Men’s Basketball Notes: Harper bringing up-tempo style to WKU

Interim Head Coach Ray Harper yells from the sideline during WKU’s game against Troy on Saturday, Jan. 7 in Diddle Arena. Harper was named interim head coach after former Head Coach Ken McDonald was fired on Friday. WKU lost 67-65.

Cole Claybourn

There was a play early in WKU’s loss to Troy Saturday in which freshman forward George Fant grabbed a rebound, turned and looked down the court.

From the sidelines was interim Head Coach Ray Harper shouting, “go, go, go!”

Fant passed the ball up court to senior guard Kahlil McDonald, who then passed to freshman guard Derrick Gordon for a layup. The entire play lasted just nine seconds.

That was pretty much the style Harper was pushing his team to play in his first game as head coach.

“We used the word ‘aggressive’ and ‘fast’ I think more than we ever have, since I’ve been here,” freshman forward Vinny Zollo said. “Be the aggressor. I think that’s a lot of times what we’ve done, is let teams be the aggressor out of the gate and we’ve really had to be on the defense and be on our heels for the rest of the game.

“I think his big stress point would be, ‘Let’s come out, let’s be the aggressor, let’s put the other team on their heels – let’s do what they’ve been doing to us.’ I really think that’s direction he wants to put us in.”

Junior guard Jamal Crook said there wasn’t a whole lot of adjustments made with a new coach, saying the transition went somewhat smoothly because of how integrated Harper was in practice.

But what Crook did notice was a change in energy, not just in the crowd, but with the team.

“The other day in practice, that was the main thing we focused on, was high energy and just fighting for each other,” he said. “I thought that we did that extremely well tonight.”

That type of aggression isn’t limited to just offense, either.

Harper said he wants to see that intensity and ferociousness on defense.

“I think our pressure will get better each day,” he said. “I thought it took effect at times today and we’ve got to get in a little bit better shape if we’re going to play that style, if we’re going to press like that.”

Gordon continues to impress on the glass

Derrick Gordon came to WKU known for his scoring and defending abilities. And by looking at his 6-foot-3 stature, one might not surmise that the freshman guard could do much to help his team in rebounding.

Think again.

Gordon is the team leader in the rebounding category, above the likes of forward Geroge Fant and 6-foot-11 junior center Teeng Akol.

Gordon pulled down six rebounds Saturday against Troy — four offensive rebounds — and had to fight his way for everyone of them.

Several times a shot would go up and Gordon would seemingly come flying out of nowhere to grab the ball.

“I just know when the ball’s going to come off at the right time and I love to get rebounds,” he said. “It’s not just about getting points. It’s about getting rebounds, steals, things like that.”

Harper called Gordon “relentless,” said he “has a nose for the basketball.”

“He’s 6-3 and there’s no telling how many times he gets a hand on the basketball and keeps it alive just because he’s active,” he said.

Harper said he wants to see more players mimick Gordon’s tenacity on the boards.

“We need to get two or three guys that are active and all of sudden we can get some second or third shots,” he said. “That’s one of the things I want to see us get into — second and third and fourth efforts.”

Harper has ‘whirlwind’ weekend

In a 48 hour span, Ray Harper watched perhaps one of the most bizarre endings to a college basketball game in recent memory, was named interim Head Coach the following morning after Ken McDonald was fired, then coached his first career game at the Division-I level.

He described it as a ‘whirlwind’ weekend.

And on a night when more than 5,000 fans came to see his debut, he was quick to take the spotlight off himself.

“This isn’t about me, this is about WKU and those kids that are putting on the uniform,” he said. “We’re just going to continue to work hard and try and put these kids in a situation to keep getting better and be successful.”

Next up for Harper and WKU is a road trip out west to face North Texas and Denver, which is often a tough trip for the Toppers.

He said the players will get a day off on Sunday after what’s been an eventful few days.

“I want those guys to get away from basketball,” Harper said. “I think that’s important that we all do and get back to work Monday. We’ve got a tough road trip next weekend so we’ll try and get ready starting Monday.”