While the Toppers will begin this season missing a few players who helped them reach the NCAA Tournament last season, WKU will also trot out seven new players at Diddle Arena this season.
Jamal Crook, last season’s point guard, has graduated, while forwards Stephon Drane and Kene Anyigbo also left the program in the offseason.
The will be replaced by seven new players on the roster. Four transfer athletes — junior guard Trency Jackson, redshirt freshman point guard Chris Harrison-Docks, junior forward Aaron Adeoye and sophomore forward Daouda Soumaoro — have joined the roster, along with three freshmen in guards Brandon Price and Payton Hulsey and forward Ben Lawson.
Redshirt sophomore forward Nigel Snipes missed last season with an anterior cruciate ligament tear but participated in his first practice without a knee brace Monday. He said the newcomers looked good in the first practice.
“I think they’re adjusting great,” he said. “They’re doing good. They’re really picking up on new things well.”
Hulsey stands out
One of the Toppers that stood out in practice was freshman guard Payton Hulsey.
Hulsey, a Memphis native, was the youngest player to play with the red team.
At 6’5”, he has a rare combination of size and athleticism for Sun Belt Conference guards. The freshman helped guide Southwind High School to the Tennessee Class AAA state championship last year in his senior season.
Coach Ray Harper said he thinks Hulsey could see time running the point early in the season. Senior Brandon Harris and junior Kevin Kaspar played point guard for the Toppers at times last season, while new point guard Harrison-Docks will be eligible to play in December.
“We think he’s got a chance to play right away,” Harper said. “We’re looking at him at the point guard and off the ball on the wing.”
Walk-on brings the energy
The intensity picked up after 5’9” walk-on point guard Brandon Price hustled back to tip an errant pass out of bounds at one point toward the beginning of practice.
Players from both the red and grey squads cheered Price’s hustle.
“That’s what we need!” Harper yelled.
Walk-ons have played important roles for WKU in the past. Walk-on guard Percy Blade started five games as a freshman last season when the Toppers were struggling with injuries.
Akamune finishes strong
Senior forward O’Karo Akamune rolled to the basket after setting a screen in the opening minutes of the team’s four-on-four drill.
A pass was dumped off to the streaking Akamune who grabbed the ball, jumped off two feet and rose with two hands on the ball.
He was drilled in mid-air by two recovering defenders but still finished the basket above the rim.
He fell hard to the ground and laid there for a few minutes. Teammates cheered for Akamune’s play, but for a moment it looked like he may have gotten hurt. The forward bounced up and returned to practice after catching his breath, though.
Akamune was one of two WKU players to appear in all 36 games last season, along with Harris. He averaged 2.9 points and 2.7 rebounds for the Toppers.