Category Archives: Banter

COMMENTARY: Kerusch’s injury has its advantages

It’s been awhile since junior forward Sergio Kerusch suited up in a Western uniform.

Long enough for Toppers fans to forget just how much he meant to the team. Also long enough for some initial roster non-factors to show their stuff.

Since Kerusch went down with a broken right foot a day before Western’s meeting with Louisville on Dec. 19, freshman guards Jamal Crook and Caden Dickerson have worked themselves into starting roles and major minutes.

Against Southern Illinois, Dickerson scored eight points in 33 minutes just days after pouring in a career-high 13 points against Middle Tennessee. Crook only played 11 minutes on Monday night, but the freshman has played more than 20 minutes in eight of the Toppers’ last 12 games.

Someone also had to step up under the basket without Kerusch available.

That role was solidly filled — eventually — by junior forward Cliff Dixon. The junior college transfer has reached double figures in four of Western’s last six games from the bench, filling part of the scoring void left by Kerusch.

So when Kerusch finally does return, expect coach Ken McDonald to shorten the bench.

But he won’t leave out Crook, Dickerson and Dixon, because those are the three that grew capable enough to play while battling over Kerusch’s minutes.

As those three found their legs, each in their first season at Western, the Toppers lost some games. Most losses were close, and with Louisville as an exception, all were decided by 10 points or less.

And it’s really hard to argue that Kerusch isn’t worth 10 points to the Toppers.

Kerusch will return to the lineup as Western’s second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, perhaps adding what the Toppers haven’t been getting while freshman guard Jameson Tipping and senior guard Anthony Sally logged extended minutes.

Perhaps providing the vocal presence and leadership Western has lacked on the court despite senior guard A.J. Slaughter’s best efforts. Slaughter just can’t do it all.

Perhaps what could make the difference between losing four in a row and winning four in a row — coincidentally the same amount of games it’s going to take the Toppers to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

Although Kerusch’s absence may have deflated Western’s regular-season record, his return — as McDonald put it — can only make the Toppers better.

The same as his time away made the Toppers deeper, turning Crook, Dickerson and Dixon into capable additions to the rotation.

-Jonathan Lintner

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McDonald rides confidence into UofL

Just got in from WKU’s press conference going into the Toppers’ game at Louisville on Saturday. Head coach Ken McDonald had a few interesting points, and players Steffphon Pettigrew and Sergio Kerusch provided insight as well.

The Toppers are seemingly hitting their stride going into this contest and have history on their side. After their 76-69 victory over then-no.24 ranked Vanderbilt on Friday night at the Sommet Center in Nashville and considering last season’s 68-54 win over then-No.3 Louisville (also in the Sommet Center), WKU has the motivation to play the Cardinals, who are on a two-game home losing skid right now going into a game at home against Oral Roberts tonight.

But that is what McDonald believes is just one of the factors in getting the team ready for peak performance:

“It starts with our defense and our rebounding,” he said. “Once again, it takes a lot of pressure off our offense. Every possession, when you get down eight to 10 points, double digits, you start to feel a pressure that you have to take over the game and you have to make shots, and you can lose confidence in a hurry on the offensive end and it snowballs. So I think we’ve done a good job with that, turning that around and understanding that each four minutes, if we take care of the defense and rebounding, we’re going to have a lot more confidence on the offensive end.”

A game like this could also be a trap game for the Toppers going down the road. WKU followed its win over Louisville last season with a 72-40 loss at Evansville two games later. It was the Toppers lowest point total all season and the worst game offensively by far on the year. But McDonald isn’t expecting a drop-off in this type of game.

“If you can’t get excited and be intense going into Louisville, with one of the great venues in the country with an unbelievable environment,” McDonald said. “First of all, we’ve got to go in with an ‘us against the world’ mentality, because we haven’t been in this environment yet. It’ll be louder than we’re used to. We’ve got a chance to do something special with our team and with all that said, continue to build toward our goals of being a good basketball team at the end of the year.”

On the court, these teams couldn’t be going in more different directions. WKU’s win over Vandy, coupled with UofL’s two-game losing streak, could spell a second-straight victory over the Cardinals for the Toppers. A great majority of this team’s nucleus is back from last season’s win — most importantly, senior forward Jeremy Evans and junior forward Steffphon Pettigrew, who were instrumental in shutting down Louisville’s marquee forwards, Samardo Samuels and Earl Clark, in last year’s game. Clark is gone, replaced primarily by sophomore Terrence Jennings, but Samuels still remains. It will be up to those two again to make sure he doesn’t get many touches.

Added motivation comes from the Kentucky kids like Pettigrew, senior guard A.J. Slaughter and freshman guard Jamal Crook, who played in the state but were recruited lightly or not at all by Louisville.

