We hope you’re as excited as we are for the Husky season opener Tuesday night against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. To help get you ready for the matchup we did a Q&A with Fletcher Keel at the Western Kentucky fan site The Towel Rack. You can check out my answers to Fletcher’s questions about our beloved Dawgs over there.
UWDP: The 5-star big man is perhaps the rarest commodity in college basketball and yet in consecutive years Rick Stansbury at Western Kentucky has been able to sign one (although Mitchell Robinson obviously never actually played in a game). How has he been able to pull that feat off and how long will he remain in Bowling Green if he’s able to keep it up?
Fletcher Keel: Stansbury is known to be a strong recruiter and he had ties to both Robinson and Bassey while he was an assistant with Texas A&M. He’s known for laying the groundwork early and being one of the first guys to show interest in what is happening. He also loves WKU - in his introductory press conference, he was talking about wanting to bring the program back to it’s hayday of the 70’s, 60’s, hell even 50’s: Which is to set up the point that there’s a history to sell, Stans talks a great game and after getting two five-stars to commit, theres a precedent for future recruits.
As for how long he’ll be able to keep doing that at WKU, we asked that very question a couple of days ago and hopefully it isn’t anytime soon but AD’s across the country aren’t going to not be interested in a coach that took a 15-win team to the doorstep of the NCAA tournament in two years.
UWDP: The Hilltoppers were the preseason media pick as the favorites in Conference USA this year. After making the NIT semifinals last year are expectations NCAA tournament or bust this season?
Fletcher: I think so, mostly because of how close the Tops came last year. It wasn’t that they weren’t expected to make the CUSA title game because no one would have been surprised if they had been where they were, but WKU was so close to winning - they rallied off an 11-0 run in the game’s final four and a half minutes, only to have a finger roll bounce out of the rim and lose by a point. Excruciating.
That, coupled with who all has returned and the recruiting class that came along with it, leads many WKU fans to think this team is talented enough to make a run for the tournament. It’ll be one of the more disappointing seasons in recent memory if the Hilltoppers don’t make the dance.
UWDP: Lamonte Bearden is the returning point guard for Western Kentucky (13.7 ppg, 4.2 apg last year) but he’s ineligible for this game and the 1st month or so of the season. Who do you expect to step up in the play making department while he’s out?
Fletcher: If I’m answering this a couple of days ago, the clear answer is either Taveion Hollingsworth, who set the all-time freshman scoring record in school history last year, or Josh Anderson, who was a Top 50 recruit and was, until Bassey played in this past week’s exhibitions, the highest rated recruit in WKU history to take the floor.
But, they’ve each had run ins with the law, and as of writing, Taveion served a one-game suspension for the exhibition opener and we are still waiting to hear what discipline, if any, Anderson will face. (Hollingsworth was cited for marijuana possession while Anderson was arrested for disorderly conduct after singing and dancing, refusing to disperse after law enforcement asked him to and then began to yell at and curse at a cop. Not great stuff, but nothing too heinous, in my view at least.)
So, if either are unavailable for the UW game, it’ll probably be freshman Dalano Banton (another highly-rated recruit Stans was able to snag) who ran point at times in the first exhibition game and finished with nine points, six rebounds and four assists.
Having said that, I don’t know if we’ll see any further discipline for either Hollingsworth or Anderson, so I’m going to assume they might share duties at the One until someone gets hot.
Editor’s Note: All indications are that both Hollingsworth and Anderson will both play after serving 1 game suspensions during their exhibition season.
UWDP: 6’11 Charles Bassey is the big name on this team as the 247 composite #6 player in the country for the class of 2018. What makes him so special and has he lived up to his very high billing?
Fletcher: I’m not sure what the basketball term is for “five-tool,” player, but Bassey is it. He can handle the ball, he can shoot from anywhere on the court, he can distribute from inside and with his big, long frame he has no problems finishing from underneath.
He isn’t a typical five-star recruit that’ll explode everyone out of the gym, but he has the mind and work ethic that allows him to be great and to get better. Naturally, he’s a bit raw but part of the joy in watching him this year will be to watch him grow as a player and an all out force.
He did have a bit of foul trouble in his first game with three fouls, but the WKU fans have already bought into the hype and are looking forward to seeing him in action that counts.
UWDP: Who is a main contributor or two that hasn’t been mentioned so far that the average Washington fan may not have heard of and what makes them stand out?
Fletcher: That’s an interesting question because the first two names that popped into my mind are newcommers who we’ve only seen play in a WKU jersey once: Austin Peay (and Bowling Green native) transfer Jared Savage and Auburn grad transfer Desean Murray. Savage is lethal from deep and will be a nice addition to a WKU team that loves to shoot the three while Murray is a big presence in the paint - the combination of him and Bassey will be a nice replacement for losing seniors Justin Johnson and Dwight Coleby last year.
If Jake Ohmer is on, he’s really on, so he and Savage could have a Splash Brothers-type night shooting wise. However, Ohmer was very inconsistent last year and really tailed off at the end of the season.
Editor’s Note: These questions were answered before news came out that DeSean Murray would not make the trip to Seattle after a citation for marijuana possession and indefinite suspension.
UWDP: What’s your prediction for this game with Western Kentucky traveling across the country to play a UW team in Seattle returning 95% of its total minutes from last year?
Fletcher: The one thing that’s keeping me from saying the Hilltoppers will win this game is the question mark at point guard. Lamonte Bearden will be a big loss and if the Tops had a couple of regular season games to figure who the point runner will be, I’d feel more confident in picking WKU.
But, I do think the Tops will be able to run with the Huskies. I think the Tops, with that Bassey/Murray combination, will force UW to work extra hard in the paint and if the Tops get the three ball to fall, watch out.
I’m unsure of what WKU’s travel plans are, but I don’t expect east-coast legs for the first game of the year. I think UW wins, but I’ll say the Tops play close throughout. Give me the Huskies, 93-85.
Thanks again to Fletcher for coordinating this Q&A! Best of luck to the Hilltoppers the rest of the season...starting Wednesday morning.