Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald met with the media this morning in advance to WKU’s road game Thursday at South Alabama.
On how the outside criticism of the program is affecting his team:
“It’s been a little bit of everything. If you’re made out of anything, losing can bring you together because you’re focusing on in the mistakes you’re making. The outside perception and some of those things that go on in a small town is probably a good life lesson for all of us to be honest. That’s the real world. It’s ‘what have you done right now?’ That’s reality. It’s the reality in college athletics and in the real world in terms of production. What are you producing for your business? How many stories are you going to write, how many papers are you going to sell? That’s life.
“We’re definitely becoming a tighter unit, we’re becoming more cohesive and you’re seeing a group on the court that’s starting to resemble a team. We’ve got a long way to go though, we’ve got a lot of conference games left. We’re going to continue to take it day by day, have good practices and can we carry it over into a game? That’s all we can focus in on.
“Each guy handles things differently. In college athletics in general, maturity is something you’re constantly trying to develop. Everyone has a different level of maturity and everyone advances and develops at a different rate. As a head coach, you have to figure out what buttons to push. A lot of it is experimental based and sometimes losing motivates guys at a different rate. Sometimes getting on someone at practice helps, for some it doesn’t. There are different things we have to do as a staff, but the guys have hit some skids here and you can see it in their faces that they want to do better. They’ve come back and practiced the right way. There have been some times where we haven’t played as well or as hard in games as we have in practice and we just have to carry that over into a game.”
On how mid-game adversity is being handled on the floor:
“There’s no question (they’ve struggled with it). Two years ago when I first got here and we had some struggles early, we got blown out by Evansville and a couple people and I kept saying that it’s all talk until we put it in the book. Understanding what it’s going to take for a 40-minute effort and a real win. … You have a sense that you don’t want to look back, but honestly we haven’t had ( a lot of 40-minute efforts). In the South Carolina game you could say we were close, but we didn’t finish. You could look at this year’s team and say ‘where did we put together a 40-minute effort?’ So sometimes guys do revert back, because we can’t yet point to a game with a win and know what it feels like to actually do that. And then carry it into a second, third or fourth effort.
“Momentum is a crazy thing and confidence is a fickle thing, and that’s where our team has been at a real deficit this year. With the schedule the way it was, we did get into a real hole confidence-wise and guys didn’t know the way – because we didn’t win. But that’s life. And as a staff we’re trying to manage emotions and effort.”
On dealing with such a short rotation at this point:
“It’s tough to put guys in that have some potential and might help when you’re in a one or two possession game or just flat out down. We’re seeing growth from guys like Stephon Drane and Teeng Akol and those guys will help us some day, I just don’t know what day yet. They have to stay the course with improvement. Cliff Dixon didn’t play a lot of minutes in the last game, but he did come in and play hard and I’ve got a lot confidence in him coming off the bench and helping.
“In the backcourt we’ve got to get more help and I don’t know if that means going bigger or not. I’ve talked with (walk-on freshman) Mike Gabbard and he’ll have to come in and play a couple minutes a half so Caden (Dickerson) and Kahlil (McDonald) can get some rest because those guys are playing hard minutes at both ends and are under more stress than they’ve ever been under. We’ll probably have to play more zone than we have in the past, but at the same time, teams are shooting the 3 against us pretty good right now so that can be tough to have the confidence to go zone. Those are all things we’re trying to fine tune.”
McDonald’s thoughts on South Alabama:
“They have two all-league guards (Tim Williams and Martino Brock) and a big kid that’s averaging a double-double (SBC’s leading rebounder Augustine Rubit). (Rubit) will be up for rookie of the year and (Williams and Brock) have really hurt us in the past. They’re not clicking, but the talent is there. I’m sure they’re working hard to correct things themselves – we don’t want to be the team they get it going against. I’m sure it’ll be a battle, it always is down there. This is a great opportunity for us to start our own little run with what we’re trying to do.
“We have to contain Brock and Williams and the big fella (Rubit) we have to keep him off the block. … And on the road, you don’t want to beat yourselves. You don’t want any external factors there to make you turn the ball over or play a style we’re not going to be able to play right now.”
On if he expects to see some desperation from both WKU and USA on Thursday:
“I don’t know if desperation is the right word, but true grit – that’s probably what I’d use. Hopefully the guys understand that we have to be an execution-based team that can grind it out. It’s never pretty on the road, but you win by one you’re just as excited (as if you’d won by 20). We have to take care of business in terms of who we have to shut out and limit their production and you can’t have role players step up and have career-nights. It’ll be a real challenge, though.
“And we can’t have it (down) eight or 10 points at the eight-minute mark (of the second half). It has to be at one or two possessions. I always think the pressure then goes on the home team. We’ve got to be in that position.”