Men's Basketball

WKU, Slaughter shoot for more success

A.J. Slaughter can shoot.

Ask him what his Western Kentucky team needs to do to keep improving, though, and the leading scorer from last season's NCAA Tournament team may surprise you.

"I think it's going to start on defense," he said during the Hilltoppers' pre-season media day. "We've got a lot of scoring threats, so we're going to score. So the big part is just trying to hold the other team down ... and it's all going to start with defense. And I think that we're embracing that in practice."

Slaughter, a 6-foot-3, 180-pounder from Shelby County, enters his senior season needing 14 points to reach 1,000 for his career. He also comes in ranked ninth on WKU's career three-point percentage (.383).

Last season, he averaged 16 points a game, helping the Hilltoppers to a 25-9 season that included Sun Belt Conference divisional and tournament titles. Western is the pre-season favorite in the East Division this season, too.

Slaughter, the SBC pre-season Player of the Year, is a key reason why. Projected as point guard at the professional level, he'll play more shooting guard for Western, and without complaint.

"I think it helps when you can run the one and the two," he said. "On this team, you have a point, but the two can also be the point — get the rebound and we're off and running. I think it just helps to be a combo guard in the end."

How Slaughter is used will depend much on the maturation of Anthony Sally, the projected point guard. A junior-college transfer, he started three games for the Toppers as a junior.

"He's a huge difference maker," Coach Ken McDonald said. "If he has a good year, it allows A.J. to do things we need him to do. And it trickles down.

"Now, A.J. is in a scoring role and defenses have to key on him. Then you've got (Steffphon) Pettigrew and Sergio (Kerusch) that are able to do more things."

Slaughter says this team is hungry to expand on last season's success. He also thinks that this team is "light years ahead" of where it was a year ago.

"I think it has to do with chemistry and talent level and just experience," Slaughter said. "Guys that have been there last year and know what it takes."

For his part, Slaughter spent part of his summer in China and honing his skills at a camp run by NBA All-star Chris Paul.

"Just learned a lot of little tricks from the point guard standpoint and just tried to incorporate it into my game," Slaughter said.

Of all Slaughter's traits, though, the most important may be his will to win.

"A.J. hates to lose," Kerusch said. "And that type of mentality is just like a wildfire. It spreads. The whole team. It makes for competition and it makes us focused."

Western opens play Monday at Baton Rouge, La., where it will face Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the opening round of the pre-season NIT.