Coach Ken McDonald
Coach Ken McDonald Interview - (4/22/08)
HH: What makes WKU a “Dream Job” for you? What was it about your time here before that made such an impression on you?
KM: The TRADITION. I was kind of educated about WKU Basketball when we played against WKU when I was an assistant at Clemson. I was never one to study the record books and all that over my career but my head coach at the time, Rick Barnes, while we were getting ready to go to the shootaround before playing WKU, told me, “You have no idea the tradition we’re about to walk into.” And I said, “No, honestly I don’t.” He said, “This is one of the winningest basketball programs in the country, EVER.” So we went in, this was over ten years ago, and there was some stuff on the walls….the banners, the records and so on, and I was blown away. I mean I was blown away…..and that started a respect for what’s going on at WKU, the illustrious tradition of WKU. And then coming in later as an assistant under Coach Felton, you really learn the passion side in terms of the fans and the administration. And then when you envision an ideal situation in which to coach you say, Okay, I want passionate fans, great tradition and you want an athletic director and a president that you feel like you’re on one team working towards one goal. And for that all to be together in one job, I just don’t think it happens very often. And coming from Texas WKU was really one of the only ones that I would consider.
HH: Since you left the Hill in 2003 how do you feel you’ve grown as a coach and a recruiter?
KM: What you learn is, every day and every year you get better. I’ve had an opportunity to play for Rick Barnes at one phase in his career and work for him in another phase…..to work for Dennis Felton, when he was a first-time head coach, and it was of great value in seeing how he did it. And then getting back with Rick Barnes when he was at a different point in his career at a different situation at Texas. So, there are several different things to learn each day and each year. Coach Barnes and Dennis….their approach is different in a lot of ways but the blueprint and the foundation is pretty similar. So, you take from each situation, you form your own identity, and you kind of move forward, but the biggest thing I learned is you just have to keep evolving, you have to keep growing. You can never feel like you’re there. Rick has a saying, “Proud peacock today, feather duster tomorrow.” And I think it’s true. You just have to keep moving forward
HH: The facilities at WKU were just starting to be renovated when you left in 2003, what are your thoughts on the improvements there and how do you think the facilities compare nationally?
KM: Well, they’re incredible. I would put our facilities up against anybody’s and I’ve seen a lot. And I’m coming from a place (Texas) where there is pretty much no budget, so I’ve seen the best. The commitment is so apparent when you come to WKU just by walking into the facilities. It’s pretty incredible to be able to coach here. If we just get kids on campus we feel like we’re going to have an incredible shot because the facilities do blow you away and nationally I would argue they are in the top ten percent. And we have to continue to grow and I know the administration is committed so we’re going to constantly move forward in that regard. I would argue that the facilities at WKU would be in the top tier of the Big 12 and that’s saying a lot.
HH: Have you spoken with Coach Felton since you got the job at WKU and did he give you any advice?
KM: We spoke over the phone a couple of times and he congratulated me and he was very excited for me. He was very proud. Dennis is a terriffic guy and he was absolutely just a great person to work for….great vision, a hard worker. I learned a lot from him. He had some little pieces of advice but at the same time he feels like, along with Rick (Barnes), that they’ve helped get me ready for this opportunity so he wasn’t overbearing with advice. He just basically wanted to congratulate me and lend a hand if I had any questions I wanted to ask. Which I really respect, as he wasn’t just calling trying to tell me what to do.
HH: Do you think we might see some more games with Georgia after our series with them ends this season and maybe also with Texas sometime down the road?
