Tim Riley knows Diddle Arena well.
Riley “wiped up sweat and did whatever” as a student assistant for WKU men’s coach Clem Haskins in the 1980s.
Two decades later he won seven Fourth Region Tournament title games held at Diddle as head coach of the Warren Central High School boy’s basketball team.
Now Riley is coaching at WKU, hired over the summer from Warren Central to serve as an assistant under women’s Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles.
He said the decision to leave the Dragons after 14 years for the Lady Toppers was a tough one, but it was an opportunity he had to take.
“I had been interested in working with Mary for a number of years so when there became openings on her staff I called,” Riley said. “This job could’ve been filled and not opened back up until 10 years later.”
There were several differences between his new and old jobs, the most obvious being he was now working with women instead of men.
But Riley said that hasn’t been as much of an adjustment as one might think it would be, saying “basketball is basketball” regardless of the players’ gender.
Cowles agreed, saying Riley’s transition from coaching men to coaching women has been a smooth one.
“He loves working with young people, and I don’t think it matters if they’re male or female,” she said. “He just has a true passion in working with young kids.”
Riley said the biggest change for him has instead been adapting to life as an assistant after 21 years as a head coach.
“For me the big adjustment has been picking my spots in practice,” he said. “It’s been trying to find the right way to be a good assistant coach for Mary.”
Riley works with the whole team but said his niche since coming on staff has been working with the WKU’s post players.
He helps coach a frontcourt which includes the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, senior LaTeira Owens (12.5 points per game, 10.2 rebounds per game) and seniors Jasmine Johnson, Teranie Thomas and Keshia Mosley.
“We’re strong inside,” Riley said. “That’s got to be what the strength of our team is.”
The move to WKU has also allowed Riley to continue mentoring George Fant, the star of his 2010 and 2011 Warren Central regional champion teams and a freshman forward for the Topper men.
Riley said Fant often drops by his office to talk basketball with his high school coach.
“He’s come in here a number of times, given me scenarios, and I try to be very positive but at the same time try to explain how I see the situation,” Riley said. “I’ve been a little sounding board for him.”
Fant said Riley ran high school practices similar to what he’s been through at WKU, which has eased his transition to playing college basketball.
“He kind of helps me on my game still, just telling me things I need to remember,” Fant said. “I’m just kind of picking at his brain now like I did my whole high school career.”
So far the Lady Toppers are just 1-5 during Riley’s first season as an assistant.
But he said his primary goal for the year is to see the team improve.
“There’s always limits to where you can take a team to,” Riley said. “And I want to help our team be as good as it could possibly be.”