Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association, Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Ohio Valley Conference
Head Coach: Edgar Allen "E.A." Diddle (1x OVC Coach of the Year, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer (1972) and National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Famer (2006))
Record: 759-302 (121-51 in conference)
Conference Regular Season Champions: 1949, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1960, 1961, 1962
Conference Tournament Champions: 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1943, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1954
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 1940, 1960, 1962
NCAA Tournament Sweet 16: 1960, 1962
NCAA Tournament Elite 8: 1940
Photo Courtesy of WKU Athletics
WKU Basketball ("Western Kentucky State Normal School" at the time) had been in existence for about three seasons prior to Diddle’s arrival. From 1914-16, J.L. Arthur coached the newly established Hilltopper basketball team with to an overall record of 7-2. Due to international tensions leading up to and during World War I, WKU would be without a basketball program for five years. In 1921, a familiar name would take over for the Hilltoppers after their hiatus: L.T. Smith. While more recognized as a WKU Football coach, it was not uncommon for coaches to “tackle” (pun intended) multiple sports. Today, Smith’s namesake is displayed upon WKU Football’s stadium and scoreboard.
While the efforts and lasting effects Arthur and Smith had on the program should not be overlooked, this story picks up steam when a Gradyville, KY (Adair County) native took the reigns of a relatively fresh-faced WKU Basketball team.
In 1922, E.A. Diddle came to WKU at the young age of 27: the same year the school was renamed to "Western Kentucky State Normal School and Teachers College." Additionally, Diddle coached football, baseball, women's basketball, and track. However, he spent the vast majority of his tenure with men's basketball.
It was during Diddle's 42 seasons with WKU Basketball that Diddle accumulated awe-inspiring accolades. He became the first coach to ever coach 1,000 games at one school. And when Diddle stepped down, he had more wins than any other coach in NCAA history (759-302 overall); today, Diddle ranks around #31 in that statistic. With 10 regular season championships, 17 conference tournament championships, 3 NCAA Tournament appearances, 2 Sweet 16 appearances, and 1 Elite 8 appearance, Diddle and the Hilltoppers were a force to be reckoned with.
Diddle had an immediate impact as did his players. During Diddle’s tenure, he recruited and coached the likes of Carlisle Towery, John Oldham (we will discuss him very soon), Tom Marshall, Bobby Rascoe, and Darel Carrier: all of which have had their jersey retired and hung on the rafters in E.A. Diddle Arena. Towery was a 2x All-American selection and was the first Hilltopper to score 1,000 points. Likewise, Marshall was also a 2x All-American, second team Associated Press selection with 1,909 career points 545 free throws, and 1,565 career rebounds, . Rascoe scored 1,687 points, was a 3x all-Ohio Valley Conference team selection, and an All-American selection. Carrier scored 1,318 points in just 69 games (3 seasons), averaged 19.1 points per game, scored 50 points in one game against Morehead State, and was an All-American selection. After WKU, Towery, Oldham, Marshall, Rascoe, and Carrier all moved on the professional playing careers. In all regards, these men were fundamental in the building and continued growth of WKU Basketball.
Ohio Valley Conference
Head Coach: John Oldham (4x OVC Coach of the Year)
Record: 142-40 (81-17 in conference)
Conference Regular Season Champions: 1966, 1967, 1970, 1971*
Conference Tournament Champions: 1966, 1967
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 1966, 1967, 1970, 1971*
NCAA Tournament Sweet 16: 1966, 1971*
NCAA Tournament Elite 8: 1971*
NCAA Final 4: 1971*
Photo Courtesy of WKU Athletics
In 1942, a Hartford High School Basketball alumnus (now Ohio County High School) and All-State honor recipient - John Oldham - was recruited and came to "Western Kentucky State Teachers College" to play for Coach Diddle. Meanwhile, in international news, World War II began three years prior; however, the United States - who sought non-interventionism as part of the Neutrality Acts - did not enter war until after the Japanese bombed an American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Now, back to Mr. Oldham. After Oldham's freshman season on the Hill, Oldham served in the U.S. Navy for three years during the war (WKU Alumni Association). Oldham returned to Western Kentucky State Teachers College in 1946. As a player, Oldham scored 1,006 points in his collegiate career, and was a United Press and Associated Press All-American. In 1949, Oldham was drafted in the 2nd round of the Basketball Association of America (BAA) by the Fort Wayne Pistons.
