Western Kentucky men’s basketball coach Ken McDonald met with the media briefly today alongside new men’s hoops assistant Jake Morton – who spent the past four seasons at Miami under current Missouri coach Frank Haith.
A few comments from each of them:
McDonald on how it feels to have his staff now in place for 2011-12:
“It feels good. Turnover happens for different reasons and coach Edwards had an opportunity that he thought was a good one for him and his family and that gave us an opportunity to hire a quality assistant. I’ve known Jake for a while and known of him, and how well he’s done on the recruiting front and followed him from afar through a good friend of mine.
“We’re getting a coach with great experience, great recruiting ties and playing experience at a high level – all the criteria we had for filling the job we filled, and we’re excited about it.”
Morton on what sold him on joining the WKU staff:
“It’s a great job. The history and tradition of this program is unbelievable. Believe it or not, in terms of a basketball job, this is probably a better job than Miami – in terms of basketball. I’m very excited about it and one of the things coach and I talked about when I took this job – he said now you get a chance to be one of the big fish in terms of your league and how you’re perceived in this league and this part of the country. You can see that by walking through and looking at the support and the facilities – it’s a really good situation.
“I believe in what coach McDonald is doing. The thing you try to do as an assistant coach that ends up helping you is winning championships. And here, I give myself a better opportunity to win championships.
“I worked with big guys down in Miami, but I played point guard in college. But I like working with big guys, and being with coach Haith and now coach McDonald out of that Texas system the style of play and philosophy will be similar and I think it’s a natural fit.”
McDonald on now having his staff, and roster ready to go for 2011-12:
“All the rookies but a couple are here on campus and this is an opportunity for everybody to get this program starting in the direction we want it to be in. In the last two days, it’s been a very good energized feeling – and that’s the starting point. We’ve talked in great detail already, this morning, with the players and coaches about what’s going to be expected and the bar and where we want to set it. We’ve talked about the challenges we’ll face and how to take advantage of this summer to get better as a team, to come together, get tougher and get ready to compete in the fall to get back to the top of this league.
“With each new season, you have different challenges. And I don’t foresee the challenges being the same as they were a year ago. Sometimes you have to go through it to understand how to handle things – and I’ve said this to alumni and fans over the past few weeks: I really want to focus on the future and don’t want to look in the mirror and focus on the past – but I don’t foresee the same challenges being there. For the whole staff that’s a breath of fresh air. I think for our fanbase, as they come out and get to know these kids and this team, they’re going to be excited with what they see.
“Fans have been supportive. Evey Hilltopper fan wants to be proud of their basketball team. We’ve got to now break down some barriers of things we lost last year with how we played and some of the distractions we had. That’s the honest truth. We have to get back some fans. One of our assistants said in the meeting today that we start right now with breaking down those barriers and getting back that connection we lost. This is a group that’s excited about that and even though there are a bunch of rookies that had nothing to do with last year, they signed up for what’s good about our program and to play championship basketball. And our returning guys really understand that this is a new wave and a new energized group that’s excited about these challenges.
“I’m pretty much a truth-teller with the guys. I let them know what’s on my mind pretty much all the time. There was a lot that went on during a 16-16 season that didn’t need to go on and aren’t going to go on (any longer). Some of the players were a part of that and they understand that it’s not going to be that way anymore. They’re excited about a positive energy, working together and having teamwork, pride and toughness.”
Also, I asked McDonald what the situation will be going forward with former signee Deng Leek – who inked with WKU in the fall but won’t be a part of the program next season after failing to qualify out of high school.
McDonald said that the program’s relationship with Leek won’t end because of that – and that he and his staff intends to help him find a landing spot for next season, and stay with him moving forward.
“We’ve known Deng and his family for a long time and we’re trying to help guide him to his next step. He’s a wonderful kid and that relationship and recruitment will continue. We’re going to try to help him. He really worked hard to get to a certain point and had a very, very good year schoolwork-wise. And we’ll continue to work hard with him on his next step and monitor his progress as he goes.”