Notes: Pattillo could be out for Murray game; Akol likely to debut

Senior forward Juan Pattillo snags a rebound away from Southern Illinois during a game at Diddle Arena. Head Coach Ken McDonald announced Friday that Pattillo has been dealing with “personal” issues and is questionable for the game against Murray State Saturday.

Zach Greenwell

WKU has already had its fair share of uncertainty early this season, but the Toppers may have to make yet another adjustment this weekend.

Head Coach Ken McDonald said Friday that senior forward Juan Pattillo’s status is questionable for WKU’s game at Murray State Saturday.

McDonald said Pattillo was absent from practice earlier this week to attend to “personal” issues but returned to practice Thursday.

“He’s going through some personal things that he has to handle right now,” McDonald said. “He’s been a part of practice, but he’s going through a tough time right now. We’re trying to be supportive as a staff and as a team to his needs. We’ll see how things progress, but he was in practice (Thursday), and he continues to have to deal with some stuff personally that we just want to be there for him and be supportive.”

McDonald said that Pattillo is not suspended and isn’t being disciplined in any way.

The senior has averaged 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game this season. If he isn’t available at Murray State, McDonald said the Toppers (5-5) will have to fill the void while also supporting Pattillo.

“We’ll see,” McDonald said. “He’s had to take a step away to deal with some of this. We have to move forward, but yet we want to be supportive of him and understand what he’s going through.”

Akol set to debut

With Pattillo’s status up in the air, the arrival of sophomore center Teeng Akol becomes even timelier.

McDonald said that as long as final grades for the fall semester are processed Friday, everything should be in place for Akol, a 6-foot-11-inch transfer from Oklahoma State, to play against the Racers.

McDonald said that if Akol is eligible, “he’ll get in the game.”

“We’re excited about the addition of the big fella, and he’s going to have to take some time to get going,” he said. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on him whatsoever. As a coaching staff and a fan base, we’ve got to understand that he’s been off for a year and a half. This is his first competition in a long time, and we’ll have to see how he does.”

Akol played in just five games as a freshman at Oklahoma State. He previously averaged 21 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks as a high school senior at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

“He’s going to contest a lot of shots,” senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew said. “He’s going to clog up a lot of space in the paint, and of course we need it. We’re lacking in that size, so he’s going to play a big role for us.”

McDonald said Akol will likely be nervous making his debut in a tough road environment at Murray State.

But Pettigrew said that from everything he’s seen, Akol’s eager to get back on the court.

“He’s had a good couple days in individuals and practice,” Pettigrew said. “He’s my roommate at the apartment, and we talk about it all the time. I think he’s ready.”

Murray series not dead

Some buzz was created earlier this week when Murray State coach Billy Kennedy told reporters that Saturday’s meeting with WKU would likely be the last in the historical series because WKU “isn’t interested” in continuing it.

“We tried to work on it the last year or so, and (WKU) wasn’t interested in doing it at that time,” Kennedy told the Murray Ledger & Times. “Right now, they’re not sure they want to continue to play the series. We’re going in a different direction, and if it changes, hopefully we’ll be able to keep it going.”

When asked for a response Friday, McDonald said that simply isn’t the case.

“In terms of scheduling, there have been no formal talks about the continuation of this series or eliminating the continuation of this series,” he said. “That’s just not the truth. We’re going to continue to look at our schedule and try to make it the best for our fans. We understand this rivalry, and we think it’s been a healthy series.”

McDonald said he’s not ready to commit to future games with Murray State just yet because WKU is still weighing all of its scheduling options.

He said there are lots of potential matchups he’d like to look into, including Butler, Xavier, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Alabama-Birmingham and Virginia Commonwealth.

McDonald said WKU has also talked to Kentucky officials about possibly playing a game against the Wildcats in Louisville.

“We’re working all angles, we’ll continue to try to get aggressive with our schedule, and Murray State is definitely an option,” he said. “But there are other options, I guess is the point. My history in the first three years as head coach has been that I’m aggressive, I want national games, I want to help our team get better for the Sun Belt Conference season, and I want to continue to bring fans and teams in Diddle that everyone’s excited about.”

Saturday will be the 148th meeting between WKU and Murray State. The series goes back to 1932, and the Toppers hold a 97-50 advantage.

WKU beat the Racers 83-72 at home last season, but Murray State went on to win 17 straight games after that.

In McDonald’s first season at WKU, the Toppers were blown out at Murray, 89-61, which is a defeat McDonald said he mentions frequently.

“There seems to be more of an energy with this game, and obviously the fan base is there, and they understand what goes into this with the history,” he said. “You try to educate the players and make sure they know that there’s a little bit of difference, and with that intensity you have to have the mental mindset to go in there and give yourself some confidence that you can get it done.”

The Racers are 6-4 this season, including 3-0 at home.

They’re led by sophomore guard Isaiah Canaan (12 points per game) and senior guard B.J. Jenkins (10.3 ppg). Jenkins scored 16 against WKU last season.

“It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere,” Pettigrew said. “Two years ago when I was there, it just felt like the crowd was right there beside you on the court. We’ve got to come together. We might not have the crowd support there, so we’ve got to come together.”