Ken McDonald, Gary Ransdell talk WKU hoops

24 03 2010

The Daily News sat down with both Western Kentucky men’s basketball coach Ken McDonald and WKU President Gary Ransdell on Tuesday for a discussion that hit on a variety of topics.

From the disappointment of the 2009-10 season, to McDonald’s job security to Ransdell’s challenging of the Sun Belt to up its overall RPI.

Check today’s edition of the Daily News for full stories or visit

Here’s what was said:

— On this past season as a whole:

“I think after each game you go through different times throughout the year that you really look at and you digest it, what’s going on, what’s going into where we’re at and how things played out throughout the year. I look back on the year and it’s always a learning process and a coach as well as with the players. I think we had very high expectations of ourselves for the year about what we could be and we talked a lot early in the season about potential and that’s always going to be the case. I think our team had a lot of potential and I really don’t back down from that. Did we reach our potential? At times yes. Overall, from the learning process part of it we can do some things better.

“But there was still a lot of excitement and a lot of pride about how we battled back from some tough times and I’m still very proud of who we were willing to take on. We had a very, very aggressive out of conference schedule – one of the most aggressive in recent history and we’re going to continue to do that and that’s important to know. We’re doing that for our program, we’re doing that for the fans and most importantly, we’re doing that to build toward the end of the year.

“We put ourselves in good position at the beginning of the year for some good wins. We played five (BCS) opponents and if we had (advanced in the Preseason NIT) we would have played seven. I think we would’ve been one of the only teams in the country to play seven non-conference BCS schools. We’re putting ourselves out there for a reason. Nationally we want to get out there, we want to continue to put ourselves in that kind of light and give ourselves chances to make a splash nationally.

“Looking at the season, and you break it down into ‘how did you prepare going in,’ I thought we had an excellent preseason in terms of work from September through October. As we started practice there was definitely a lot of excitement about the possibilities and potential. As the season started, we were still pretty excited. We had a chance in the Preseason NIT to beat LSU, we were up two late in the game with a chance to advance to New York – and we were happy with where we were at. We didn’t finish it, but we were happy.

“We played some very tough teams early. At South Carolina, at Mississippi State, and basically at Vanderbilt and we were happy with our progress – it was right there. But we hit a lull. And we hit a lull where I could’ve coached better. I could’ve been better leading the team through the tough times and it was a stretch of time that obviously Hilltopper fans weren’t used to. I’ve really learned from that and I think the guys did as well.

“What I’m most proud of this season was that the guys really came together and finished the season strong the way we wanted to and the way we wanted to represent Hilltopper basketball. We won nine of 10 conference games to finish the year. We had to play four games in four days, we got to the third day, got down, fought back and had a chance with three or four minutes to go but couldn’t finish it out. I was very, very proud of the way the guys battled and showed the fans the essence of what we want this team to be.

— On what went wrong, so to speak, and what needs to happen in the future
“I really don’t get caught up in a couple things. I don’t get caught up about how young a team is and I don’t get caught up in injury totally effecting a team’s play. It’s our job to build a program and it’s our job to build a team that can absorb those kinds of stretches because you’re so deep. We took some chances this year in recruiting on a couple of guys that didn’t work out. Terrence Boyd and David Laury never finished summer school, they couldn’t make it with our standards. So you have to do the job of making sure that you’re recruiting a team and building a program. That’s the focal point from this point on. It takes time to really recruit the culture of guys that I envision Western basketball being. And I’m proud to say that the staff in a couple of years is really going in the direction we want to be going in. We’ve got excellent talent coming in. I think now, learning from this year’s team, we’ve got to recruit a little more toughness. There has to be better guard play. There’s a reason why we’re not finishing games, we lost five games by a total of six points in a total of seven seconds – amazing statistics, but there’s a reason for it. And it’s our job to build the program to a point where you’re not in one-point games. That’s part of it and I don’t make any excuses about losing one guy, you lose some games and wait for him to come back – that’s on us. We have to grow up, we have to continue to build and move forward and I am excited about the future and that process.

“You learn every day. I’ve been around guys that have been in the business for 25 years as a head coach and just as many years as an assistant. I’ve been an assistant coach on the bench for a long time in different situations, I’ve been a head coach now and am fortunate enough to be here for two years and there’s not a day that goes by where I’m not learning. Now you have to apply it. Don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

“There’s nobody more disappointed that we didn’t get to the NCAA Tournament than I am, there’s nobody. And I feel for the fans, because we have had recent success and we want to keep that success alive and going. This year, unfortunately, we did not get to the tournament – but we will be back and I’m confident of that because of the efforts from the staff and the administration and even the fan base.

“I was pleasantly surprised this year with the amount of fans that came out even after we went through some tough stretches. It says a lot about the program that we can sustain through the tough times and keep moving forward.”

