If you haven’t been paying attention to Western Kentucky men’s basketball, now is the right time to open those eyes.
The Hilltoppers added a second player in the past week on Wednesday that could pay immediate dividends.
Moustapha Diagne, a 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore forward from Senegal, was ruled immediately eligible by the NCAA on Wednesday. He will join the team in Norfolk, Va., and will be available to play in Thursday’s game at Old Dominion.
Last Friday, Hilltoppers freshman Josh Anderson was declared eligible by the NCAA. The next day, the 6-6 guard scored 16 points in his WKU debut. A native of Baton Rouge, La., Anderson was a consensus four-star recruit coming out of high school but had to clear some academic hurdles to become eligible.
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Diagne was ranked as the No. 77 player in the nation by Rivals.com coming out of high school in New Jersey in 2015. He originally signed with Syracuse but never enrolled because he didn’t qualify academically. He spent the 2015-16 season at Northwest Florida State junior college. After one season in Florida, Diagne declared for the NBA Draft. Unlike in the NCAA, where players can test the NBA Draft waters then choose to return to school, junior colleges do not offer that option, according to a story in the Bowling Green Daily News. When no NBA teams expressed interest in Diagne, he could transfer to an NCAA Division II school and play right away or to a Division I team and sit out a season. Diagne chose Western Kentucky, enrolled last year and, until Wednesday, was awaiting a ruling by the NCAA on his amateur status.
The Hilltoppers are finally reaching full strength after a confusing offseason. Mitchell Robinson, a 6-foot-11 freshman McDonald’s All-American who was one of Western Kentucky’s biggest recruits in years, left campus in September and announced he would skip school and work out with a trainer in preparation for the 2018 NBA Draft. Robinson’s decision, combined with the unknown timetables for Anderson and Diagne, left the Hilltoppers shorthanded early this season.
Western Kentucky (11-5) is locked in an early-season first-place tie atop Conference USA with Old Dominion and Middle Tennessee, all at 3-0.
Diagne and Anderson join a squad led by guard Darius Thompson, a graduate transfer from Virginia who is averaging 15.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. Following Thompson in scoring are 2017 Kentucky Mr. Basketball Taveion Hollingsworth, a freshman from Paul Laurence Dunbar averaging 13.7 points per game, and Justin Johnson, a senior from Perry County Central averaging 13.4 points and a team-best 8.7 rebounds.
Early this season, the undermanned Hilltoppers pushed then-No. 5 Villanova to the wire before losing 66-58, then won games the next two days against then-No. 18 Purdue and SMU at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
WKU takes a four-game winning streak to Old Dominion on Thursday night. The Hilltoppers have 15 regular-season games remaining before the Conference USA Tournament, an event WKU will most likely need to win to reach the NCAA Tournament. C-USA has not sent two teams to the Big Dance since 2012.