Toppers look to replace Crook at point guard

Senior guard Brandon Harris, second from right, covers junior guard Trency Jackson during a drill at the Hilltoppers’ first practice of the season at Diddle Arena on Oct. 7.

Tyler Lashbrook

Filling a void left by a graduating senior is a difficult transition for college basketball programs from year to year.

WKU will face that problem in replacing Jamal Crook, who averaged 12 points and four assists a game as point guard in his senior season last year.

But coach Harper will have a handful of options to fill that hole.

Senior guard Brandon Harris is most likely to take over as starting point guard to start the season, Harper said at Media Day.

Harris appeared in all 36 games last season and was fourth in the team in scoring at 8.2 points per game.

Junior Kevin Kaspar, from Istanbul, and freshman Payton Hulsey, from Memphis, Tenn., are also candidates for the opening point guard spot.

Kaspar has played in 53 games, starting 15 of those competitions, in two years.

A freshman, Hulsey is a little less known around the Hill, but he’s a guy that Topper fans should get to know.

As a high school senior, Hulsey led his team to the 2013 Tennessee Class AAA state championship, finishing the title game with 14 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

Harper said that he expects the freshman guard to play immediately.

“He can defend multiple positions, which I really like,” Harper said. “He can play the one. He can play the two. He can play the three. [He has a] very good basketball IQ which is huge with how we like to play. He understands offensively and defensively where he needs to be so he’s stood out to me on several occasions.”

Harper’s only caveat with starting Hulsey as a freshman is that the coach isn’t sure whether or not he wants to, “throw him in the fire quite yet.”

Aside from Harris, Kaspar and Hulsey, Harper has two more options to start at point guard, but they won’t be available until after the first semester, per NCAA rules.

Junior Trency Jackson, a transfer from Texas Tech, and redshirt freshman Chris Harrison-Docks, a transfer from Butler, have both “been terrific,” according to Harper.

Fans got a chance to see a glimpse of both transfer guards at Hilltopper Hysteria. Jackson stole the show, nailing five three-pointers and showcasing his athleticism with high-flying dunks.

Harper called Jackson a “game-changer” who can help the team win games with his defensive intensity.

He said Jackson is the type of guy who can defend the other team’s best player.

Jackson said he looks forward to the challenge of guarding the other team’s best player. He said that he expects to have a “breakout year.”

“It’s going to be a breakout year for everyone because we’re going to win,” Jackson said. “And that’s the name of the game — get as many wins as you can.”

Harper called Harrison-Docks a guy who is “capable of putting up big numbers.”

He said that both of the transfers have worked extremely hard.

“We won’t be afraid to play them 30 minutes or 20 minutes or 10 minutes — kind of what they’ve earned up that point,” Harper said. “But if we feel like they’re going to help us win that particular game, and it’s going to be playing 25 or 30 minutes, that’s what we’ll do.

“We’re excited about what they’re going to bring to this basketball team come the middle of December.”

There are no days off in the competition for playing time in the backcourt, and that’s an advantage for Harper and his staff. He said his guys will “have to work every single day.”

“You earn everything you get and we’re going to put the guys out there that we feel give us the opportunity to win that given night,” Harper said. “We’re going to have a lot of guys who can play, and that’s a lot better than the alternative.”

Replacing the production that Crook gave the Toppers last season won’t be easy, but having options should help to lighten the load.