Harper’s first fall as WKU head coach underway

Senior Jamal Cook drives by junior Brandon Harris during Hilltopper Hysteria on Friday in Diddle Arena.

Lucas Aulbach

The first basketball practice of the year on Saturday offered a first glimpse of what the upcoming season might hold for WKU.

It was a different scene than last October. Ray Harper has taken over as coach and a new batch of freshmen and transfers have joined the team since then.

Harper said there might be more change to come, namely in the starting lineup, before the season starts in November.

“Don’t get comfortable if you feel like you’re on the first team — there’s not a first team right now,” he said. “But I’m sure some guys think they’re going to start. We can flip jerseys and that can change quick.

“We’re going to do things the right way and we’re going to do it the right way all of the time.”

The Toppers, who participated in Hilltopper Hysteria on Friday night, took part in defensive and half-court drills on Saturday morning.

Senior guard Jamal Crook said defense would be the key to a successful basketball season.

“Coach harped on that a lot and that’s the main thing — toughness and being aggressive,” Crook said. “Coach always talks about being aggressive. Defense is our thing, so that’s what we need to do.”

Crook and center Teeng Akol are WKU’s lone seniors this year.

Harper said Crook brings a lot to the team’s chemistry.

“They all pull for each other and I can tell they care about each other,” he said. “I give Jamal Crook a lot of credit for that. He’s a senior and he seems to bring these guys along.”

Much of the core of the team that won the Sun Belt Conference Championship last year has returned to WKU this season, and several new players have joined the team as well.

Three freshmen — center Aleksejs Rostov, guard Percy Blade and forward Eddie Alcantara — practiced with the Toppers for the first time on Saturday, along with junior guard Brandon Harris, who transferred to WKU over the offseason.

Harris said he was a little tired after Hysteria the night before, but was happy to be back on the court.

“It’s always a constant daily improvement,” he said. “You’re always getting better or getting worse, and I feel like we got better today.”

Harris wasn’t with the Toppers last season when the team worked through a midseason coaching change to eventually earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but he said he feels like he was there thanks to the chemistry he has with his new teammates.

 “We don’t point the finger at somebody else,” Harris said. “If something happens, we take responsibility for it.

“Even if a teammate makes a mistake, we say, ‘Oh, that was our fault, Coach,’ because we don’t want the blame to be put on anybody else. We’re a puzzle already put together perfectly and everybody’s just trying to do their part so we can win a championship.”