With four of their top five scorers from last season’s 20-win team having moved on, Western Kentucky enters in the 2015-16 season in need of options to step up alongside junior guard Chris Harrison-Docks. One possibility on the perimeter was guard Kristaps Gluditis, a native of the Czech Republic whose perimeter shooting ability was praised by head coach Ray Harper earlier this summer.
Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, Gluditis will not be with the team this season according to the Bowling Green Daily News. The reason is that Gluditis, who is eligible to compete by NCAA standards, did not meet the school’s academic standards for international students. In regards to college basketball Gluditis has three options at this point according to the report: retake the exam in hopes of joining the team midyear, enroll at a junior college or enroll at another four-year school since he’s cleared by the NCAA.
Without Gluditis additions such as grad student Aaron Cosby, junior college transfer Fredrick Edmond and freshmen Chris McNeal and Marlon Hunter Jr. have an even greater opportunity to earn minutes than they did when it was assumed that Giuditis would be joining the WKU program. Each of those players will need to step forward to relieve some of the pressure due to be heaped upon Harrison-Docks.
Harrison-Docks, who led the Hilltoppers in minutes per game (33.6 mpg) and started 30 of the team’s 32 games, averaged 11.1 points per contest in 2014-15. After Harrison-Docks WKU’s most productive returnee is junior forward Ben Lawson, who averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.
Former Seton Hall, Illinois guard to finish career at Western Kentucky
Having lost two productive perimeter players at the end of the season in T.J. Price and Trency Jackson, Western Kentucky head coach Ray Harper added some depth to his backcourt Thursday afternoon. Aaron Cosby, who’s had stops at Seton Hall and Illinois, will join the program for his final season of eligibility according to Zach Greenwell of the Bowling Green Daily News.
Provided he go through with plans to complete his studies at Illinois Cosby will be eligible immediately for the Hilltoppers, who finished the 2014-15 season with a 20-12 record. In a conversation with Greenwell, Cosby cited his familiarity with Harper and the WKU program as reasons for his decision.
“Ultimately, the opportunity to go back home and play for guys that have known me since my freshman year of high school was big,” Cosby said. “They know my game. They saw me play AAU, prep school, high school. That was important.”
Expected to be part of the Illinois backcourt rotation after playing two seasons at Seton Hall, Cosby played in 19 games (starting 13) before being suspended indefinitely in late January for a violation of team rules. In February, head coach John Groce announced that Cosby would be leaving the program at the end of the season.
Cosby averaged 7.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game for the Fighting Illini but he didn’t shoot particularly well in doing so, making 29.3 percent of his shots from the field and 31.1 percent from beyond the arc. Cosby shot much better during his time at Seton Hall, shooting 37.7 percent from three as a freshman and 40 percent as a sophomore before deciding to transfer.
Provided he get back to the numbers he posted in his first college stop, Cosby can be a solid addition for the Hilltoppers alongside Chris Harrison-Docks, who averaged 11.1 points per game in 2014-15. Harrison-Docks, who began his career at Butler, is WKU’s leading returning scorer with forward George Fant joining Price and Jackson as players who have run out of eligibility.
In addition to Cosby, WKU will add junior college transfer Fredrick Edmond and freshmen Chris McNeal and Marlon Hunter Jr. to the perimeter this summer.
Junior college transfer guard requests scholarship release from Western Kentucky
Sprewell played in just three of WKU’s first seven games, averaging 0.3 points and 1.7 rebounds in 7.7 minutes per contest. The hope of having a more substantial role is the reason why Sprewell has made the decision to transfer.
Three of WKU’s top four players in minutes played, T.J. Price, Chris Harrison-Docks and Trency Jackson, are guards with Price and Harrison-Docks both playing more than 31 minutes per game. With that being the case, minutes proved to be tougher to come by for Sprewell.
According to Greenwell’s report, while WKU head coach Ray Harper was hopeful that Sprewell could earn more time as the season progressed he also made note of the fact that Sprewell was still figuring things out.
“The other kid that we think has a chance, and we’re trying to get him to come along is Sprewell,” Harper said following the team’s game against Murray State on Sunday. “He’s probably more gifted than the other guys, but he’s still trying to figure some things out, especially on the defensive end.”
Western Kentucky, which is 3-4 on the season, plays at Ole Miss on Saturday.
Western Kentucky will lose an experienced senior guard at the end of the semester as Kevin Kaspar is planning on playing professionally in Europe after graduating in December.
