By LARRY VAUGHT
Western Kentucky basketball coach Rick Stansbury never minded competing against Kentucky when he was at Mississippi State, both as a head coach and assistant coach. Same when he was an assistant at Texas A&M.
He would love a chance to play UK again now that he’s at Western Kentucky but he knows a regular-season game with Kentucky is not likely.
However, he does believe his Hilltoppers can not only be a top 25 team this year but a top 25 team every season.
“I do not look at Western as a mid-major,” Stansbury said this week at the Louisville Quarterback Club. “We can be as good as anybody in country. What is Gonzaga? What is Butler? What is Xavier? One thing Western has over all three of them is more tradition. Western just hasn’t done it consistently lately. What is Wichita State now?
“My challenge is to mmake sure that everybody looks at Western Kentucky that way. We don’t have to take a backseat to anybody. Our program can be as good as anybody’s program.”
Western is one of nine schools that has had consecutive top 20 recruiting class. HIs first class at Western was a consensus top 10 class and his 2018 class was ranked 19th by Rivals.com.
When Stansbury took over at Western, he told fans to get season tickets then before they were gone to 8,500-seat Diddle Arena. Four of the final five games last year sold out and less than 200 season tickets remain this year.
“When Diddle is packed, it is special,” Stansbury said. “It’s returning to the way it used to be. I want fans hanging out of the rafters and knocking on the door to get in. We have 18 sky boxes. We have a new sound system, new video board. I have better stuff at Western Kentucky than I had at Mississippi State.”
Western went 27-11 last year — the most wins for the Hilltoppers in 10 years — and reached the NIT semifinals. It beat teams from the ACC, SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten. The Hilltoppers are 25-6 at Diddle in Stansbury’s two seasons.
“If a team isn’t good, it doesn’t matter if you have 23,000 fans like they do at Rupp Arena,” Stansbury said. “Players win the games. But when you have players and an atmosphere like we can have at Diddle, then you can have something special.”