Don’t mention the word “rebuild” around Rick Stansbury.
When Stansbury was introduced as Western Kentucky’s head basketball coach in late March, he made it abundantly clear that the Hilltoppers were not in rebuilding mode, stating his intentions to be competitive in Conference USA from day one of his tenure.
It was a bold statement coming from someone who inherited an 18-16 team with no returning scholarship guards on the roster. Stansbury, never short of confidence, was banking on selling the WKU program to top recruits and finding transfers to bridge the gap. It would be a challenge, given the fact that he was already behind on the recruiting trail and still needed to fill out a coaching staff, but if anyone could do it, Stansbury was the man.
With little time and while still piecing together a staff, Stansbury went to work.
Stansbury started the summer with a bang, making the nation’s biggest recruiting splash of the year by receiving a commitment from 2017 five-star center Mitchell Robinson. Robinson originally committed to Stansbury while he was an assistant for Texas A&M, but decommitted from the Aggies and ultimately chose WKU over multiple SEC schools.
Robinson’s commitment brought WKU instant attention in the transfer market, and led to additional commitments from highly sought-after Buffalo transfer Lamonte Bearden and former Syracuse commit Moustapha Diagne. Meanwhile, Stansbury’s hiring of assistants Shammond Williams and Quannas White brought WKU immediate credibility in AAU recruiting circles and has led to the Hilltoppers being in the mix for several top high school prospects.
While Robinson’s commitment was the biggest news of the summer, the pieces Stansbury added for the 2016-17 season were equally impressive, given the short amount of time he had to work with.
Needing experienced, proven backcourt players, Stansbury dipped into the graduate transfer pool early on in the summer and convinced Que Johnson (Washington State) and Junior Lomomba (Providence) to come to WKU. The two compliment each other perfectly: Former four-star recruit Johnson is a pure scorer who shot over 40 percent from deep last season at Washington State, while Lomomba, who started 35 games for Providence last season, is known for his stingy defense.
Together, they make a serviceable tandem that should be able to help the Hilltoppers compete in Conference USA this season while their younger players develop. Lomomba will likely take over the team’s point guard duties, while Johnson will be the Hilltoppers’ primary perimeter scorer. Both are big guards with good length that should give opposing defenses — and offenses — plenty of trouble.
Most coaches would have been happy with the additions of Johnson and Lomomba and turned their attention to recruiting for 2017, but Stansbury wasn’t finished. On Sunday, the Hilltoppers picked up another grad transfer commitment from All-Name Team candidate Pancake Thomas.
Thomas averaged 18.9 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game last season at Hartford, and will give the Hilltoppers another experienced shooter to pair with Johnson on the perimeter. It also gives the Hilltoppers more lineup options: Stansbury can choose to go with a three-guard lineup consisting of Johnson, Lomomba and Thomas, or bring Thomas off the bench in a sixth-man role. Either way, the addition of Thomas completes what is suddenly a very experienced backcourt for WKU.
Although the trio of Johnson, Lomomba and Thomas hasn’t yet played a game together, it appears on paper that Stansbury is holding true to his promise of making WKU respectable again and competing for a conference title. The three graduate transfers, paired with what was already a deep, experienced frontcourt led by top returnee Justin Johnson and Tennessee transfer Willie Carmichael, move the Hilltoppers from a middle-of-the-pack team in Conference USA to among the conference favorites this upcoming season–which is just the way Stansbury envisioned it.
Not bad for a coach who didn’t have much time to build a program.