High expectations remain for Hilltopper basketball

WKU’s Head Coach Ray Harper (center) leads the Toppers in a cheer during a timeout in the second half of WKUÕs 68-64 victory over Texas State on Saturday, Feb. 1, at Diddle Arena. (Mike Clark/HERALD)

Billy Rutledge

With a little more than two weeks before its first regular-season game, the WKU men’s basketball team has a lot to look forward to.

There’s a new conference to compete in, there’s a stock of new talent with a total of four freshmen and the Hilltoppers boast an experienced lineup with four seniors on the roster.

Guard T.J. Price and forward George Fant make up two of the four seniors for the Hilltoppers this season. The duo has helped propel WKU to two Sun Belt Conference Championships and two trips to the NCAA Tournament in the past three years. With time running out in their collegiate careers, the two have continued to keep the same approach as in years past.

“There’s always urgency,” Price said. “Every year we play here, we always want to play well. There really is no difference since it’s my senior year. We always want to get a conference championship and go to the NCAA. We have to try and play harder because it’s going to be harder competition. But everything is still the same — we are expecting to win just like we were expecting to win the Sun Belt.”

Price comes in at No. 25 on the all-time WKU scoring list with 1,236 points. He comes into the 2014-15 season after averaging 15 points a game for the second year in a row. Price is closely followed by Fant on the all-time scoring list, as he ranks 30th with 1,180 points. Fant averaged 13.3 points per game last season to go along with 6.7 rebounds for the Hilltoppers. Now in his final year, Fant is starting to embrace his role as a leader.

“I’m trying to be more vocal,” Fant said. “(The new players) are taking criticism well, getting under the older guys’ wings, listening and paying attention to coach. It starts every day at practice, we start building here and we’ll carry it over into the games.”

Head Coach Ray Harper enters his fourth season as WKU’s head coach after coming off the school’s best finish in Sun Belt Conference play in five years. Harper has improved WKU’s record every year he’s coached on the Hill and will look to do so again, but with a much different roster than in years past, featuring four seniors.

“It’s the first time we’ve had three seniors, unless something crazy happens, be the guys,” Harper said. “They’re the guys we’re going to look to when we need buckets, when the game is on the line. They’re the guys we are going to go to. That’s a good feeling as a coach.”

WKU’s first action is an exhibition game on Nov. 10 at Diddle Arena against Pikeville. Until then, Harper will continue to mold his team into game-ready form.

“I like this team,” Harper said. “I think we have a chance to be a good basketball team.”