The 6-foot native of Turkey will return there to try to kickstart his pro career as he’s seen his minutes dwindle as games have started. Kaspar played 21 minutes in the Hilltoppers’ season opener, only to see his minutes go down nearly half in each of the next three games. Finally, against Saint Joseph’s on Saturday, Kaspar didn’t play and he took to Twitter on Tuesday to announce his decision:
Kaspar was averaging 10 minutes a game and 2 points per game during his senior season. Kaspar averaged at least 15 minutes per game in each of the three previous seasons and was a career reserve for Western Kentucky. This shouldn’t be a major loss for the Hilltoppers, but Kaspar was very experienced.
Conference realignment has been rampant the last few seasons, and Conference USA is still feeling the effects of it heading into the 2014-2015 season. Gone are East Carolina, Tulane and the league’s lone NCAA tournament team from last year, Tulsa. The conference welcomes in Western Kentucky as its newest member. If you’re scoring at home, that’s nine new programs and seven former members since 2013.
At least one thing looks to remain certain in 2014-2015, Louisiana Tech should finish atop the conference standings. The Bulldogs were one of four teams — Tulsa, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss — to share the regular season title with a 13-3 record. Like previously mentioned, Tulsa left C-USA, Middle Tennessee lost four starters and Souther Miss is starting the Doc Sadler era after Donnie Tyndall accepted the Tennessee position.
Louisiana Tech returns plenty of key contributors, but none more important than head coach Michael White, who was in the conversation for several coaching vacancies this offseason.
The Bulldogs boast the league’s top back court with Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith running the show, Alex Hamilton back as the team’s top scorer and Raheem Appleby, who was sidelined for several weeks last season with an ankle injury. Michale Kyser mans the frontline with his 3.0 blocks per game, and he’ll be an important piece this season, as the Bulldogs’ biggest threat, UTEP, has two talented forwards.
The Miners may have finished fifth last season, but was only a game out of first in the top-heavy C-USA. Tim Floyd’s team is headlined by sophomore Vince Hunter and (12.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Julian Washburn (13.1 ppg). Another team looking to make a run at the Bulldogs is newcomer, Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers join the league from the Sun Belt, and have been to two of the last three NCAA tournaments. Ray Harper’s team is aided by senior guards T.J. Price and George Fant — the team’s top two scorers at 15.5 points and 13.3 points, respectively –who will help with the transition against better competition.
Along with Harper, C-USA has three new coaches. Mike Rhoades came over from VCU to take over at Rice while Michael Curry (Florida Atlantic) and Dan D’Antoni (Marshall) join the conference from the NBA sidelines, despite neither of them having college basketball coaching experience.
In: Western Kentucky Out: East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa
PRESEASON CONFERENCE-USA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith, Louisiana Tech
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged single-digits (7.8 ppg) last year, but he effected the game in so many other ways. He was second in the nation in assists (7.7 apg), was 10th in the nation with a 3.23 assist-to-turnover ratio, and he was also top 10 in the nation in steals at 2.5 per game. The senior guard was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and is the only returning member of the league’s first-team from a season ago.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON CONFERENCE-USA TEAM:
Alex Hamilton, Louisiana Tech: Another member of Louisiana Tech’s heralded back court. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged a team-high 14.5 points per game last season.
Pierria Henry, Charlotte: The 49ers top scorer from a season ago averaged 12.3 points, grabbed 5.1 boards and dished 5.8 assists per game.
Vince Hunter, UTEP: Hunter is coming off a great freshman campaign, averaging 12.5 points and 6.4 boards per game. Part of a talented front court duo with Julian Washburn.
T.J. Price, Western Kentucky: One of the top newcomers to the league averaged better than 15 points per game over the past two years in the Sun Belt.
Western Kentucky head coach Ray Harper has five newcomers joining the program this season, with the group consisting of four freshmen and a junior college transfer. That junior college transfer is Daytona State College guard Ayinde Sprewell, who is also the nephew of former Alabama and NBA wing Latrell Sprewell.
The 6-foot-3 Ayinde averaged 15.1 points and eight rebounds per game last season, and he has the skills needed to help the Hilltoppers in their first season as a member of Conference USA. Home Team Hoops put together a mixtape of some of Sprewell’s best plays, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he made his way onto a Top 10 highlights list at some point in the 2014-15 season.