— On recruiting
“You look at the life-blood of the program, you look at recruiting. Are you recruiting kids that are interested in getting an education and are interested in the team concept and are sharing the same vision you have for your basketball program while individually developing. You have to continue to recruit the right kinds of kids and we’re doing that. We’re bringing in quality kids who understand how high the bar is here.

“Recruiting never ends, I think you always have to as a team look at the program and make sure you’re identifying what’s best for the program because it’s more important than any of us. You’re constantly recruiting to make sure you cover yourself. And right now, there has been no (roster) shuffling. We’re just getting back to workouts after giving them a little time off and we’ll get back to the drawing board and work some of the kinks out and start building for next year.

— On what to look for next season
“We’re going to be a little bit faster I think at the end of the day and more athletic than we were this year. I was hoping at the beginning of this season that we’d be a little bit more balanced inside and out, but it didn’t turn out that way.

“Development-wise, we have to have a good spring, a good summer and a good fall and we can get there. But we’ve got some guys coming in that are extremely athletic and we really have to develop a more competitive spirit from top to bottom I think that accounted for some of our struggles this year.

“When you’re building a culture and you’re building a program you do that in recruiting and I think we’ve identified kids that can come in and help us in those areas, and I think that’s going to help us a lot.

“It’s been lop-sided, it’s been much more perimeter than balanced. We have more presence inside. You have to develop guys like Cliff Dixon. (Juan Pattillo is) sitting out, (Teng Akol is) sitting out and those guys (are interior players). We’ve got more strength inside, Steffphon Pettigrew, Kene Anyigbo coming in and Stephon Drane, those guys will get better inside in time with strength and conditioning. Teng’s already changed his body in the short time he’s been here. I do anticipate a more balanced team.”

“I’ll interview each guy and make sure they understand the expectations and see what needs they have and continue to build and talk about their aspirations and get to the goals that they all set. That’s important. Each player comes in and we’ll talk about some long-term goals individually. That’s the process going on right now. There’s still a lot of time in the semester to see where recruiting will end up and to figure out exactly who will end up coming back. There’s some guys who have to decide if they’re happy with the role that they have in the program now.

“And can they build on that and be happy with their role next year. We’ll have to see as the semester ends and see where that ends up.”

— On his staff
“I have a great staff. I have guys that are seasoned guys and guys that have played the game and understand the game. They’re not only friends, but they’re coaches and good mentors. They’re the kind of guys I really like being around and they’re all competitive and I love that about them. When you’re a competitor and things don’t meet the expectations you’ve set, you look in the mirror and ask what you can do better – and that’s the case with our staff.

“We’ve all looked back at the season with pride and frustration. We came back after the season and asked what we could do better because this is a program that’s going to be here long after any of us and we understand that. We understand that we have to get better, we have to develop our players, we have to get individually ourselves and we have to go out and recruit. We have talked some, we will continue to talk as we attack this spring session, because it’s all about improvement at this point.”

— On rumors about his job security
“I’m glad it wasn’t true, I had heard I was stepping down and I called (my office) and said ‘Am I stepping down today?’ Nobody will have higher expectations than myself, this staff and the players. We embrace that because that’s where we want to be, that’s our vision. You have to have those aspirations. And some of this stuff really speaks to our fanbase and where our expectations are – I’m glad, I’m glad we’re not happy with a 15 win season or something like that. I’m glad we’re not at that point, and it all comes with the job.

“It’s unfortunate and I’ll probably get less sensitive about it over the course of my career, but at times it does bother you. But you learn every day on this job, and you take it because it’s part of the job.

“Through the tough times, our fanbase was outstanding this year. We go through a five-game losing streak and times that there were fans thinking the sky was falling – we had a ton of fans showing up for games, being supportive, patting guys on the back, talking to the coaching staff and saying things were going to be Ok. Sometimes you hear about the minority of (fan perspective), but the majority of Hilltopper fans have been really impressive to me this year.”


And now, comments from Gary Ransdell:

— On this past season
“I’m disappointed we’re not playing right now, I feel like this team had the capability of being in the Sweet 16 but stuff happens and you have to keep a perspective. I look back to when Darrin came in following three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, it took him five years to get back to the tournament – and that was frustrating, too.

“While I’m not the most patient guy, I understand that it has been a bit of a transition and we got a little bit spoiled with a Sweet 16 and a victory in the first round last year and our fans expect that. I expect to be back there next year, I know who we’re recruiting, I’ve met all of them on their official visits and cannot be more pleased with what’s coming in and where we’re going. I’m encouraged. I’m frustrated and would like to be playing in mid-March of 2010, but we’re not. But I’m excited, I’m supportive, we’re going to continue to recruit well and I like what we’re building.”

