Harper’s hire praised by fans, colleagues

Ray Harper’s mother, Katherine Harper of Bremen (right) cheers as Ray Harper enters E.A. Diddle Arena during the pep rally to introduce Ray Harper as the new head coach of the WKU men’s basketball team Monday.

Lucas Aulbach

When Ray Harper took over as interim head coach of the WKU men’s basketball team earlier this season, fans responded by filling the stands.

The announcement on Sunday that he had been hired to coach the team full-time has many fans in a similar state of excitement.

Jim Pickens, who covered Harper over the course of his nine-year career at Kentucky Wesleyan for the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, said hiring the coach was the smartest move WKU could have made.

“I think that they got the best available coach in the country,” Pickens said.

He wasn’t alone in that sentiment. Gerald Edds, donor to the university and basketball season-ticket holder, was excited for everyone involved.

“I’m excited for Ray Harper, and I’m excited for Western,” he said. “If Ray Harper continues his record of success, he will go down as one of Western’s great coaches.”

Much of the excitement over Harper’s hiring comes from his history. Harper coached at Division II school Kentucky Wesleyan for nine years and at National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school Oklahoma City for three years, winning two national championships at each school.

Haper has advanced to nine national championship games in a 12-season head coaching career.

“He has had teams play in nine national championship games. There’s his resume right there,” Pickens said. “I mean, this is not high school stuff. These are college-level championships.”

WKU season-ticket holder Brad Hogan pointed to Harper’s history in Division II and NAIA as a sign of things to come with the Toppers.

“The guy is going to wind up in the Hall of Fame someday for what he’s done in the past,” Hogan said. “This should have been done about six years ago. He should have been our coach before Horn.”

Pickens thinks the hire was the smart move for WKU for more reasons than just his history.

He said Harper, a Greenville native, used to say that coaching the Toppers was his “dream job,” and thinks the coach is likely to stay in Bowling Green even if he becomes successful.

“Really, for the first time since Jim Richards left the program at the end of the 1977-1978 team, this hire is going to be for more than four or five years,” Pickens said. “All the people in between, some of them had great success, some of them not so great, but they were all there for three to five years, and then they were out. Ray has told me personally that this is his dream job.”

The timing of the hiring is also important for the program. Recruiting will be in full swing in coming months, and it could have been difficult to attract recruits while also trying to hire a head coach.

Hogan thinks the university made the right call hiring Harper now, for the sake of the program on the recruiting trail this spring and on the court in coming seasons.

“With everybody starting their state tournaments here in the next 30 to 45 days, this should lock that part down and get us where we need to be,” Hogan said. “He’s got the recipe for success. If he’ll just run the program the way it’s supposed to be run, everything else will take care of itself.”