Men’s basketball team working towards start of the season

Tyler Lashbrook

The WKU men’s basketball team won’t tip off the 2013-14 campaign for three months, but the players have been working all summer to prepare for the upcoming season.

The Toppers will travel to Wichita State to open the season on Nov. 12 as part of the 24-hour College Hoops Tip Off Marathon.

Wichita State is coming off one of its best seasons in program history after making a run to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed before losing to the eventual national champion Louisville Cardinals, and while the midnight competition will be a first for WKU basketball Coach Ray Harper, the second-year coach is embracing the challenge.

“It’ll be something different,” Harper said. “It should be a great environment. It’s one of the tougher places to play. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like at midnight.

“I’d probably prefer to have another game prior to that, but if you’re going to play the game, who cares when you play it and where you play it.”

One obstacle facing the Toppers is replacing former point guard Jamal Crook.

Crook, the only graduating senior on a team that won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament last season, appeared in 123 games in four years and was an intricate part in the Toppers’ past two Sun Belt title and NCAA Tournament runs.

The Louisville native averaged 12.1 points and four assists while shooting 47.8 percent from the field in his senior season.

His absence leaves a hole on the roster at, what some people consider, the most important position on a basketball team — point guard.

But coach Harper will have a handful of potential replacements at his disposal.

Senior guard Brandon Harris replaced Crook for a time last year after Crook fractured his foot.

Harris averaged 8.1 points and 1.9 assists with the Toppers last season after transferring from Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colo.

His experience from last year makes him a favorite to take over this season as point guard.

But incoming redshirt junior Trency Jackson and redshirt freshman Chris Harrison-Docks are both eligible to join the team in December. Freshman Payton Hulsey will also get some run at point and could help fill in for Crook’s absence.

Harrison-Docks transferred from Butler after playing two exhibition games with the Bulldogs in 2012-13. He will be eligible to play at the end of the first semester.

Another potential replacement is junior guard Kevin Kaspar.

Kaspar averaged 5.3 points and 1.7 assists in 2012-13 and, after appearing in 20 games in 2011-12, is the most experienced back-up point guard on the team.

Harper said that the number of potential replacements to Crook should create competition in practice — 7-foot freshman forward Ben Lawson is another newcomer that coach Harper is excited about.

Lawson is coming to the Hill all the way from Hitchin, England.

Harper said that Lawson has “tremendous upside.”

“You don’t see guys that are 6-11 that run, jump and shoot the basketball like he does very often,” Harper said.

Harper said that he’d like for the English forward to bulk up to 220 pounds before the season starts and that if he does that, he could earn serious minutes in his freshman season.

Harper said that his team has depth at every position.

“I think competition makes everyone better,” Harper said. “And when you can get comfortable at your position, whether it’s your job or whatever, that’s when you’ve got problems.”

“I don’t see anyone able to get comfortable in their starting position. There’s always going to be someone sitting there pushing them and because of that, I think we’ve got an opportunity to be a good basketball team.”