BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — WKU Hilltopper Basketball turned the page to the next stage of its preseason preparation Friday with its first official practice of the 2019-20 season.
Head coach Rick Stansbury met with the media ahead of that practice, noting that it’s easier to transition into intense practices with experienced players returning.
The Hilltoppers bring back four starters from last year in redshirt senior guard/forward Jared Savage, junior guards Taveion Hollingsworth and Josh Anderson, and sophomore center Charles Bassey. All of them averaged at least 12.1 points per game and earned a combined 130 of 136 possible starts.
“That’s by far the best we’ve had,” Stansbury said. “Anytime you can get some continuity and have some experience returning, it helps everything. Now, things will move quicker because I’ve got some guys who understand. Those new guys who don’t understand, at least they can see somebody leading by example and doing things the right way.”
Stansbury also sees some of that veteran steadiness in his coaching staff, which features two new assistant coaches he’s extremely familiar with, along with returning assistant Hennssy Auriantal.
Associate head coach Phil Cunningham spent the last six years as head coach at Troy, but before that, he spent 13 years on Stansbury’s staff at Mississippi State and one other year as an assistant at WKU.
Assistant coach Marcus Grant worked for Stansbury for eight years before joining Cunningham’s staff at Troy, eventually as head coach.
“It’s great anytime you can have continuity like that in your staff and people that understand what you’re about,” Stansbury said. “They’re great people, No. 1. They’re great coaches. Phil did a great job at Troy, and Marcus has been a great player, a quality person and a great coach his whole career, so I’m excited to have those guys as part of the program.”
Stansbury said much of the Hilltoppers’ offseason was devoted to improving in two key areas – shooting and passing.
WKU added several pieces to help in those areas, including graduate transfer guard Camron Justice, who made 90 3-pointers and averaged 2.9 assists per game last year at IUPUI.
Stansbury also specifically noted senior guard Kenny Cooper and freshman guard Jordan Rawls as players who can help in that area, along with some who were on the team last year but sat out because of transfer or injury, like forward Carson Williams and guard Jeremiah Gambrell.
“We didn’t shoot it consistently,” Stansbury said. “Those nights Jared didn’t make shots, it was a struggle. It was like a root canal some nights. But I really feel like we’ve addressed some of those problems. I think the guys we have back will all be better. It doesn’t take but a piece or two to spread that floor a little bit, get the ball to guys at the right time and more consistently, and it all works better.”
Fans can get their first chance to see the 2019-20 Hilltoppers in action at the program’s annual tip-off event, Hilltopper Hysteria, at 6 p.m. CT Thursday, Oct. 17. The men’s program will hold a full, open scrimmage as part of the event.
The Hilltoppers then face Kentucky State in an exhibition on Nov. 2 before opening the regular season at home against Tennessee Tech on Nov. 5.
Season tickets are available for Hilltopper Basketball starting as low as $160, although remaining tickets are limited. Family plan tickets are available when purchased in groups of four or more. For more information, call 1-800-5-BIGRED or visit WKUTickets.com.
How to follow the Hilltoppers: For complete information on WKU Hilltopper Basketball, follow the team’s social media channels, @WKUBasketball on Twitter, @WKUBasketball on Instagram, and WKU Basketball on Facebook.