The official start of practice is just around the corner for the WKU Hilltopper Basketball team, which will take the court together for the first time early next week.
“You start to see everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and how you can make your teammates better,” senior forward Justin Johnson said. “You work to their advantages and veer away from their weaknesses and help them out – make them look better on the court, too. Always that month before you start playing is huge for any team, and it’s going to be huge for this team.”
Johnson is the only returning starter for the Hilltoppers, who feature eight newcomers this season.
Johnson has led WKU in scoring and rebounding the last two seasons and paced Conference USA in both rebounding and double-doubles in 2016-17.
He’ll be joined in the senior class by walk-on guard Tyler Miller, the only other returning active player from last season, as well as graduate transfers Dwight Coleby and Darius Thompson.
Coleby and Thompson come from Kansas and Virginia, respectively, and they’ve competed in a combined five NCAA Tournaments.
Each will take on a larger leadership role than they did at their previous schools, which has been part of the offseason challenge for them.
“One of the big steps I’ve been trying to work on is being more of a vocal leader,” Thompson said. “I’m always going to do the right thing, and I’m going to lead by example. But my big thing is being a vocal leader and coming in and stepping up and trying to give guys steps to help them get better.”
The Hilltoppers add more NCAA Tournament experience from redshirt junior guard Lamonte Bearden, who took Buffalo to the Big Dance twice. The roster also features four freshmen in a nationally recognized recruiting class.
WKU had the chance to build chemistry over the summer with a foreign tour to Costa Rica. On top of bonding time and three victories over international competition, the Tops also got 10 coveted days of practice before leaving for their trip.
“I think we got a great head start,” Coleby said. “If we were just starting practice now, we’d have to learn all the defense. But I feel like the younger guys have a handle on what’s going on the defensive end and offense, so it should be easier when we start practice.”
Fans will get their first look at this year’s squad at the annual Hilltopper Hysteria event at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13 at E.A. Diddle Arena.
WKU plays its first exhibition game against Campbellsville on Nov. 1 and opens the regular season at home against Missouri State on Nov. 10.
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WKU Athletic Communications/Media Relations