KM: (Laughing) That depends on recruiting to be honest. I was talking to Rick when this process was going on and he jokingly said he would do a 1 for 9 series. But we’re going to try and really work on the schedule and try and take it to another level. Scheduling is really hard, make no bones about it but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try. You just have to make it a quality game for people to want to play and sometimes you have to get creative with that, as to where you play or sometimes a 2 for 1 situation. I’m telling you, as a player, I hated playing in games not fun to play in, so I don’t want to make it like that for the players. But at the same time I don’t want to put us in a position where our players might end up lacking confidence, I want them to have some success too. So, there’s a fine balance there. You’ve got to play some home games, you’ve got to play some away games and you’ve got to play tough opponents and then somehow you have to bring it all together with the schedule and the dates and that’s hard somtimes.
HH: I know back when you were here with Felton you guys recruited internationally on occasion….will that be a priority with your staff now?
KM: Absolutely. I think the international market is great. One-third of the players in the NBA draft are international players and there’s a reason for that. The skill level and talent….and they play basketball year around and their club teams stay together and are well-coached year round. So I’m excited to get that going. I thought Filip Videnov and Todor Pandov really did good stuff on the Hill. I’m definitely one that loves international recruiting and our staff will take advantage of that.
HH: Will you look for a certain type of player as far as size or skills that may be somewhat different than what Coach Horn recruited?
KM: I don’t think so. I want winners….I want guys that will compete….I want guys that really embrace winning….and there’s no question, championship effort is going to be what we talk about daily. Because if we take care of that in terms of preparation……and off the court in how we handle our academic responsibilities…..how we take care of our practices each day…..how we do in the weight room…..all of those things, if we have championship effort we’re going to be exactly where we want to be night in and night out. So, it’s not so much the player, it’s the character. You want to recruit talent but I want guys that are serious about winning and serious about being student-athletes.
HH: Can you give us a brief rundown of your three assistants and what they bring to the mix?
KM: Sure. I couldn’t be happier with the staff I hired. Ray Harper brings a wealth of experience. He’s an incredible coach. He’s been a mentor and a coach longer than my basketball career and he simply wins everywhere he goes. And he hasn’t had a job with the resources that we have here, not even close, and look what he’s done. He’s pretty amazing, a pretty amazing coach and a pretty amazing record, but he’s also a great guy and a great mentor for these players. So, I’m really excited about his experience. He’ll help me on the bench obviously with his experience and in recruiting he’s a hard-working assistant. I got to know Ray a little bit when I was at WKU. We haven’t kept in touch a ton but I’ve watched him from a distance and have obviously been amazed. I really didn’t realize that he played at Texas until I got to Texas as a coach and a couple of times we practiced at his facility in Oklahoma City so we spent some time talking a little Xs and Os. He’s an impressive coach. I don’t have that much ego that I’m concerned about another coach helping me coach because I’m going to make my share of mistakes so I would rather have guys around me that know what they’re doing so if they do have a suggestion it’s a good one (Laughs). Lawrence Brenneman I got to know when I was an assistant at WKU. The first tournament I went to I sat down and ended up sitting near Lawrence. He was a junior college at the time and then he went on to be the associate head coach at Binghamton University in upstate New York. And like Ray, I’ve seen him with resources not nearly what WKU has but still have very good success. He’s a hard-working guy…..junior college coaches, they have to replace their whole team almost every year. So you have to be able to recruit well to do that. He was part of a team at Binghamton that went to the top tier of the league in a very short amount of time and he was a big part of that. He’s a terriffic recruiter, and once again, an older coach that’s been around. He’s a teacher, he’s a mentor and I’m very excited to have him aboard. David Boyden exemplifies exactly what I want from a recruiting standpoint, what our team should stand for, and he’s ties in all the tradition and the championship effort and attitude that I want with the team. From the time we recruited David I knew he was a star, I knew he was a classy guy, I knew he was a hard worker. He just has all the things that you want in a guy that’s representing the university. He’s a rising star, there’s no question that he’s going to be an incredible asset to the team, he’s going to be an incredible mentor to the players because he’s a guy that you can point to in the locker room and say, “This guy’s been there. This guy’s done that.” He came when we were in the vision-phase. I mean he didn’t have a locker room to walk into that we could point to. He just had to go on what we were selling him and he bought into it and he came and did nothing but win his whole career. So, it’s exciting for me to have him back on the Hill and I think he’s going to be a Star.