“Every time you play a Kentucky school, you go in there and you play as hard as you can and play the best game you have,” Pettigrew said.

Pettigrew also added that the team will be focusing on the Cardinals’ 2-3 zone that has become, along with the full court press, one of UofL head coach Rick Pitino’s staples as of late. The zone definitely has holes, especially on the perimeter, which can lead to a number of good looks from three-point range if the Cardinals don’t close out. And with the quick trigger on players like Slaughter, Kerusch and freshman guards Caden Dickerson and Jameson Tipping, if the looks fall, it could get interesting.

“I think last year was last year,” Kerusch said. “And I think that (Louisville) can draw more motivation than we can because we won. Their coach can be telling them, ‘We underestimated them last year. We’re not doing that this year.’ It’s a big game, winning against Vanderbilt. We’ve got a great confidence, and I think we found our chemistry.”

On the guard end of the spectrum, Kerusch and Slaughter will be the ones asked to control the tempo. The loss of Orlando Mendez-Valdez shouldn’t factor too much. Mendez-Valdez only scored five points in last year’s game, while Slaughter dropped in a game-high 25. Kerusch will likely be the man counted on in this game to back up Slaughter. Kerusch only scored five points on 1-for-10 shooting last time out against the Cardinals.

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Thoughts from Lady Toppers recruit Mimi Hill

I had the chance to speak with Lady Topper basketball recruit Mimi Hill via cell phone last night. The six-foot-three forward from Winder-Barrow High School in Watkinsville, Ga. seemed in good spirits after her signing yesterday. Here are a few tidbits from the interview:

On making her choice during the early signing period:

“I’m glad to have the ability to sign with Western Kentucky. It’s a great school to be at, and I’m happy with my decision.”

On what she thinks she can contribute to the team as a freshman:

“I think I will be a big presence in the post, and I have the ability to shoot the three-pointer. I feel like I could bring some of that and some height also.”

On what sold her on signing with Western:

“They are Christian. When I first came on my first visit I felt like home. I had people come up to me and introduce themselves to me that didn’t know me when I first came in. Everybody knew who I was and were just like, ‘Mimi, you must be the new recruit.’ I was like, ‘yeah.’ As soon as I came I felt like I was at home already.”

Hill averaged 16 points and nine rebounds during her junior season at Winder-Barrow.

-Zach Greenwell

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The short list of speculation

The List:

Here’s who the Herald is throwing around as the next coach at Western. Again, this is purely speculation.

Terry Bowden: Son of legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, Terry appears to maybe fit Western’s mold the best. He was at the helm of Auburn in the early part of the 90s before leaving amidst controversy that didn’t directly involve Bowden at Auburn. After nearly a decade away from the game, he is currently in his first season of a three-year contract as head coach at North Alabama in Florence, Ala. He would not only bring name recognition, but also big-time experience to Bowling Green.

Willie Taggart: Another logical choice. Taggart is currently an assistant at Stanford, and his playing days at Western left him as one of the most successful players in the program’s history. The only issue: should the Taggart experiment fail, would his relationship and reputation with Western be tarnished?

Randy Sanders: Sanders is currently the offensive coordinator at Kentucky. In terms of ties to the state, he’s about as good as it would get. He doesn’t bring a lot of name recognition, but he would bring a solid recruiting base within the commonwealth.

Gus Malzahn: Malzahn is currently the offensive coordinator at Auburn under Gene Chizik. Malzahn is 44 years old and has no head coaching experience at the college level. He has also had stops at Arkansas and Tulsa. Malzahn runs a “wildcat” style offense and is considered an innovator of the scheme. Malzahn probably wouldn’t get much of a raise in his salary by taking the head spot at Western, meaning Selig and co. would have to possibly shell out additional cash to get Malzahn on the Hill.

Trooper Taylor: Like Malzahn, Taylor is currently the assistant head coach at Auburn. The 39-year-old Taylor also has no head coaching experience.

Jim Chaney: Chaney is currently the offensive coordinator at Tennessee under first-year coach Lane Kiffin. Before coming to Tennessee, Chaney was an assistant coach for the St. Louis Rams. Chaney also coached Drew Brees during a eight-year stint at Purdue.

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ESPN ranks Western 44th-best program all-time

The new “ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia” contains a list of the ESPN/Sagarin all-time program rankings.

Western came in at No. 44, highest of any Sun Belt Conference team by far (Denver was the second-highest, at No. 163).

The rankings were compiled using an average of the school’s won-loss record and its scoring margin.

Kentucky is ranked No. 1, followed by UCLA, Kansas, North Carolina and Indiana in the top five.