After his brief career as a Fort Wayne Piston (now Detroit Pistons), Oldham returned to Bowling Green, KY to coach the College High (now Ogden College) basketball team. In his first year, the team advanced to the state tournament (WKU Alumni Association). Then, Oldham took on the collegiate head coaching role at Tennessee Tech. It was during his nine years with Tennessee Tech that the Golden Eagles finished and/or tied for 1st in the Ohio Valley Conference (1956, 1958, 1963). Success for Oldham seemed inevitable.
Upon Diddle's retirement in 1964, John Oldham found himself in a familiar place, however, in different shoes as "Western Kentucky State College" Basketball's head coach. It did not take long for Oldham's destined success to kick into high gear.
Coach Diddle marked the end of his tenure by recruiting two of the first African-Americans to integrate WKU's program in the fall of 1963: Clem Haskins and Dwight Smith. And it was Oldham who was able to reap the benefits of Diddle's stellar recruiting. Haskins ended his career on the Hill as a 3x All-American, OVC Player of the Year, All-Conference honoree, and 4th all-time leading scorer at the time (11th today) with 1,680 career points. He also scored the most points in a single game: 55 against rival Middle Tennessee State University (January 30, 1965). Haskins was the 3rd overall pick in the 1st round of the 1967 NBA Draft: selected by the Chicago Bulls. Smith - a Princeton, KY native and Dotson High School valedictorian - had a tremendous playing career at WKU as the nation's top rebounding guard is sophomore (11.3) and senior (11.9) years. He was the the 6th all-time leading scorer for WKU with 1,142 points (now 33rd) and was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1967 NBA Draft. However, a tragic car accident took the life of Smith and his sister on Mother's Day weekend in 1967: a humble, rising star's life taken too soon.
Haskins and Smith, along with Steve Cunningham and every other Hilltopper during Oldham's tenure exemplified the program's best and were formative in the continued development and influence of Western Kentucky Basketball. In Oldham's first three seasons as head coach, the Hilltoppers went 66-15 (37-5 in conference), were 1st place in the OVC twice ( 1966 and 1967,) made it to the NIT 2nd Round (1965), appeared in the NCAA Sweet 16 (1966), and appeared in the NCAA Round of 23 (1967).
The 1966 Sweet 16 team would end in both delight and disappointment. Haskins declared that WKU was the most talented team in the country, and, arguably, they were. However, the Hilltoppers' run in the NCAA Tournament came to a devastating conclusion when a controversial foul call on a jump ball - a call that is considered one of the worst in NCAA Tournament history - thwarted WKU's lead and chance to advance in the tournament; the Hilltoppers were defeated 80-79 at the hands of the University of Michigan...and poor officiating. In that same tournament, Texas Western (later UTEP) beat the Kentucky Wildcats in a game dubbed the Brown vs. Board of Education of college basketball, as Texas Western's African-American starters beat Ketucky's white lineup (The New York Times, 2008). The vocal Haskins remarked:
"There should have been no 'Glory Road.' We'd have played Kentucky in the next game and beat them and there wouldn't have been a 'Glory Road.'" -Clem Haskins
There is often wonder and doubt when a coach departs for another program, or retires from the game, concerning how well the succeeding coach will recruit. IF there were ever any doubts surrounding Oldham, they were silenced with Scottsville, KY native Jim McDaniels. By the end of McDaniels' junior season, the 6'11" power forward/center had already joined the 1,000 point club. And upon the conclusion of his senior season McDaniels had accumulated 2,238 points (still tied for 1st in all-time leading scorers) and 1,118 career rebounds.
Two years after the Civil Rights Movement, tensions were still high. In the fall of 1970, Coach Oldham was questioned by two members of the Board of Regents to discuss a decision he had made that would, ultimately, shape WKU athletics. One member boorishly asked if Oldham intended on starting five black players. After Oldham confirmed that he was, the board member threatened to stop attending games (he did, in fact, stop attending) and did not return as a board member the following year (WKU Herald, 2014) (The New York Times, 2008). Oldham and the Hilltoppers continued to receive harsh criticism and threats for some time. But the forward thinking of Oldham would triumph over the naysayers and allowed WKU Basketball to press onward.
