Williams: Basketball is near, so prepare accordingly

The Lady Toppers bench cheers as WKU rallies in the final minutes of their 61-60 victory over Arkansas State in the championship game of the Sun Belt Tournament Saturday, March 15, 2014, at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, La. The Lady Toppers secured a place in the NCAA tournament with their win. (Mike Clark/HERALD)

Kyle Williams

I don’t know about you, but this is my favorite time of the year.

The temperature is getting cooler, leaves are changing color, football is still in full swing and basketball season is upon us.

If you’re a fan of WKU basketball, which you very well should be if you’re in any way affiliated with this university, it should be your favorite time of the year, too.

Both the men’s and the women’s teams are coming off back-to-back 20-win seasons, with the Hilltoppers going 20-12 a year ago and the Lady Toppers fresh off a 24-9 campaign that yielded a Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship and an NCAA Tournament bid.

The Hilltoppers have captured at least 20 wins in eight of the past 10 seasons and their 42 20-win seasons ranks No. 8 in NCAA history. The Lady Toppers have reached the 20-win plateau in 27 of the past 38 seasons.

The Lady Toppers return nine players from last season’s team, seven of whom logged starter minutes, while the men’s team also returns nine players and 72.5 percent of its scoring.

If you need any more reason to get your butt in Diddle Arena this season, both teams also feature some of the more storied players to ever don a WKU uniform. The men’s team has guard T.J. Price and forward George Fant, while the Lady Toppers have forward Chastity Gooch and guard Alexis Govan, all of whom are gearing up for their last season on the Hill.

Price comes in at No. 25 on WKU’s all-time scoring list with 1,236 points, five spots ahead of Fant, who has tallied 1,180 points in his career thus far. Price’s 205 three-pointers are good for fourth in program history and Fant needs 214 rebounds this season to enter the top 10 in said category.

Gooch and Govan are two of three 1,000-point scorers in Conference USA this season, with 1,322 and 1,050 career points, respectively. Gooch is the only player in program history to have recorded at least 400 points, 300 rebounds, 50 blocks and 50 steals in a single season.

Govan, who played in just 11 games last season due to a stress fracture in her left tibia, is ready to pick up where she left off.

“I’ve literally counted down the days, counted up the months,” Govan said. “I told Coach Heard when we get on the court for the first time, it’ll be almost 11 months until I was last on Diddle’s court. …I’m just really excited.”

In addition, both rosters have been solidified with freshmen and/or junior college transfers. The men’s team has brought in freshmen Justin Johnson, Rob Marberry, DJ Clayton, Avery Patterson and junior transfer Ayinde Sprewell, nephew of former NBA all-star Latrell Sprewell.

Johnson, a 6-foot 7-inch Hazard native, finished his high school career as the sixth-leading rebounder in the history of the state and averaged 21.9 points and 17.6 rebounds per game as a senior.

“It can be a really deep team,” Fant said. “We have one of those teams this year where, if you don’t bring it in practice, your spot’s not guaranteed in the game. Coach Harper’s really big off who we can trust, and if you show him he can trust you in practice, he’ll trust you in the game.”

The Lady Toppers added freshmen Ivy Brown, Tashia Brown and Jaiveonna Norris. Ivy Brown was named Kentucky Miss Basketball following a senior season that yielded averages of 23.2 points, 12.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. Tashia Brown averaged 22.6 points and eight rebounds per game in her final year. Both were nominated for the McDonald’s All-American Game.

I know what you’re thinking: “But Kyle, what about the new conference?”

I hear you, but the men’s and women’s basketball programs and the rich traditions they bring with them shouldn’t lose any momentum due to the conference switch.

The Lady Toppers were picked to finish second in the preseason poll, two points behind first-place Middle Tennessee and Gooch was tabbed preseason player of the year.

The Hilltoppers aren’t aware of their preseason ranking, as only a top four of LA Tech, UTEP, Charlotte and Old Dominion has been released. However, both Price and Fant were named to the league’s 10-man preseason all-conference team.

“It’s not about where you’re picked at the beginning of the season and what people think you’re going to be, it’s about what you do over the course of the season and what you do in between the lines,” Head Coach Ray Harper said. “…I like this team. They work hard. They have the right attitude, but again, it’s about staying as one.”

The Hilltoppers and Lady Toppers’ expectations are per usual: win. Another expectation is fans in Diddle Arena, so I urge you to prepare accordingly, because WKU basketball is a tradition that deserves the utmost support.