COLUMN: WKU’s tradition promises a better future

WKU head coach Ken McDonald reacts to a FAU basket during the second half Saturday. The Toppers lost, 78-73, and are without a win since Dec. 11.

Jonathan Lintner

When Florida Atlantic coach Mike Jarvis and his Owls walked into Diddle Arena on Saturday, they didn’t come in hoping to knock off sub-.500 WKU, a WKU that’s winless in conference play or a WKU whose fan support is dwindling under year three of the Ken McDonald era.

No – FAU just wanted a chance to beat the Sun Belt Conference’s perennial power school, and it did so with a 78-73 win.

“I wouldn’t care what Western Kentucky’s record is, was, or ever will be,” Jarvis said. “This is probably the most significant win for our program since I’ve been at FAU because we’ve beaten the bellwether – the standard-bearer – of this league.”

Jarvis, sitting at a press table in front of the WKU media after the win, asked reporters if they’d prefer an opening statement rather than open it up for questions right away. “Sure,” the media said.

Two and a half minutes of Jarvis lauding WKU’s talent, coaching, history and tradition later, the veteran college head coach of more than 20 years was done. And when questioning was over, Jarvis even thanked the room for the opportunity to play in Diddle.

“I told my guys when we were warming up,” Jarvis said, “Just take a look around this place, and look at the history and tradition here. It’s incredible.”

Indeed it is.

Jarvis is talking about a program with 41 conference championships, 40 seasons with 20 or more wins, and one that’s 14th all-time in the history of men’s Division I basketball in number of wins.

One bad season will do nothing to change that, nor will another bad season if it comes to that.

As Athletics Director Ross Bjork said, sports are cyclical in nature.

“The thing in our job is you can’t get too low with the lows and too high with the highs,” said Bjork, speaking to reporters Saturday on the current state of WKU basketball. “You’re up one day, you’re down the next … and so we have to stay the course.”

Staying the course means that what’s happening now is a work in progress that should be better in the future if given time. WKU basketball, as Jarvis pointed out so many times, has too rich of a tradition to never rise up and be its old self.

“They’re a legitimate mid-major program because they have all the resources and pieces that schools like us would like to have and don’t have,” Jarvis said.

But no mid-major program is immune to the gap year between losing its core four-year players and bringing in a new bunch to continue a winning tradition. That’s WKU included, and it could be part of why the Toppers are a lowly 5-11.

This isn’t a keep-Ken McDonald column, nor is it a fire-Ken McDonald column. Either way, WKU basketball was here before McDonald and will be here long after McDonald.

And once some time passes, the Toppers will be playing the same type of ball Jarvis remembers as a high school coach in Cambridge, Mass., looking for a college for some prep star named Patrick Ewing.

“I don’t know if anybody really, really understands how big and significant it is when an FAU beats a Western Kentucky,” Jarvis said.

That statement might have more meaning a year or so down the road, because WKU is due to be back soon enough. It’s all part of the cycle.