Pettigrew ‘hungry’ for one more tourney trip

Senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew smiles with his family as he walks past his jersey, framed at midcourt during Thursday’s Senior Night in Diddle Arena.

Zach Greenwell

Head Coach Ken McDonald admits that senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew is so consistent, he often forgets about him.

But there’s one time McDonald said he never forgets about his veteran leader — when he’s searching for the next one.

McDonald said he’s often found himself on the recruiting trail, referring to a player he likes as the “guard version” or “wing version” of Pettigrew.

“I think you can’t find a better example of what you want your team to resemble,” McDonald said. “All the positives and all the work ethic — everything you want your fans to walk away saying, ‘That’s a WKU basketball program’ — Pett’s that person.

“He’s been quiet, but just a workhorse for our program.”

Pettigrew was one of three seniors — along with Sergio Kerusch and Juan Pattillo — honored on Senior Night when WKU hosted Florida International Thursday.

But Pettigrew is the only senior who’s spent all four years on the Hill, as well as the only holdover from WKU’s Sweet Sixteen run in 2008.

Pettigrew has seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows at WKU, but he said Wednesday all of it has been part of a career he’ll be sad to see end.

“It feels like I just came in here my freshman year,” he said. “It’s just like high school. My last game — the emotions hit you right after the last buzzer goes off. I remember my senior year on the court, I started breaking down with tears.

“Hopefully, I don’t think I’ll cry this time.”

The last WKU recruit brought to the program by former coach Darrin Horn, Pettigrew had 1,461 career points heading into Thursday’s game, placing him 14th all-time at the school.

He’s also top 10 in WKU history in games played, games started and minutes played. The former Kentucky Mr. Basketball has averaged more than 26 minutes per game in his career and had 76 games with at least 10 points as of Thursday.

But sophomore guard Jamal Crook said Pettigrew’s consistency has always gone beyond the court.

“It’s always good to have that one person that you look up to because he’s been in the situations that we’ve been in,” Crook said. “He kind of knows what it takes to keep your head up. He has that experience, and he’s got leadership.

“He knows what it takes to be successful.”

And Pettigrew said he hopes the Toppers aren’t done winning just yet.

They’ll visit Middle Tennessee at 7 p.m. Saturday for their regular season finale, followed by a trip to Hot Springs, Ark., for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament from March 5-8.

Pettigrew notched three NCAA tournament wins in his first two years at WKU, and he said the goal now is to put the Toppers in position to win some more.

He said the only way he knows how to do that is to leave everything on the court, because that’s all he’s ever really tried to do.

“I try to give everything I have in practice and the games, and I believe WKU fans see that,” he said. “That’s one thing I want to leave behind once I leave here.”