Although the college basketball season has been over for three weeks, WKU head coach Rick Stansbury is still hard at work.
As opposed to the game planning he does during the regular season, Stansbury is spending the offseason putting together his team for the 2019-20 season.
Although not all the pieces to the roster puzzle are in place, the Hilltoppers’ roster for the upcoming season is beginning to take shape.
Stansbury announced two new additions to the program this past week, both of which addressed WKU’s backcourt needs. Guards Camron Justice and Kenny Cooper have committed to continuing their basketball careers on the Hill.
Justice is on his third school after announcing he would transfer to WKU on Friday. The 6-foot-3-inch guard began his collegiate career at Vanderbilt before electing to transfer to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis at the end of the fall semester during the 2016-17 season.
Justice was an All-Horizon League Second Team selection in 2018-19 after averaging 18.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Justice was also named Kentucky Mr. Basketball in 2015. As a graduate transfer, Justice will be immediately eligible.
“We’re really excited to have Cam join our family,” Stansbury said in a press release. “He fills a great need with his outstanding ability to shoot and pass the ball, and he brings tremendous experience and leadership to our program. He’s also been fortunate to have a lot of great basketball coaches in his life, including his dad and a legendary Kentucky high school coach in B.B. King.”
Two days prior to Justice’s commitment, WKU bolstered its point guard position.
Kenny Cooper decided to join the Hilltoppers after three seasons with the Lipscomb Bison. The Nashville native played in 100 games over three seasons with the Bison, starting in 67 of them. Over his career, Cooper averaged 8.9 points per game with 381 assists.
“We’re excited to have Kenny join our program,” Stansbury said in a press release. “He’s a high-character young man from a great family. He has the valuable ability to make players around him better, and he’ll bring a wealth of experience and toughness to our team.”
Although he is not a graduate transfer, Cooper will attempt to secure a waiver from the NCAA that would allow him to play in the upcoming season. According to a tweet from Evan Daniels, “Cooper said that he plans to appeal to be eligible right away because of the coaching change at Lipscomb.”
These additions come after top-100 point guard Jordan Rawls committed to WKU last Saturday. Rawls is currently a member of the 2020 class, but he left the option open to reclassify up and join the 2019 class.
With Lamonte Bearden graduating and Dalano Banton transferring, these additions are absolutely essential and necessary. WKU returns Taveion Hollingsworth, Josh Anderson and Jake Ohmer, but none of those options are natural fits at point guard. WKU also returns point guard Jeremiah Gambrell, but he lacks game experience after playing in only four games last season due to injury.
The Hilltoppers also had voids in the frontcourt to fill.
Star center Charles Bassey declared for the NBA Draft but elected not to sign with an agent. The Nigeria native has the option to return to WKU. Center Matt Horton is transferring from the program.
Assuming Bassey stays in the draft, Tolu Smith, Moustapha Diagne and Marek Nelson are the only returning big men that have played meaningful minutes for the Hilltoppers.
Stansbury used the early signing period to address the frontcourt. Newcomers Nick Ongenda and Isaiah Cozart will give the Hilltoppers size off the bench. Forward Carson Williams will also
be eligible after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. With the addition of the former Northern Kentucky big man, WKU will have three Kentucky Mr. Basketball winners on the same roster for the first time in program history. Williams, who was named Kentucky Mr. Basketball in 2016, joins Justice (2015) and Hollingsworth (2017).
With most of the 13 roster spots filled for next season, Stansbury will have to be selective with the remaining few. According to a tweet from Jon Rothstein, WKU has reached out to St. John’s transfer LJ Figueroa. The swingman averaged 14.4 points per game on 51% shooting last year.
Even with the roster not fully set, Stansbury is starting to put the final touches on a team he hopes can compete for the Conference USA Championship next March.
Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 270-745-6291 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.