Revamped WKU team showcases team chemistry at Hysteria

Junior guard Jay Starks dunks during warmups for Hilltopper Hysteria on Friday night in Diddle Arena. 

Cole Claybourn

There was no dunk contest or three-point contest, and no dances from players during introductions.

Overall, this year’s Hilltopper Hysteria had a much different look than that of year’s past. 

And on the court, so did this year’s version of the Toppers.

“You just see a different chemistry level than a year ago at this time,” Head Coach Ken McDonald said. “We’re building toward something. This is just the starting point. We’ve got a lot to work on.”

McDonald said back in the spring that this year’s team wouldn’t have one main scorer who averages 16 or 17 points per game, rather several who could average anywhere from eight, nine, or 10 points per game.

If Friday’s 10-minute, running clock scrimmage was any indication, his inclination was spot on.

Ten different players scored before another player scored twice and no player had more than six points in a 19-14 win by the Red team, which featured freshman Derrick Gordon and sophomore Kene Anyigbo.

Gordon said it’s not surprising that the team shared the ball the way they did because the group as a whole has become a close-knit bunch both on and off the court.

“From last year to this year, everybody is bonding real well. We like each other a lot,” he said. “That’s really going to help us on the court because we’re going to have that team chemistry.

“That’s what it’s about — getting people involved. That’s how we’re going to win championships.”

Gordon and Bowling Green’s own George Fant drew the most applause from the crowd of roughly 3,000 during the player introductions.

For Gordon, who committed to WKU during his sophomore year of high school, Friday night was a long time coming.

“I’m happy to be here,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time now. To get an opportunity like this is a blessing.”

Gordon and Fant were part of a large bunch of newcomers, including seven freshmen and two junior college transfers, who were experiencing the WKU basketball atmosphere for their first time.

McDonald said he was impressed by what he saw out of them.

“Everyone has been really, really good. Newcomers — no different,” McDonald said. “They have a really, really good talent base, now we’ve got to speed that maturity up, and that’s not an easy thing. We’re trying to speed up the learning curve and that’s part of the process.”

McDonald said he thinks this year’s team can be a better shooting team than last year’s that shot 44 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point range.

Anyigbo, who wasn’t known as an outside threat last season, made two three-pointers for his six points. McDonald said Anyigbo has range and will contribute from the outside, but his main strength remains his skills in the posts.

Anyigbo agreed with McDonald’s assessment.

“It was all fun and games tonight and pretty much for the fans,” Anyigbo said. “But I think my job is mostly inside the red (paint). I think pretty much what I bring to the team this year is just an inside threat and getting the real shooters like Caden Dickerson, Kahlil McDonald, Jamal Crook and Derrick Gordon that open shot.”

Also in the post, McDonald said he was impressed by 6-foot-11 junior center Teeng  Akol.

“We’ve got a little more post game. Teeng is now more comfortable,” he said. “Kene Anyigbo made a lot of plays tonight. You can see, athletically, he’s changed his body and he’s doing really, really well. We’ve got some options now. I do think there was more teamwork on the offensive end.”

But as McDonald said earlier in the week, Friday wasn’t about analyzing his team. That will come starting Saturday when the team holds its first official practice.

Friday was more about getting the fans excited for a new season and what McDonald hopes is a successful one.

“Our fans were great. Obviously we fed off the volleyball match and we thank Coach (Travis) Hudson for that,” McDonald said. “It was excellent. I thought the guys were really jacked. Hopefully the people walking away from this event tonight are excited about each part of WKU athletics.”