Rick Stansbury wants to take Western Kentucky basketball to the next level.
The Hilltoppers on Monday afternoon put their men’s basketball program in the hands of the veteran college coach, who has spent the last couple of seasons as an assistant at Texas A&M after more than two decades at Mississippi State.
“I’m not here to rebuild or change the culture,” Stansbury said during a news conference. “We have a winning culture here.”
Stansbury, 56, had spent the past two seasons as associate head coach to Billy Kennedy with the Aggies, who shared the Southeastern Conference regular season championship with Kentucky. Before that Stansbury spent 22 years at Mississippi State, including his final 14 as head coach, when he went 293-166.
Under Stansbury, the Bulldogs won one SEC regular season title, two tournament titles and made six NCAA Tournament appearances before he retired in March 2012.
The Battletown, Ky., native replaces Ray Harper, who resigned on March 17 after going 89-64 with two automatic NCAA Tournament appearances in four-plus seasons with the Hilltoppers.
Stansbury has roots in the Bluegrass State along with ties to Western Kentucky.
His great uncle, Edgar B. Stansbury, is in the school’s Hall of Fame after playing three sports there and serving as assistant football coach and AD.
The younger Stansbury graduated from Meade County High School and Campbellsville University, where he was a student assistant in 1981-82. He was also a graduate assistant at Cumberland in Williamsburg, and an assistant coach at Austin Peay in Tennessee.
WKU President Gary Ransdell cited Stansbury’s appreciation of the program’s tradition and added that he “has lived it and is returning to his home state with a strong resolve to resume our rightful place at the top of the NCAA in men’s basketball.”
Stansbury spent eight years under Richard Williams at MSU before taking over in 1999 and becoming the program’s winningest coach. During his long stay in Starkville he guided the Bulldogs to 11 postseason appearances and was The Associated Press’ SEC Coach of the Year in 2004.
Stansbury takes over a Hilltoppers program that won two Sun Belt Conference titles and made two NCAA Tournament appearances under Harper before joining Conference USA last year. But WKU has also drawn attention after the March 17 suspensions of WKU guards Frederick Edmond, Marlon Hunter and Chris McNeal and the coach’s subsequent resignation hours later.
Edmond, Hunter and McNeal were suspended after a disciplinary hearing for an undisclosed violation. The school has cited federal privacy law in not releasing any information or commenting on the discipline. However, all three remain enrolled at WKU.
Edmond, a junior, was WKU’s third-leading scorer last season, averaging 12.2 points in 33 games with 27 starts. Freshman McNeil averaged 5.6 points and nearly four rebounds per contest, while Hunter scored 4.3 per outing in his first season.
The Hilltoppers have Tennessee transfers Willie Carmichael and Jabari McGhee available next season.
Stansbury plans to tout the school’s tradition and attract in-state players to the program.
“There’s no reason why players in this state have to go anywhere else to get a good education and compete for championships,” Stansbury said. “This will be the best place and the right place for that kid. ... He doesn’t have to go across these borders to do that anymore.”