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Western Kentucky’s Harper resigns as basketball coach

Western Kentucky coach Ray Harper, who resigned Thursday, said in a statement that his departure “is in the best interests of the program, a program I care deeply about.”
Western Kentucky coach Ray Harper, who resigned Thursday, said in a statement that his departure “is in the best interests of the program, a program I care deeply about.” Associated Press

Western Kentucky University men’s basketball coach Ray Harper resigned Thursday after four-plus seasons leading the Hilltoppers.

WKU made the announcement in a five-paragraph news release that didn’t mention Harper’s resignation until the fourth paragraph.

Harper later released a statement of his own, saying his departure “is in the best interests of the program, a program I care deeply about.”

Athletic Director Todd Stewart’s announcement began by noting that Hilltoppers players Fredrick Edmond, Marlon Hunter and Chris McNeal have been suspended from the team following the outcome of a hearing conducted by the University Disciplinary Committee on Wednesday night.

“Federal law prevents us from public discussion of any details related to student disciplinary cases,” Stewart said in the release.

Stewart’s announcement went on to say Harper would continue to be paid by the school through the end of his contract on June 30.

“I would like to thank Ray Harper for his many contributions to our program over the past eight years,” Stewart said in the release. “Today is obviously a very difficult day. President Gary Ransdell and I met with our team a short while ago. We will begin the process of identifying and hiring our next head coach immediately.”

Harper, whose team finished this season 18-16, did not have a losing season in Bowling Green.

“I want to thank my assistant coaches, our support staff and certainly our players for their efforts, dedication and sacrifices on behalf of me and our program,” Harper’s statement said. “I also want to thank Gary Ransdell, Todd Stewart and our administrative staff for their support and dedication. WKU Athletics has an outstanding group of people, and there is no better place to work.”

After a decorated nine-year career at NCAA Division II Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro and three seasons at NAIA Oklahoma City University — Harper won two national championships at each school — he joined the Hilltoppers as an assistant coach on Ken McDonald’s staff in 2008-09.

WKU fired McDonald in the middle of the 2011-12 season and named Harper interim coach.

Harper wrapped up his interim coaching campaign with an 11-8 record, a Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship and an NCAA Tournament berth, then did the same during a 20-16 season the following year. The Hilltoppers missed out on the postseason the past three years, the last two of which came after the school’s move to Conference USA.

He finishes his WKU tenure with an 89-64 record.

The three suspended players, Edmond, Hunter and McNeal, were all significant contributors for the Hilltoppers in 2015-16. Edmond, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, started 27 games and average 12.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. McNeal, a 6-foot freshman guard, started 29 games and averaged 5.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Hunter, a 6-2 freshman guard, played in 32 games, started five and averaged 4.3 points.

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