HH: Do you have any personal thoughts or ideas on how to get Diddle Arena filled up on a regular basis, aside from winning of course?
KM: I think it’s really important for the community and our basketball program to feel like everyone is in it together and that’s the biggest thing I want to create. I think when there’s like an ownership and there’s a feeling that you’re a part of the team, I think we’ll have the numbers. I know we’re going to put a product on the floor that makes people proud and that makes the fans and the university proud, but you have to be involved in the community and they have to know you, so you have to reach out and touch them and let them have a sense that they can get to know you. I want to do that not only myself but also my staff and my team. So, we’re going to have a lot of fun as we get acquainted here and get to know everybody. I’m a “people person” and so is my staff and I feel like our players are just really friendly, good guys. So, we’re going to have a lot of fun in the community and we’re going to be approachable. To me, that’s a big part of getting the arena sold out. Obviously we have to put a product on the floor that we can relate to, that people enjoy and that people want to come back and see. We’re going to make Diddle a hard ticket….sellouts are important, so if we can get some momentum going and get the fans embracing what we do on the court I think it’s going to snowball.
HH: Do you have any early thoughts on the returning players?
KM: They’ve been so receptive, I’m very proud of them. The only thing that I asked of them when I was here the first couple of days is, “Just give us a chance. We won’t let you down.” I told them I was putting together what my thoughts were for the team in terms of how we were going to play. I talked a little bit about expectations, how I’m going to expect a lot out of them. But the biggest thing is I just want them to get to know us as a staff and form their own opinions. So, they’ve done that, they’ve been incredible and very, very upbeat. They’ve worked hard, we’ve been in the gym some together kind of feeling each another out and I’m excited with the effort. There’s been a lot of guys putting extra time in on their games. I’m huge with player development, that’s going to be the biggest thing on my mind, day to day are you getting better and could you add a little bit to your game that you didn’t have yesterday because if you get better individually you get better as a team and I think they’re going to understand that and feel that. This program will always be about the players, it always should be. So, they’ve been great, I’ve been really excited with their response. We’ve got some great guys from A-Z, they’re all good guys.
HH: What’s it going to take make the head coaching job at WKU something more than a four of five year stint for a young coach like yourself?
KM: My opinion is you have to do it over a long haul, you can’t have the speedbumps along the way, you have to be consistent with it and you have to keep going forward. You look at Gonzaga, I think they’ve been to 9 straight NCAA Tournaments. If you build the program and you constantly grow, you’re going to do that. And I have no doubt, because of my relationship with Wood and Gary, that IF an opportunity comes forward for me to consider I have no doubt that Dr. Ransdell and Dr. Selig are going to do their part to keep things going. As long as it keeps growing then everything is going to be great and I’ve got to do my part there too. Rick Barnes had a great piece of advice for me one time….he said to never take a job that you’re not prepared for that to be your home for the rest of your life. So that was a criteria and that limits places but it didn’t limit WKU. It’s going to be a great run, I can’t imagine a better team in terms of the administration, the fans, the facilities, the town…..I’m just so excited to be here it’s hard to think in terms of five years from now.
HH: Do you have any closing statements for all the Hilltopper fans out there?
KM: I think the biggest thing to know is that NOBODY, and I mean this, NOBODY will put greater expectations on our team than our staff and our players. So, we’re always going to work towards our ultimate goal and that’s to represent the university with class and to win, basically those two things. There will never come a time where the expectations will be greater than what we put on ourselves. And I think if everybody understands that that kind of helps because everyone wants to do the right thing and everyone wants to win. We’re always going to do things in a class manner but we’re also going to put a premium on putting a team on the floor that can win every game we step on the floor. There’s a lot of things that go into championship effort and we hope to put them all together and roll with this thing and grow with this program.