Kentucky

Western Kentucky basketball on the defense

Emphasis on defense led to NCAA berth

mmaloney@herald-leader.comNovember 9, 2012 

Western Kentucky Louisville Basketball

Kevin Kaspar will be among returners for Western Kentucky Coach Ray Harper, who took over after a 5-11 start last season and led the Hilltoppers to a Sun Belt Conference Tournament title.


  • Scouting report

    Coach: Ray Harper (11-8 in one season at WKU; 353-71 in 13 seasons overall)

    Last season: 16-19, 7-9 Sun Belt Conference (third place, East); SBC Tournament champion; lost to Kentucky in second round of NCAA Tournament

    What to watch: First is pressure defense, usually man-to-man. "A lot of people, when you hear 'pressure defense' think that means a lot of pressing," Harper said. "I think you've got to be smart and pick your times when to press. I'm not a guy that thinks you can win championships playing 40 minutes of pressing."

    Harper's opening night lineup is likely to be guards Jamal Crook (8.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.7 assists), Brandon Harris (10.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg for Otero Junior College) and T.J. Price (9.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg), forward George Fant (10.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and center Teeng Akol (6.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg). Kevin Kaspar (5.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg) could start instead of Harris.

    Price scored a career-high 21 points in an NCAA loss to Kentucky. "Yeah, I feel I can keep going on and continue what I did the last game," Price said. "But also, my main focus is not just to go out there and force it. I want to let it 'come to me' just like I did in that game. That's my plan."

    Off the bench, look for guard Caden Dickerson, forwards O'Karo Akamune and Kene Anyigbo and center Aleksejs Rostov.

    Mark Maloney

  • Western Kentucky

    Mascot: Hilltoppers Coach: Ray Harper

    Conference: Sun Belt

    Last season: 16-19 (7-9 SBC)


    No.Name Pos. Ht. Yr. Hometown

    0 Kene Anyigbo F 6-5 Jr. Bellaire, Texas

    1 Kevin Kaspar G 6-0 So. Istanbul, Turkey

    2 Eddie Alcantara F 6-5 Fr. Chicago

    10Caden DickersonG 6-5 Jr. Argyle, Texas

    11 Spence Sheldon G5-11So. Bowling Green

    12 Brandon Harris G 6-1 Jr.Oklahoma City, Okla.

    13 Percy Blade G 6-4 Fr. Louisville

    14 Jamal Crook G 6-3 Sr. Louisville

    15O'Karo AkamuneF6-7 Jr. Miami

    20 Aleksejs Rostov C6-10Fr. Riga, Latvia

    21 Nigel Snipes F 6-6 So. Marietta, Ga.

    22 Teeng Akol F/C6-11Sr.Wian, South Sudan

    24 Stephon Drane F 6-7 So. Raleigh, N.C.

    44 George Fant F 6-6 So. Bowling Green

    52 T.J. Price G 6-4 So. Slidell, La.


    Oct. 29—x-CAMPBELLSVILLE (W, 84-46)

    Nov. 3—x-KY. WESLEYAN (W, 83-71); 10—at Southern Miss., 7; 13—AUSTIN PEAY, 7; 17—WESTERN CAROLINA, 7:30; 20—a-Iowa, 8:30; 21—a-TBA; 24—BRESCIA, 7:30; 29—at La.-Monroe, 7:30

    Dec. 1—at Troy, 7:30; 5—SOUTHERN ILL., 7; 8—IUPUI, 3; 16—at Murray St., 2; 18—at Va. Commonwealth, 8; 22—b-Louisville, 7:30; 27—FLA. INTERNATIONAL, 7; 29—NORTH TEXAS, 7

    Jan. 3—at Ark.-Little Rock, 7:30; 5—at Arkansas St., 7:05; 12—FLA. ATLANTIC, 7; 17—LA.-LAFA YETTE, 7; 19—ARK.-LITTLE ROCK, 5; 24—at South Ala., 7:05; 26—at Middle Tenn., 5; 31—TROY, 7

    Feb. 7—at North Texas, 7; 9—ARKANSAS ST., 7; 14—at Fla. Atlantic, 6; 16—at Fla. International, 6:30; 21—LA.-MONROE, 7; 23—at La.-Lafayette, 7:15; 28—SOUTH ALA., 7

    March 2—MIDDLE TENN., 5:30; 8-11— Sun Belt Tournament at Hot Springs, Ark.

    x-exhibition; a-Cancun Challenge (Cancun, Mexico); b-at Nashville

Ray Harper didn't need a full season to turn things around at Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers were 5-11 when Ken McDonald was fired and Harper graduated from assistant to head coach.

Western went 11-8 the rest of basketball season, and 7-1 after Harper had the "interim" label removed.

The 'Toppers won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and, with that, an NCAA Tournament bid.

Western rallied from 16 points down in the last 4:51 to edge a Mississippi Valley State team coached by Sean Woods, who is now at Morehead State.

Kentucky eliminated WKU in the NCAA second round.

Western opens this season Saturday at Southern Mississippi, led by former Morehead coach Donnie Tyndall.

"Just looking forward to getting started," Harper said. "Obviously a tough schedule, but the guys are working hard and I think we've got a chance to be OK before it's all said and done."

Harper knows about getting teams to perform.

He won four national titles over 12 seasons at Kentucky Wesleyan (NCAA II) and Oklahoma City (NAIA), with five runner-up finishes. He had eight conference championships, was named national coach of the year five times and compiled an .844 winning percentage (342-63).

The common thread among his teams is attitude.

"You've got to expect to win and you've got to prepare to win," Harper said. "It's not easy. But you've got to go about your business understanding every day that you've got to come to work with an attitude that you've got to get better. We're trying to make sure we do that each and every day."

T.J. Price, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard, says Harper's emphasis on defense is what got the Hilltoppers turned around.

"Coach Harper talked a lot about defense ... 'those who play defense are going to win the game.' " Price said. "Because last year, when Coach McDonald was the head coach, it wasn't like we were getting blown out by teams and was losing. We were actually always up first and then somehow we'll make a bad defensive play and take ourselves right out of the game."

The 'Toppers quickly learned how to finish games.

Harper prefers an up-tempo offense. The key, though, will be pressure defense.

"Philosophically, I'm a defensive-oriented guy. I think you win by playing defense and rebounding," Harper said. "Obviously you have to score points. You can not-shoot the ball well and still win, if you defend and rebound. ... Good teams, they're not going to play their best basketball every time out, but they'll find a way to beat you. And that's what we've got to do over the course of the season."

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog:

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