That same season, Oldham led the Hilltoppers to the 1971 NCAA Tournament which included a 101-83 victory over Adolph Rupp's Kentucky Wildcats. In a KET documentary, Basketball in Kentucky: Great Balls of Fire, Coach Oldham explained that he kept a folder on Coach Rupp. When Oldham had recruited McDaniels and Jim Rose, Coach Rupp made a statement that McDaniels and Rose could not "academically" get into Kentucky. Oldham used Rupp's statement to fuel his Hilltoppers, telling KET:
Of course the day before we left [for the tournament], I took that write-up on the bulletin board where Coach Rupp said they weren't smart enough to play at Kentucky. I didn't have to worry about them [the team] being ready. -John Oldham
The Hilltoppers made it to the Final 4, lost to Villanova, then defeated Kansas for a 3rd place finish. However, years later, the NCAA vacated WKU's finish due to allegations that the Carolina Cougars of the American Basketball Association (ABA) made an offer to McDaniels and he agreed to sign with the professional team before the end of his collegiate career.
Ohio Valley Conference
Head Coaches: Jim Richards (1971-1978); Gene Keady (1978-1980)
Record: Richards (102-84; 60-38 in conference); Keady (38-19; 17-7 in conference)
Conference Regular Season Champions: 1972, 1976, 1980
Conference Tournament Champions: 1976, 1978, 1980
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 1976, 1978, 1980
NCAA Tournament Round of 32: 1976, 1978
NCAA Tournament Sweet 16: 1978
In the story that is WKU Basketball, you will find that many players and coaches had previous connections to one another and/or WKU before their playing or coaching career. For Jim Richards, it was no different. Richards - an Adair County, KY native - had only played basketball for one year at Adair County High School. It was Coach Diddle - a fellow Adair Countian - who approached and recruited Richards to play baseball at WKU. Richards was a member of the Hilltopper Baseball team from 1955-58. At this point, it should come at no surprise that Diddle gave many coaches their first "break" (and those coaches would give more Hilltoppers their big "break"). After Richards' collegiate career, Diddle encouraged Richards to officiate high school basketball which, eventually, led to the hiring of Richards as head basketball coach at Auburn High School (Logan County, KY). After Auburn, Richards went to Glasgow High School, where he led the Scotties to a state championship in 1968.
Ohio Valley Conference, Sun Belt Conference
Head Coach: Clem Haskins (1x OVC Coach of the Year)
Record: 101-73 (49-37 in conference)
Conference Regular Season Champions: 1981, 1982
Conference Tournament Champions: 1981
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 1981, 1986
NCAA Tournament Round of 32: 1986
Photo Courtesy of WKU Athletics
Sun Belt Conference
Head Coach: Murray Arnold (1986-1990); Ralph Willard (1990-1994); Matt Kilcullen (1994-1998; Ron Brown & Al Seibert coached last 6 games in 1998 season)
Record: Murray Arnold (71-54; 29-27 in conference); Ralph Willard (81-42; 46-20 in conference); Matt Kilcullen (59-49; 42-30 in conference); Ron Brown & Al Seibert (3-3).
Conference Regular Season Champions: 1987, 1994, 1995
Conference Tournament Champions: 1993, 1995
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 1987, 1993, 1994, 1995
NCAA Tournament Round of 32: 1987, 1993, 1995
NCAA Tournament Sweet 16: 1993
Sun Belt Conference
Head Coach: Dennis Felton
Record: 100-54 (54-20 in conference)
Conference Regular Season Champions: 2001, 2002, 2003
Conference Tournament Champions: 2001, 2002, 2003
NCAA Tournament appearances: 2001, 2002, 2003
November 15, 2001
It was a Thursday night in Rupp Arena, and WKU and Kentucky were set to face-off in their inaugural game of the 2001-02 season; they called it the "Pizza Hut NABC Classic." Under head coach Tubby Smith, the Wildcats were ranked #4 in the nation in the preseason AP Poll. Felton's Hilltoppers - the mid-major, Sun Belt team, residing 152.8 miles southwest of the SEC's Kentucky - was not ranked.
