When Rick Stansbury came home to Kentucky to become Western Kentucky University men’s basketball coach in 2016, he brought a philosophy on recruiting in-state talent with him.
“We didn’t want to sign Kentucky players just to be signing Kentucky players,” Stansbury, the Meade County native and former Mississippi State coach, said Thursday. “We want players, wherever they are from, who can help us win championships. But, when you can find those kind of players in Kentucky, then you’ve got the best of both worlds.”
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Hollingsworth (28.3 points a game as a Dunbar senior) was Kentucky’s 2017 Mr. Basketball and the 2016 Sweet Sixteen MVP after leading Dunbar to its first state title. He left Dunbar as the all-time leading scorer (2,495 points) in the history of Lexington boys’ high school hoops.
If Stansbury was going to get the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Hollingsworth, he felt he had to do so during last November’s early signing period. You saw why this spring as Hollingsworth’s hometown school, the University of Kentucky (which has no scholarship guard returning who played in a game last season), scoured the country for backcourt help.
“He’s kind of an old-school guard, has a mid-range game, can score from 15, 18 feet, that you don’t see much now,” Stansbury said of Hollingsworth. “He’s OK shooting the three, and you could see he had the (positive) intangibles that come from having been well-coached in a good high school program. Now, they all (recruits) have to get stronger. We’ll get Taveion on our weight program, work with his diet, and help him build up his strength.”
In March, Stansbury was in Rupp Arena for the Sweet Sixteen to support his son, Isaac, a 6-foot sophomore guard for Bowling Green High School. That meant the WKU coach had a prime seat to see Scott High’s Ohmer — a player the WKU coach says he was unfamiliar with before the state tournament — become a Kentucky folk hero.
In Rupp, the 5-10 Ohmer dropped 41 points on Harlan County, 32 on Perry County Central and, most impressively, 33 in a tense 80-79 semifinals loss to eventual state champion Bowling Green.
“He put a buzz in the place,” Stansbury said of Ohmer. “Just a tremendous ability to shoot the basketball. He shot it from deep, but it wasn’t just catch and shoot. He was a guy who was able to put it on the floor and score off the bounce.”
Before the state tournament, Ohmer appeared headed for the University of the Cumberlands of the NAIA. After Scott High’s defeat, Stansbury talked to Ohmer that Saturday, then spent Sunday morning before the state finals with Ohmer and his family.
The player committed to Western that night.
Ohmer backed up his stellar Sweet Sixteen by scoring a combined 50 points in the two Kentucky-Indiana All-Star Games, including 30 in Kentucky’s 111-110 double-overtime win in Frankfort.
Some wonder whether Ohmer can defend Division I quickness and length. “We’ll find out,” Stansbury said. “But there’s a toughness, a grit to him. And Jake’s not the only player entering college basketball who has to prove (he can defend). They all do.”
Hollingsworth and Ohmer are part of a massive influx of at least 12 new players at Western that includes 7-foot McDonald’s All-American Mitchell Robinson. WKU’s 2017 recruiting class is ranked no lower than 14th in the nation by any of the four major Internet recruiting services and as high as ninth by 24/7.
That perceived recruiting success has ginned up an excitement about WKU basketball that had been missing from the tradition-rich program in recent years.
“I came here to raise expectations,” the 57-year-old Stansbury said. “Now, I’m also realistic. Looks like we’ll have 12 new players, five of them freshmen. That will take some time for the team to develop. But I like these players we’ve got coming in.”
For fans of Kentucky high school basketball, two of those WKU newcomers are especially well-liked.