WKU continues to lose players under Stansbury

WKU’s Dalano Banton (20) waves to the fans in Diddle Arena Dec. 29 in Bowling Green. Banton had eight points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in the Hilltoppers’ win over Wisconsin. 

Alec Jessie

The WKU men’s basketball season is over, but the offseason has brought new challenges to the program.

Last Wednesday, two Hilltoppers announced their intentions to transfer from WKU. Rising senior center Matt Horton and rising sophomore point guard Dalano Banton elected to leave the Hill and pursue other opportunities elsewhere.

“I’d like to thank my teammates, the WKU fans and coaches for bringing me in and loving me like a real family,” Horton said via Twitter. “But my time here came shorter than I thought it would.”

Horton fell out of the big-man rotation in Conference USA play, appearing in just 10 games overall. He did not play in a game after a 62-59 win over North Texas on Feb. 9.

Banton started the year strong, filling the void left by senior point guard Lamonte Bearden, who was ruled academically ineligible for the first nine games of the regular season.

In a marquee win over a ranked Wisconsin squad on Dec. 29, the freshman scored eight points, grabbed 13 boards and dished out 10 assists. After Bearden regained eligibility, Banton saw his playing time dwindle, playing in only seven minutes over the final six games of the year.

Horton and Banton are the fourth departures since August 2018 for head coach Rick Stansbury, joining freshman guard Trevelin Queen and graduate transfer Desean Murray.

Queen left WKU in September and joined New Mexico State, a team that won the Western Athletic Conference and made the NCAA tournament. The Aggies fell to No. 5 seed Auburn 78-77, but Queen had a chance to win the game for his team on a 3-pointer at the final buzzer.

Murray had an up-and-down stay on the Hill. The graduate transfer was cited for marijuana possession back in November and was suspended for the season opener against Washington.

Murray was reinstated for the home opener against Tennessee-Martin. In his debut, Murray scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 24 minutes of action. Murray also starred against Tennessee State, tallying 17 points and eight rebounds. Murray started six of the eight games he appeared in, averaging 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in those contests.

After seeing his minutes diminish in December, Murray announced he would leave the program to pursue professional opportunities on Dec. 12.

“I wish him the best,” Stansbury said in a press conference on Dec. 14. “He was a nice young man. He already had his degree, so I can’t fault him for that if that’s what he wants to do. He has opportunities overseas to go do that.”

Early departures have become a common theme in the Stanbury era. In the three years he’s been at the helm, 12 scholarship players have left the program prior to graduation.

In just the last calendar year, Horton, Banton, Murray and Queen joined Willie Carmichael, Tobias Howard, Marty Leahy, Jabari McGhee, Damari Parris, Marko Stajkowski, Jordan Brangers and Mitchell Robinson to round out the group of 12 who departed early.

The departures at the beginning of Stansbury’s time at WKU were not out of the ordinary, since any time a new coach takes over a program, transfers are bound to happen. But the players who transferred in years two and three of his tenure are certainly head-scratchers.

More departures are also possible. Freshman center Charles Bassey could opt to declare for the NBA Draft and forego his remaining eligibility. Bassey has until midnight on April 21 to make that decision. For any of the remaining players at WKU, transfers are still on the table, too.
It remains to be seen where the

Hilltoppers will be projected to finish in C-USA standings next year, but a potential mass exodus of talented players will not help matters much.

Lack of continuity and team chemistry will be a major hurdle for Stansbury and his staff to overcome during the 2019-20 season, especially if they want to reach their ultimate goal of winning the C-USA tournament and getting back to the NCAA tournament.

Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.