— On Ken McDonald
“We can sustain a high level of performance in basketball and I hope Ken is our coach for the next 20 years. But if Ken gets us to the Sweet 16, the Elite 8 and beyond two or three years in a row – it’s going to be hard for us to pay him $2 million. It just is. I’ll hug him and wish him well if that offer comes, but our program is to a point where we’re attractive to people. We’re beyond the point of us selling, and now people are selling themselves to us. I want Ken to be wildy successful and we’ll do the best we can with all the compensation variables and his contract for him to do well as a coach. But our program’s going to sustain a high level of performance, I’m very confident of that and it’s important for this university for that to be the case.”

— On rumors of McDonald’s job security
“It’s kind of silly if you think about it. We were 21-13, that’s not up to our standards and we were disappointed and don’t ever like to finish fourth in the conference, but it’s not a disaster. We lost five in a row and we lost to some teams we shouldn’t have lost to – but you know what, stuff happens.

“I heard some of that and thought it was just silly, it’s nuts. People have no idea what a complex program like this has to do and is positioning itself to do. But really, we had a great fan-following in Hot Springs, I was pleasantly surprised. Outside of Arkansas State, nobody had the following that we had.

“I know where the program’s going, I know what Ken’s doing and what (new AD Ross Bjork) is thinking and what (exiting AD Wood Selig) has been thinking. It’s so different than eight or 10 years ago with the Internet and blogs and instant stuff and you’ll always have fans who would like for certain things to occur and they’ll say or do anything to somehow effect the outcome they might like to have.”

“Ken’s our man. I couldn’t be more pleased. I’ve met every recruit that’s coming in and we don’t have problems on our team, we have players with character.

“I love our guys and I think (that talk) is kind of silly and off the wall. There were times where I had to scratch my head with it.”

— On the Sun Belt Conference
“I am a little frustrated with the Sun Belt Conference. Seven of us met in Hot Springs with (SBC Commissioner Wright Waters) and when we reconvene in May we’re going to put in place some RPI policies.

“Part of my frustration right now is with our own conference. I can’t whine about it too much because we didn’t do much to contribute to it this year (in terms of RPI), but we didn’t have a team in the top 100 in the Sun Belt. If we’re going to do what we want as a program, we have to be able to improve our RPI when we get into conference play.

“So we’re going to look at some policies across the conference and the other presidents share our concerns. It hasn’t been that many years past when the conference RPI got as high as 10 or 11. And this year, we’re at No. 23 – that’s bad.

“We’ve got to get back to that point and we’re going to look at some policies and put them in place that maybe make it mandatory that you schedule teams above 150 in your non-conference games. I don’t know yet, but the commissioner is putting some things together and we’re going to study it.”

“What’s good for the league is what’s good for everybody in the league, but everybody in the league has to take ownership. Troy is really trying to build their program, they didn’t come into the Sun Belt with much of a history but they’re really working at it. Obviously Middle Tennessee is as well and will continue to, and some others, too. I’m encouraged, but I’ll say I’m cautiously optimistic that our program can be hitting on all cylinders and we can do it (in the Sun Belt) that helps us get there.

“I want the league to get four or five teams in there every year. It’s a battle now, but we’re battling teams with an RPI in the 200s who at the beginning of the year struggle in non-conference, but come February once they’ve gelled are pretty good basketball teams.

“I think we’re a better league than a No. 23 RPI, but boy, we’ve got to prove it in November and December and we’ve got to prove it in mid-March.

“(WKU has) a strong history and we want to continue to build on that and I want our conference to be a part of that strategy, I’m resovled to helping build this conference.”

“We’re going to do all we can to make sure it succeeds. There are only 11 BCS conferences, so if we’re going to go anywhere it’s going to be to one of other 10. I haven’t checked my mailbox today, but I don’t think we’ve gotten anything from the SEC or the ACC in there. There’s no dialogue going on with us and any other conference right now. Will there be movement with conferences in the future? Yeah, there probably will be. The Big 10 is in the process of identifying a 12th team, depending on what happens there it could be someone from the Big East, that might then effect Conference USA – there’s a lot of variables. The Pac 10’s probably going to have to expand their footprint. So who knows how the line of dominos will be, and I’d hate to think that we’re the seventh or eighth dominos in that line, but we’ll cross those bridges when they come. The best thing we can do is get better – as a program and as a conference. And that’s what the president’s concluded, we want to see policies that help the conference get better.

“There might be some realignment to where if we can get better as a league, some of those teams in some of those other (non-automatic qualifying leagues) want to come to the Sun Belt,” “But if a suitor comes along, we’ll listen, but we’re not searching.”

“We had a policy in place several years ago that said if you were in the conference, you cannot schedule anyone below a 150 RPI. And the AD’s whined about that, because scheduling’s hard and it’s work. So we relaxed that and then really just did away with it and here we are.

“Some of the AD’s and coaches might argue that, but the data is what it is and we may go back to that policy. … It’s important that we all grow and get better together.”




One response

24 03 2010

Good work Nick. Covered all the bases and then some.

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