Mark Story: After rocky start, Osborne 'Happy' about Kentucky Wesleyan turnaround

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 22, 2014 

Osborne

In a new job, one always wants to make a positive first impression. During the first part of Happy Osborne's first season as head men's basketball coach at Kentucky Wesleyan College, Murphy's Law seemed fully operational instead.

Before the former long-time Georgetown College head man coached an official game at KWC, the Owensboro school suspended three key players for "violating institutional rules." After the Panthers' second contest, the Wesleyan point guard quit the team.

Tradition-rich Kentucky Wesleyan — winner of eight NCAA Division II national championships in its history — started this season 1-5. "To say the least, not the start I wanted to get off to," Osborne said last week.

On Wednesday, Osborne will be back in Central Kentucky when Kentucky Wesleyan plays Kentucky State in Frankfort at 7:30 p.m. It will surprise no one who followed Osborne during his ultra-successful (456-84) 15-year stint as head man at Georgetown — not to mention his one season as head man at Montgomery County High School in which he led the Indians (33-5) to last year's Sweet Sixteen semifinals — that Osborne got the Wesleyan train back on the tracks.

Kentucky Wesleyan (19-7, 12-1 Great Midwest Athletic Conference) had won nine games in a row going into Saturday's winner-take-all meeting with Alderson Broaddus (18-5, 10-1 G-MAC) for the league championship. "With the way we started and everything that was going wrong for us early, this thing could have gone south totally," Osborne said. "But the guys really hung in there."

Wesleyan's turnaround was buoyed when two of the suspended players, University of Illinois transfer Devin Langford (11.4 points) and Shelby County product Donovan Johnson (9.7 ppg, 6.9 rebounds), returned after sitting out 10 games.

Guards Lonnie Hayes (17.9 points a game) and Ken-Jah Bosley (17.1) have been stellar for Kentucky Wesleyan all season. Bosley, the ex-Madison Central star whose three-point bomb with 2.2 seconds left in last season's high school state championship game beat Ballard, delivered a calling card of what his first college season would be Oct. 29 when he scored 21 points against Louisville in an exhibition in the KFC Yum Center.

"He's been a stallion, man," Osborne said of Bosley. "Not many kids in February get mad when you pull them out of practice. He does. A flat-out winner, just an unbelievable competitor."

Soon, Wesleyan could have a new league rival that will be intimately familiar to Osborne. Longtime NAIA power Georgetown College announced last month that it will re-apply for admission to NCAA Division II.

The school's first application in 2012 was rejected, but Georgetown Athletics Director Brian Evans said Friday he believes the school has taken the steps necessary to earn the NCAA's approval this time. If the Tigers are accepted by the NCAA, Evans said the school still plans to make the G-MAC its conference home.

That would mean Osborne coaching against the school he led to seven NAIA Final Fours and the 1998 NAIA Division I national title. If everyone stayed in their current jobs, it would also mean Osborne going against one of his former assistants, current Georgetown head coach Chris Briggs.

"I love Chris, and it would be weird for me coaching against Georgetown, there's no question about that," Osborne said. "But I would look at it like I used to going up against other coaches who were my friends. I think the world of Kelly Wells (Pikeville). Or Coach (Don) Lane (Transylvania) and Randy Vernon (Cumberlands), back when they were coaching. We'd compete as hard as we could when the ball was thrown up, but 20 minutes after the game was over, we're back to being friends."

Said Evans: "Lots of people in Georgetown have very warm feelings for Happy. Going against him would be bittersweet for many people here. But it would also be a matchup, I think, that would attract a lot of attention for both schools."

Regardless of who claimed the G-MAC regular-season title, Kentucky Wesleyan is unlikely to be in the 2014 NCAA Division II Tournament. A new league, the G-MAC does not yet have an automatic bid to the tourney. KWC's rough start likely killed any hope for an at-large bid.

Osborne would like to build Kentucky Wesleyan back to where it is contending for national championships. KWC has not claimed an NCAA crown since 2001, an eternity by the Owensboro school's standards.

"I'd like to see what it is like here," Osborne said, "when Kentucky Wesleyan is back where it is supposed to be."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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