Hilltoppers Media Day: Upperclassmen address the media ahead of 2020-21 season

WKU senior guard Kenny Cooper looks toward the floor while his team warms up to play against the Cardinals. The Cardinals defeated the Hilltoppers 71-54 in Bridgestone Arena on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Nashville.

Kaden Gaylord

WKU Men’s basketball players were available to talk to the media for the first time this season Tuesday afternoon. 

Seniors Taveion Hollingsworth, Kenny Cooper, Carson Williams, Josh Anderson, junior Charles Bassey, and sophomore Jordan Rawls were present to talk via Zoom. 

Kenny Cooper and Carson Williams

Q: [Kenny] After being ruled unable to play last year what has it been like up until this point?

A: It’s been a growing process, coach Stansbury is an awesome coach and he’s taught me a lot about rethinking the point guard position and really stepping into that leadership role that I really didn’t have to step into at Lipscomb. So last year was great for me just learning and getting better in areas I needed to so I’m really excited to showcase what I can do this year. 

Q: How difficult was it to watch the tops battle shorthanded throughout the course of the season without you being able to help out?

A: It was just tough knowing what I could bring to the table and how good we could be just as a unit. I feel like I could have been a puzzle piece that you know that could have helped us in certain situations so it was just kind of tough to not see myself being utilized or where I could be you know used but at the same time I saw areas where I could get better and I saw areas where I can improve so that’s just kind of the mindset I took into it although I can’t play it’s all right I got things I can work on so I’m really happy about it. 

Cooper averaged 9.8 points, 4.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and two steals as a junior on a 29-win Lipscomb team in 2018-19, while also shooting a career-best 36 percent from 3-point range. He helped Lipscomb win 72 total games during his time, claim the 2019 Atlantic Sun regular-season championship and advance to the 2019 NIT championship game. Cooper will suit up in the Hilltopper uniform for the first time this season.  

Q: [Carson] With the new format you guys are going to be playing on back-to-back nights, what are your overall thoughts on the new format, and what kind of challenges does that present to you guys?

A: That’s a really tough thing but at the end of the day every team’s going to be in the same situation. It brings a lot of added challenges you know having playing one night, quick turnaround, and very quick recovery period, but one thing we got a lot of guys got a lot of depth to deal with so that could be a positive for us. 

Q: What does [playing two top 25 teams] present to you guys just having that level of competition and what kind of opportunity does that give you guys early on?

A: You know that’s a good opportunity, a good chance to…you know playing some of that competition to get us ready for conference play you know just playing the best earliest, that’s just gonna do nothing but prepare us for later on in the year. 

Williams is returning for his senior year after averaging 14 points per game, third-highest behind Taveion Hollingsworth and Charles Bassey and he led WKU in field-goal percentage at 55.5 percent. He ranked 11th in scoring in C-USA along with eighth in rebounding, third in field-goal percentage, 10th in free-throw percentage, and named to C-USA All-Conference Third Team. 

Charles Bassey and Jordan Rawls

Q: [Charles] What was the hardest part [of the recovery process] and what was it like working back from the injury?

A: Doing the same rehab like you just gotta stay consistent with it, you know just waking up the next morning just doing the same thing like from Monday to Friday. I’m just spending a lot of hours in the training room with our trainer and this trainer conditioning. Just doing that stuff every time it’s all mental. My family got me through it, my teammates, the coaches, and everybody was there for me so I can’t thank them enough and I’m glad I had those people around me.

Q: How itchy are you to get back on the court this year after missing most of the year with an injury and also the way last year ended?

A: Oh man, I can’t wait man. You know it’s been a minute since last year, December it’s been almost a year, but I mean I know when I get out there I’m gonna do my job I’m gonna do what I’m supposed to do because that’s all I’ve been doing starting with my rehab and right now screaming against my teammates [in practice] and I know I’m going to be ready so I just can’t wait to start playing again it’s going to be fun. 

Bassey averaged 15.3 points in the first ten games before having a season-ending injury suffering a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg. In his freshman year, he was named C-USA Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, becoming the second player in league history to win both in the same season, All-C-USA First Team, All-Freshman Team, and All-Defensive Team. 

Q: [Jordan] You guys were picked to win the conference in the preseason coaches poll last week that came out, what’s it going to take to reach that goal?

A: That doesn’t really mean anything with us being picked to win it, because really that just puts a target on our back so we gotta come with it every game. 

Q: How ambitious are you to get back in the postseason?

A: Definitely ready to get back to the postseason. As a freshman, we didn’t get to compete for the conference championship so [I’m] just ready to get back there and try to compete for a championship. 

Rawls averaged 7.9 points, 1.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 27.7 minutes per game and was named to the C-USA All-Freshman Team. 

Taveion Hollingsworth and Josh Anderson 

Q: [Taveion] What is the process of getting over the situation [season ending early] been like and how has it motivated both of you heading into the new season?

A: We went through a lot of adversity, we beat a lot of obstacles last season. I feel like not only do we deserve to play but everybody deserves to play. Everybody grinds through the offseason. The players know the offseason is tough. And for us, it just leads to the championship, and to find out we couldn’t even play one game, it just hurt. 

Q: What does it mean to you to have that success here and leave a legacy at Western Kentucky? 

A: To be honest, I honestly don’t think much about it. The only thing I really want is the trophy at the end of the day. My first three years here we came up short and that’s the only thing that’s been on the top of my mind since then. Just to keep working and come out and try to compete for that championship again, that’s all we want to do. 

Hollingsworth led the team in scoring with 16.6 points per game highlighted by scoring 43 points against Louisiana Tech. He was named National Player of the Week on March 3 after averaging 32.5 points in two games against La Tech and North Texas. 

Q: [Josh] What is the process of getting over the situation [season ending early] been like and how has it motivated both of you heading into the new season?

A: It’s definitely been motivation. It’s something that’s been in the back of our minds. We feel like we got shorted with the season ended quickly and we didn’t get a chance to play it out. It’s pretty much just motivation for us for this upcoming season.

Q: How do you feel about the team’s overall depth this year?

A: I feel like it’s a big plus, we have a lot of guys. I feel like our rotation can be anywhere from  like nine to ten guys this year. That’s going to be a big help for us, just having fresh bodies, people we can rely on when others aren’t having the best game or something like that. We can always go to the bench and have people come off the bench and help us out. 

Anderson averaged 10.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, shooting 44.8 percent from the field while making ESPN top plays multiple times for dunks. He is just 114 points from having 1000 career points 

WKU will open its season in Nebraska on Nov. 25 in their first bubble before heading to Louisville to participate in the Wade Houston Tipoff Classic against Little Rock on Nov. 28. 

Men’s basketball beat reporter & columnist Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected] Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.