Seniors stepping into leadership roles

Keith Farner

Senior Nate Williams remembers the old days. Three years ago, the mission was surviving a three-hour practice. In those days, Western was building a Sun Belt Conference contender.

“We always tell them some old war stories about our freshman year,” Williams said. “And how hard things were, just so they won’t forget. We try to beat them up in practice.”

Although they are the second class Coach Dennis Felton recruited, they could have the biggest impact in building a national contender. Senior forward David Boyden has been a captain since he was a sophomore and Williams has often filled in for injured senior center Chris Marcus.

Fellow seniors Todor Pandov and Filip Videnov have been role players needed for a championship team. The group knows what it’s like to look up in the standings. Now they’re looking down on teams.

“It doesn’t come overnight,” Boyden said. “We’ve worked at it since we were freshmen through the long practices. We’ve taken our lumps and have given some lumps. It’s great to be in the situation we’re in now.”

Pandov redshirted two years ago and came back to score nearly nine points a game last year.

This is the first year in Felton’s tenure at Western where a core of leaders are players. In the past, leaders of the program wore suits on game days. Instead of holding basketballs, they held Sharpies.

“Our new players that come in now, they have an advantage that David and Todor and Filip and Chris and those guys didn’t have,” Felton said. “Their teammates and guys they live with 24/7 can also continue coaching them when members of the staff aren’t around.”

Boyden returns as the second-leading scorer behind Marcus after putting up 11.3 points a game. Williams will fill in for Marcus as he battles a stress fracture that has plagued him since last season.

One of the biggest things Felton and these senior leaders stress to the rookies is staying focused. Despite all the media hype surrounding a Sun Belt program ranked in the Top 25 nationally, the players are only concerned with themselves.

“We’re the ones who have to come to practice everyday. We’re the ones who get bruised and bloodied up in practice everyday, go on long road trips and miss class,” Boyden said. “Since I’ve been here, our main focus has been playing hard for each other and doing things for the betterment of the 12 guys who put on uniforms every day.”

In the beginning, when Felton was looking for the cement to build his foundation, he found Boyden.

“David always had a certain level of maturity and seriousness for a guy his age, and a very, very, very pleasant personality,” Felton said. “Really a charismatic personality. So I was extremely excited about the kind of guy he was, because I thought he could be a standout guy who could develop into a standout leader. He was really, really excited about Western Kentucky.”

From there, Boyden has developed into an All-Conference player who started every game last season. He has become a go-to threat, capable of hitting critical shots or pulling down a crucial rebound.

And in order to relay that experience to the freshmen, to pass on the legacy, he makes practices as tough as possible.

“You get to not just making a teaching point, but going a little harder on them,” Boyden said. “Try to give them some lumps in practice so we don’t have to endure as a team against other universities. We’re trying to instill habits in them everyday.”

Now the seniors are trying to show the freshmen how far they’ve come – and more importantly, where they’re going.