Hilltopper Hysteria: Hilltopper newcomers shine at Hysteria

Josh Anderson(4) signs a fan made basketball after playing in scrimmage match on Thursday evening during the Hill Topper Hysteria event which offered appreciation to Hill Topper fans free autographs for all.

Elliott Wells

The WKU men’s basketball team won’t play an exhibition game or begin its 2019-20 regular season slate until early November, but Hilltopper fans got a glimpse of head coach Rick Stansbury’s latest collection of talent at Hilltopper Hysteria last Thursday.

The annual tip-off event featured the usual player introductions, autographs and scrimmages on John Oldham Court, but it also introduced a new format for the men’s team scrimmage — the yearly Red vs. White game was snipped and integrated into a new-look scrimmage format.

The scrimmage featured two 12-minute halves, along with timeouts similar to a true game. Each half began with a 40-40 score, and teams changed between periods.

Stansbury was introduced on Thursday night for the fourth time as head coach of the Hilltoppers, and he said after the event that he wanted to integrate a full open scrimmage to bring tighter defense to Hilltopper Hysteria.

“Listen, I had to turn my head, close my eyes out the last couple of years to watch them go down the floor, just dunk and do what they want,” Stansbury said. “I know who gets gains from that right there, the fans like to see them dunk it. But we wanted to combine a little bit of both. We wanted to make it a scrimmage as much as we could.

“Making guys get better from it and it was very obvious for some players it was their first time playing in front of somebody. Some of those guys tightened up a little bit, but that’s to be expected. So, there were some good things we got from it.”

WKU fans welcomed six new faces to the Hill on Thursday night — a freshman trio and a group of three transfers from other institutions.

During the offseason, the Hilltoppers added freshmen Isaiah Cozart, Jackson Harlan and Jordan Rawls.

Harlan and Rawls are expected to bring more depth at the guard position, while Cozart gives Stansbury another option at forward after several big men transferred.

Redshirt junior Carson Williams transferred to WKU in the fall of 2018 from Northern Kentucky, but he was forced to sit out during the entirety of the 2018-19 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

Joining the newly eligible Williams as transfers are Camron Justice and Kenny Cooper.

Justice joined the 2019-20 squad over the summer after graduating from IUPUI. Cooper also came to WKU over the summer after transferring from Lipscomb.

Cooper has not yet been cleared by the NCAA to play in the upcoming 2019-20 season, but if he is eventually cleared, the Hilltoppers will have an experienced group of veteran players with game experience unlike any the program has seen under Stansbury.

Stansbury hopes bringing in the seasoned trio, which combined for 43 points during Hilltopper Hysteria, can strengthen WKU’s offense from a season ago.

“Those are things we can do better,” Stansbury said of his team’s passing and shooting abilities. “Then, we’ve got enough guys who can make basketball plays, and I think shooting helps all of that. The lane opens up a little bit and we got shooters out there. If you put all of the right guys on the right team, then it all gets better.”

The Hilltoppers showed off their improvement from behind the arc at Hilltopper Hysteria, as the two WKU teams combined for shooting 16-of-35 shots from 3-point land. WKU also distributed the ball, recording 22 assists in 24 minutes of play.

Eight different players hit a 3-pointer at Hilltopper Hysteria. Among those players, Justice led the Hilltoppers from behind the arc, shooting 5 for 7 and scoring 17 points. Senior wing Jared Savage also shot well, going 6-of-7 from the field and scoring 16 points.

Justice said the team has been putting up extra shots after practice to improve as a team.

“I feel like we have an unbelievable amount of chemistry on this team,” Justice said. “I think, from day one, from the day when everyone stepped in here from the summer, everyone has been grinding, we’ve been picking one another up. There’s a lot of times where you would look after practice, one or two guys still shooting, you look in there now, there’s eight or nine of us in there still shooting in there after practice every day telling each other, ‘Let’s get some shots up.’ So, I think that goes a long way.”

Justice brings a notable amount of leadership with him from his years at IUPUI and Vanderbilt. Along with Justice’s leadership, the Hilltoppers return four starters from their 2018-19 roster.

The Hilltoppers will have a week and a half of practices to get ready for their first exhibition game against Kentucky State in Diddle Arena on Nov. 2, and just a few extra days to prepare for the Nov. 5 home opener against Tennessee Tech.

Junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth said it was great to be back in front of the fans and that the Hilltoppers have more to show when the season starts.

“It was pretty good,” Hollingsworth said of Hilltopper Hysteria. “We loved every minute of it, really, and glad to see as many people out here as I thought. So, you know, it was a good scrimmage. We played hard and you guys got a good taste of what we have coming.”

Reporter Elliott Wells can be reached at [email protected] Follow Elliott on Twitter at @ewells5.