Toppers participate in first practice of season

Brandon Harris/

Lucas Aulbach

Friday night’s Hiltopper Hysteria might have been fun and games for the Toppers, but they were back to work on Saturday morning.

The Toppers, led by coach Ray Harper, were at the auxiliary gym at Diddle Arena thorough the morning conducting their first WKU basketball practice of the season.

Harper, who was observed by several high school basketball coaches in attendance as part of a coaches’ clinic, said it was important to set the tone for the rest of the season in the first practice.

“Across the lines it’s a business and we’re going to work,” he said. “Don’t come in half-stepping and think you’re going to coast through a practice because it’s not going to happen.”

Much of Saturday’s practice consisted of defensive drills and running exercises.

Junior guard Brandon Harris said the Topper defense plans to shut teams down this season.

“No buckets — KFC chicken, no bucket though, you feel me?” he said after practice with a laugh. “No buckets — you might get the wing, but no thighs in there.”

Harris played last season at Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colo., before signing with WKU during this offseason. Saturday was his first official practice with the team.

He said he was welcomed by the Toppers and already felt like he had played for WKU in its Sun Belt Conference championship run last season.

“Coach ‘Harp’ and the other coaches did a really good job of laying out what I’ve been through and my journey to get to this level,” he said. “They were real sensitive to it and took me in.”

He wasn’t the only newcomer to practice. WKU had three freshmen out on the court on Saturday — forward Eddie Alcantara, guard Percy Blade and center Aleksejs Rostov.

Harper said he has been impressed by all three of the freshmen, especially Rostov, who grew up and played high school basketball in Latvia.

“He’s a little farther along than I thought he would be at this point,” Harper said. “If we played again tomorrow, shoot, he could be in the starting lineup.”

One potential starter who did not participate on Saturday was sophomore guard T.J. Price, who was out with a calf injury. Harper said he expects Price back in practice in the next few days.

On the other end of the spectrum, WKU’s two seniors, guard Jamal Crook and center Teeng Akol, both played significant minutes as well in the first practice.

Crook said WKU has confidence this year stemming from they way the team finished last season, when the Toppers struggled through the regular season before turning it on late and winning the Sun Belt tournament.

“It’s always good to finish strong at the end of the season and the way we finished it, we came out as champions,” he said. “It’s always good to have that momentum. We have a lot of expectations for each other and for our team, so we just have to keep it up.”