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WKU, McDonald need to be wary of “red flag” cases

Today’s (extremely late) signing of Jamal Crook for the 2009-10 season really got my wheels turning on what kind of program head coach Ken McDonald is turning WKU into. In his one season so far, he took a duct-taped together roster of little-used veterans, Juco transfers and international players and was 0.9 seconds away from taking the Toppers to their second consecutive Sweet 16. This in turn, grants him some lee-way with his job and proves that the man can flat out motivate and coach.

But now, he’s starting to raise an eyebrow with his recruiting prowess.

It starts with the Spring 2009 class, with two of the originally signed three already gone in David Laury and Terrence Boyd and the third, junior-college transfer Cliff Dixon, still around.

From the beginning I had my worries about Boyd and Laury based on their backgrounds. Boyd hadn’t played high school basketball in two seasons and had the legitimacy of his SAT test score questioned and Laury’s “high school” was housed in an old hotel with a set up much like the Boys To Men Academy. A prep school in Chicago that the NCAA shut down a year ago after it was discovered that it catered to mainly area basketball recruits with dwindling academic standings.

The rumblings about Dixon were that he was also a little on the controversial side in junior college, sitting out a number of games last season at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College due to attitude issues and team rules violations. So he’s also one to watch.

I applaude head coach Ken McDonald for getting rid of these “red flag” cases before they really became problems. At first I was weary of the signings but now it looks like McDonald has these kids on a short leash after the quick axes given to these two players. While I see the method to McDonald’s madness, it’s still a slippery slope to go down.

And he doesn’t seem to be slowing down with the signing of Crook, who spent last season at a fifth-year prep school in Maine to work on his academics and had to wait this long to both be cleared by the NCAA and await word on eligibility for a scholarship. Factor in the addition in of Oklahoma transfer Juan Patillo to the squad –his third school in four years after spending two seasons at the College of Southern Idaho–and my thoughts are that McDonald and his staff may be giving too many at-risk kids chances when they don’t deserve them. Patillo was dismissed from the Sooners squad for repeated violations of the team’s policy.

It’s a case seen with a coach like West Virginia’s Bob Huggins. While at Cincinnati, Huggins repeatedly gave high-risk recruits and transfers chances to join the Bearcats and reform and more often than not, that blew up in his face. Huggins began to look like a glutton for talented players that lacked character, but was really just too nice to say no to a kid that wanted a chance. I’ve met Huggins and so have others I know and the guy is a classic act off the court who would do anything for someone he thought was deserving, whether they actually were or not.

This was his downfall as a coach then, it’s a path that is starting to look similar with McDonald.

He’s taken chances on five questionable recruits in the past six months and already had two backfire on him. He has good intentions, but everyone knows the cliche about what the path to hell is paved with.

It’s not an issue so much now, and McDonald is handling it way better in his year-and-a-half as head coach than Huggins ever did by taking swift, decisive action against players that are already on thin ice. I support and agree with that, but after a while, they may not be enough.

Only time will tell whether any of the rest of the spring/summer 2009 recruiting class will turn out like Boyd and Laury, but it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen in college basketball and hopefully McDonald won’t let it go on for his entire tenure.

-David Harten

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SEC adopts new media policy

Along with many things the Southeastern Conference likes to control, add the media to that list.

The SEC has adopted a new media policy that will give them total control over any content that is produced with SEC ties. This includes photos, radio and video highlights, and, to some extent, print.

So for example, if either Tennessee or WKU is to win on a last-second Hail Mary, the video or photo highlights of that play are property of the SEC, which in turn means media outlets may be denied usage of that by rule.

This new policy comes on the heels of the SEC’s new fan policy that puts a great amount of restriction on fans who live blog, take pictures and send information from SEC events from the stands.

With WKU going to Knoxville to play the Volunteers for both teams’ season openers, this is a big issue. For a small market like Bowling Green, the Toppers are a huge source of entertainment and revenue for the community, especially the media. Restrictions like this can hinder the coverage of WKU in some aspects, who have played an SEC team in football six of the past seven seasons and play SEC members Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in other sports on a consistent basis.

This is just another way the SEC is trying to make themselves an entity of their own, playing bigger than the NCAA. This is all a new tactic in trying to steer the fanbases to the SEC Network and their coverage, while other media markets (some big, some small) suffer in their coverage.

Gannett Newspapers and the Associated Press have announced they will not sign the media credential agreement in protest.

My own thought is, where is the NCAA in all this? We all know that the NCAA has its own agenda in who they police and who they let slide, and if any conference gets a free pass for more major indiscretions, it’s the SEC. But media coverage makes their world go around on the athletic field, and in terms of that coverage, the national, regional and local media is a bigger entity than the SEC Network or SECSports.com.

SEC Associate Athletic Commissioner Charles Bloom announced that they are making revisions to the policy, which better come in major ways if they expect to keep any amount of the dwindling respect the media has for that conference.

-David Harten

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