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May 20, 2008

McDonald returns to WKU to keep building

Ken McDonald was sure he wanted to build a house when he returned to the city of Bowling Green as the new coach at Western Kentucky.

But after a few days of looking around and checking out real estate - and realizing everything else he had on his plate - he and his wife decided an existing house would be just fine.


Name: Ken McDonald.
Age: 38.
Head coaching record: First year as a head coach
Other coaching stops as assistant: Clemson (1994-98), Western Kentucky (1998-2003), Georgia (2003-04), Texas (2004-08).
Notes: Played for Rick Barnes at Providence, then spent eight seasons as an assistant to him at Clemson and Texas. Spent six seasons under Dennis Felton, the first five at Western Kentucky.
His decision on a house mirrors that of his decision to take his first head-coaching job at WKU. The program already is built, in part because of the work McDonald did in his first stint with the Hilltoppers as an assistant to Dennis Felton from 1998-2003. During that five-season span, WKU won 100 games, including a 76-20 mark and three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in the final three seasons.

The 2007-08 Hilltoppers are coming off a magical run to the Sweet 16, their first since 1993. McDonald realizes he won't be stepping into the same program he did in 1998, when WKU was coming off three consecutive losing seasons and a 35-48 overall mark during that stretch.

"I've said this since I got here: There's no one out there who will have higher expectations for this program than myself," McDonald told Rivals.com. "And that goes for my staff. It is a tough year (to follow). It is what it is.

"There's different reasons I'm here. I'm excited about the challenge. Every job has challenges. When I came here as assistant, we were not very good. Here, now, they had a great season. My expectations will be very, very high. The administration knows where we are and where we want to be. It's a program that has greatness written all over it. It's held at a standard that's very high, but that doesn't deter me at all."

He sold WKU president Gary Ransdell.

"I am impressed with Ken's resolve, and after hours of conversation, I agree with his fundamental points including that there is no ceiling for this program," Ransdell said at McDonald's introductory news conference. "He's been an assistant for two of the most respected men in the business in Dennis (Felton) and Rick (Barnes). I have known them both for years and respect what they tell me. What they said is that he's the best they've ever seen."

McDonald has worked for either Barnes or Felton his entire coaching career. He spent two stints with Barnes at Clemson from 1994-98 and at Texas from 2004 until taking the WKU job in April.

He credited both with having shaped his career, while also saying they have vastly different styles. Both guided their teams to the NCAA Tournament this past season, Felton only after Georgia pulled off a stunning run to the SEC Tournament title and earned the subsequent automatic bid.

"I'm fortunate to have been around really good programs," McDonald said. "I've been around good people, not just head coaches but assistants. You take what you want to take from each guy. You have your own philosophy, but you take the good and bad from each guy. I know it's important for me to surround myself with a staff that will really help."

As a career assistant to this point, McDonald has an apparent affinity for the men behind the man.

"I think it's always important to hire a strong staff," he said. "The staff doesn't get enough credit day to day and behind the scenes, much like the player who doesn't score the points and doesn't show up in the paper. These guys grind it out as ambassadors for the program. They're on the floor with players trying to make them better. They're selling the university and its traditions."

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Barnes said he believes McDonald did all of that well during his time in Austin.

"The thing that I'm most excited about for Ken is that after he spent the five years as an assistant at Western Kentucky, he has always referred to the head-coaching position at WKU as a dream job," Barnes said. "I know what a great passion he has for Western Kentucky."

The challenge for McDonald in 2008-09 will be to rebuild quickly. The Hilltoppers lose guards Tyrone Brazelton (14.4 ppg) and Courtney Lee (20.4 ppg), who were the main reasons for the Sweet 16 run. Also gone is fourth-leading scorer Ty Rogers. McDonald will tinker with current pieces that include guard A.J. Slaughter (7.6 ppg) and forward Jeremy Evans (5.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg), both rising juniors. Evans averaged 11.4 points and 7.6 rebounds from the Sun Belt Conference tournament semifinals through the NCAA Tournament.

McDonald says he'll wait until fall practice to best determine how the pieces fit with what he'd like to do.

"I like to get up and down," McDonald said. "I'm definitely an up-tempo coach. I love skill level; I want to have guys on the floor who can all pass, shoot and dribble. I want to get back to the fundamentals of the game. That's the key component."

Even though the roster has been depleted of two major talents, McDonald feels like he has a leg up as he steps into his first head-coaching job.

"I know the people here," he said. "I know how passionate the fan base is. I know the sell, so to speak. I was here as an assistant for five years. You learn how to take advantage of what you have in recruiting. We did that when I was here, and we have some pieces now. The practice facility is gorgeous; it's a big-time facility. We have the momentum of the Sweet 16. There's some things we'd like to capitalize on."

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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