Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald had his sitdown with the media today prior to the Hilltoppers road trip to south Florida – beginning with FIU on Thursday, followed by FAU on Saturday.
Here are the highlights:
On how important this week on the road is given that WKU has five-straight home games afterward:
“We’re approaching it like we have from day one, it’s got to be a day-to-day thing. We talked yesterday about how we’ve beaten two teams, but those two weren’t the best in the league. It’s a step forward, but we cannot allow ourselves to get complacent and have any false sense of security. We have to improve each day in practice, we’ll have to focus on one game.
“Each game is important from this point forward and we can still do a lot of things if we take care of business with that type of attitude.”
On whether or not WKU’s momentum can carry over to a lengthy road trip:
“The guys are coming into their own, no question the last three weeks the guys have had more of a sense of (teamwork) and looking out for each other. And we’ll have to carry that over to the road against two good teams. If we continue our mental approach and then give ourselves a chance to win on the road with defense (and ball security) I’ll feel good.
“The last three weeks have given myself, the staff, the players, the fanbase some hope that maybe we can get this turned around – now we’ve got to take that jump.”
On the road trip as a whole:
“I like it because we’re not traveling as much. Resource-wise, (WKU AD) Ross Bjork has been great at giving us what we need in order to travel and not get so beat up. It can be tough on those eight-hour bus trips to go and come back and then play again on a Saturday. This week, we can lock in on Thursday’s game and then once that’s over you don’t have to travel and you can prepare a little more.”
On playing an improved FIU squad in a gym that doesn’t always have the best of atmospheres:
“We’ll talk about creating our own atmosphere, but I do imagine they’ll have a better crowd than normal. They do have a very good team, you could argue they have the most talented team in the conference. They’re putting their pieces together with some kids who have just gotten eligible, they’re not in a groove, but we’ve got to make them play bad and give ourselves some confidence.
“They’ve got Kentucky transfers, Arkansas transfers, JUCO transfers – they can put it in the hole and we don’t want to be the team they get it going against.
“When you watch them on tape you can see their talent and how athletic they are. They’ve got a big team, a lot of guards that can put it in the book. A lot of our kids know these guys. Reputation-wise they’ve got a kid that came out of high school as a top 50 kid. Those are big challenges. And we’ll have to bring it. Two years ago we went down there and took a loss and it was a bad loss. We’ve got to continue to improve.”
On the status of walk-on point guard Mike Gabbard – and the pressure it puts on Jamal Crook and Kahlil McDonald:
“It’s a high ankle sprain which is pretty severe. I’ve been told three weeks before he can really get back on it, but after a week when he gets out of the boot we’ll know more. It’s a tough hit because he was really starting to help.
“We have the big lineup we can play with Juan at the three or Pett at the three, so we can do that and become a pretty good rebounding team. But Jamal is playing well and I want that to continue. He’s had incredible focus taking care of the ball, pushing tempo, playing defense and allowing us to get into our running game and get things going.
“(Kahlil) is really growing up on the job and that’s not easy. He’s playing out of position, which also isn’t easy. There are a lot of eyes and finger-pointing on him when things aren’t going well – and he’s handling it. He’s gotten his body in better shape, he’s guarding point guards and on offense he’s letting the game come to him instead of forcing things. Really, really happy with his progress. He’s really just grown up in a short amount of time. A lot of times with junior college kids, it takes a full year for that – but he’s doing it in a quicker timeframe because we’ve kind of forced him to do so. … Kids come into that situation and everyone wants to be at a high-level program and sometimes it takes awhile to get used to that. You lose your cool one time and you’ve got to grow from it. That’s not a bad thing. He’s bounced back from one instance where he didn’t take care of his business and acted a little immature –he’s only improved and gotten better. Sometimes you’ve got to take a hit before you can move on, that’s Kahlil and we’re a much better team now because of him.”
On finally coaching against Isiah Thomas (Thomas missed last year’s game in Diddle due to the passing of his mother, and the second in Miami due to an ejection suspension):
“He’s doing an excellent job in recruiting and building that program and that’ll take time. But he’s bringing in exciting people. It looks easy for them from the standpoint of guys thinking about playing for a (NBA Hall of Famer), and selling Isiah more than atmosphere and all those types of things. It’s not easy, but he’s doing a great job.”