WKU’s upperclassmen ready to teach newcomers

Junior guard Jamal Crook is one of three upperclassmen in WKU’s backcourt that look to replace the 66 percent scoring the Toppers lost coming into the season.

Cole Claybourn

Head Coach Ken McDonald hasn’t been shy about the fact that it might take a little while for his newcomers to get acquainted to the college game.

With four upperclassmen returning from last year’s team — senior guard Kahlil McDonald, junior guards Caden Dickerson, Jamal Crook and redshirt junior center Teeng Akol — he said he’s hoping that transition will be a little easier on them.

“I think the veteran leadership is really important,” Ken McDonald said. “I think there are guys who have put it in the book a little bit — guys that have college experience at this level. That’s going to be the starting point.”

WKU lost four players from last year’s team — Sergio Kerusch, Steffphon Pettigrew, Juan Pattillo and Cliff Dixon, who left the team before the season ended. Kerusch, Pettigrew and Pattillo were starters for last year’s team.

This season’s lone senior, Khalil McDonald, said that the upperclassmen are mainly focusing on being leaders to such a young team.

Although he’s been hurt early on during the preseason with a grade two medial collateral sprain, Khalil McDonald said it’s been fun to assume that role so far.

“I’m embracing that leadership role right now,” he said. “Just trying to bring this team together and go hard and come into this incoming season.”

With that comes an opportunity, perhaps a responsibility, to teach the new players.

After the Toppers’ first official practice in mid-October, Dickerson said he and the other upperclassmen were ready to take on that task.

“We’ve got a lot of freshmen, so we’ve got to share our experience and teach them what and what not to do on the court,” Dickerson said. “Coaches want the older guys to show (the younger guys) because they haven’t set foot in a college game. So we’ve got to share our experience and what it takes at this level.”

Collectively, the four returning upperclassmen averaged 18.8 points per game last season. 

Whether it’s the upperclassmen who do it or the younger players, Ken McDonald said the scoring void that the departed players left will need to be filled.

But he said he’s confident that will happen because he sees this year’s team as a “much more skilled group than a year ago.”

“We got to help each other score. That’s how we’re really talking to the guys and working on the offense and moving the ball,” he said. “A lot better passers than a year ago. I think our offense is going to flow better in that regard, in terms of what you saw a year ago.”

Even with the lack of experience with this year’s team and a projected finish of third in the Sun Belt Conference’s East Division, the goals haven’t changed by any means from last year’s when they were picked to finish first.

Crook said the team actually prefers it that way.

“We love it,” he said. “We don’t want to be in that spotlight. We’re the underdogs right now. We’re embracing that and we’re loving it, so we just want to come out and give the teams what we got.”

Because it’s still early in the season, there are still some things the team has to work out, such as fatigue, Kahlil McDonald said.

But long term, the senior said he’d like nothing more than to play in the postseason.

“We want to achieve that goal of winning the Sun Belt Conference and getting to the Sun Belt championship and getting to the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “That’s pretty much the ultimate goal right now. From there, the sky’s the limit.”