WKU in dead pursuit of conference championship

Jeremy Chisenhall

At the 2017 WKU basketball media day, the players and head coach Rick Stansbury made one thing clear: this year’s team is striving for a Conference USA Championship.

The team was ranked sixth in C-USA’s preseason poll, but the Hilltoppers are striving to be at the top of the conference when it’s all said and done.

“I say this all the time, if it’s not a championship effort, it’s not good enough,” Stansbury said. “We won’t let any type of things that’s happened be a distraction. Won’t be a reason for us not to compete for a championship. ”

It’s not just Stansbury that made his championship hopes clear, but the players did as well. Senior forward Dwight Coleby said he wants to see his team ranked higher and wear championship rings.

“We want to win a ring,” Coleby said. “We need to be No. 1, so we just take this as motivation, and we’re going to come out and compete every night.”

Senior forward Justin Johnson has championship aspirations as well. Johnson was named to the preseason all-conference team, and while he said it was a nice accomplishment, he wants more.

“My main goal is to try to win a ring this year,” Johnson said. “That’s the one thing I don’t have here. If I do that then my career will be set here because that’s all I care about at this point, is a ring.”

And Johnson thinks he has the teammates that can help him get that done this year.

“I think all these guys agree; we like our pieces, and we like our chances against anyone,” Johnson said.

Those teammates Johnson likes include the freshman class, comprised of guard Josh Anderson, guard Taveion Hollingsworth, forward Marek Nelson and guard Jake Ohmer.

Johnson commented on them as well, saying Anderson is a “freak athlete,” Ohmer shoots very well and Nelson plays harder than anyone.

When talking about Hollingsworth, Johnson compared him to a current NBA point guard.

“I’ve referred him to Elfrid Payton a lot,” Johnson said. “I came and watched Elfrid play in this conference, and they remind me a lot of each other. I think even Taveion at this point shoots it a lot better than Elfrid did.”

When they play together, this class has incredible potential, Johnson said.

“That group can be really good in a couple years,” Johnson said. “They’re good right now, but that group, if they stay together and keep working and buy into what coach says, the sky’s the limit for some of those guys.”

Johnson isn’t the only one that praised these freshmen. Coleby made it clear they listen and work hard.

“The freshmen have been competing every day,” Coleby said. “They’re really athletic, and they just try real hard, and when you talk to them, they actually listen and want to learn.”

Stansbury talked about the freshmen and how well they have developed so far during their time on campus.

Hollingsworth and Ohmer, both Kentucky natives, have done everything asked of them, Stansbury said. He praised Ohmer’s ability to shoot and said Hollingsworth can score well but is still learning the other aspects of being a point guard.

“When he learns to start getting a little vision, seeing some other people around him, with his ability to score, he’ll continue to get better shooting. He’s a better athlete than you think he is,” Stansbury said. “But what again sets him apart, is all the things off the court. He’s been here since June, to my knowledge I don’t think he’s missed a class, a study table, been late for anything, breakfast or anything yet.”

Stansbury also talked about Anderson, saying that he’s a bit behind because he wasn’t on campus during the summer, but he’s very athletic. He also said there has been no word yet on Anderson’s NCAA eligibility, which makes him currently ineligible.

And for Nelson, Stansbury said he’s an “off-the-chart kid” and student. He’s athletic and lets the game come to him, Stansbury said.

WKU is into its exhibition slate, as the Hilltoppers beat Samford 78-64 on Sunday. The team’s next exhibition is against Campbellsville at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in Diddle Arena.

Reporter Jeremy Chisenhall can be reached at 859-760-0198 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @JSChisenhall.