Let's talk about the #3 [preseason Coaches Poll] Wildcats. Tubby Smith's squad is absolutely loaded...This Kentucky team is very deep. -Jeff Piecoro, Fox Sports
There did not seem to be much doubt from the Fox Sports commentators: believing Kentucky was too good to lose, especially as the Wildcats' had a couple of McDonald's All-Americans. Not long after the opening tip off, Kentucky's Marvin Stone went for the jump shot and dropped the first 2 points of the game. Immediately commentator Steve Wolf stated:
Well, anybody that tries to [sic]...even sometimes in the nation...they all think they can play here. This is a great place. This is a very big game for in-state teams like Western Kentucky. -Steve Wolf, Fox Sports
As if WKU's David Boyden (and future assistant coach) knew that his team was being marginalized on national television, Boyden cut-off the commentating and responded to Stone's first points of the game with a 3 pointer. In the first 3 minutes and 19 seconds of the game, WKU was up 9-8, all of the Hilltoppers' points coming from 3's, and 6-9 points from Boyden. Despite a 2-3 zone, the Wildcats could not contain WKU. Even with pressure and press down the court, WKU's Todor Pandov found Chris Marcus. Marcus faked the shot, and went for the dunk. With 15:20 left in the first half, WKU was ahead 13-11. It was a back-n-forth affair, and the last 3 minutes and 28 seconds of the game did not see a single point. However, WKU entered the half leading 32-30. One of the Wildcats' keys to the game was to put pressure on Marcus. Although Kentucky successfully did so (to an extent), and WKU was not able to feed the post quite to their liking, the Hilltoppers still found a way to compensate. Felton played 11 players in the first half citing the depth and talent of the Hilltoppers: even including the small 6'0" guard, Patrick Sparks. He then added, "We are obviously far from a 'one-man' team."
The second half was a different story. Kentucky was only able to put up 22 points in the entire second half. WKU had no problem exploiting the growing number of issues with the Wildcats squad. Kentucky shot 34% from the field, went 2-18 in 3-point range, was 12-24 in free throws, and turned the ball over 20 times. The Hilltoppers' won 64-52; Boyden scored 15 points and Marcus posted 13 points and 10 rebounds.
We weren't nervous. We showed that it doesn't matter what type of players you have or if you're ranked. We worked as a team and showed how talented we really are." -Dennis Felton
Sun Belt Conference
Head Coaches: Darrin Horn
Record: 111-48; 57-21 in conference
Conference Regular Season Champions: 2006, 2008
Conference Tournament Champions: 2008
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 2008
NCAA Round of 32: 2008
NCAA Round of 16: 2008
Leading up to WKU Basketball's 2007-08 campaign, the Hilltoppers were 82-41 under Coach Horn. They had achieved two 2nd place finishes in the Sun Belt's East Division, one 1st place finish in the East, one Sun Belt Conference Championship runner-up, one Sun Belt Conference Championship, one NIT 1st round appearance, and one NIT second round appearance. The team was reliable, consistent, and mature; however, something was missing. There was still an untapped potential, and it was just a matter of time before Horn's squad clicked on all cylinders.
On March 21, 2008, the #12 seeded Hilltoppers were set to face the #5 seeded Drake Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament. Drake was riding on a 21-game winning streak. The game is a blur to even the most dedicated fans. It was a back-n-forth affair which featured Drake overcoming a 16 point deficit in the final 8 minutes of regulation and led 99-98 after the Bulldogs' two free throws with 5.7 seconds to play in overtime. For it was the events in the final 5.7 seconds of the game that is forever embedded in not only Hilltopper Nation's mind, but all spectators' minds, as well.
Tyrone Brazelton - who had scored a career-high 33 points - raced across mid-court and passed it to Ty Rogers, whose 3 point buzzer-beater from the wing (26 feet to be exact) gave the Hilltoppers their first NCAA Tournament victory in 13 years. Without a hitch, Rogers threw up his arms with both index fingers' indicating a "#1" as he flew about the court like an airplane: the image would become synonymous with the game and WKU's run in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. The play became otherwise known as "The Shot." Rogers - an Eddyville, KY native - would be awarded an ESPY for "Best Finish."
Sun Belt Conference, Conference USA
Head Coach: Ken McDonald (2008-2012); Ray Harper (2012-2016)
Record: Ken McDonald (67-48; 36-19 in conference); Ray Harper (90-63; 42-34 in conference).
Conference Regular Season Champions: 2009
Conference Tournament Champions: 2009, 2012, 2013
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 2009, 2012, 2013
NCAA Tournament Round of 32: 2009
4 Wins in 4 Days
After a treacherous couple of months, the Hilltoppers found a glimmer of hope on March 3, 2012. In the first round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, WKU defeated Florida International (8-21) 67-63. One day later, their next matchup was against Arkansas-Little Rock who would likely be more of a contender as the Hilltoppers were 12-18 and the Trojans were 15-16. Arkansas Little-Rock had earned a bye from the first round as a #2 seed; however, the Hilltoppers found a way to defeat the Trojans 68-63. WKU had already achieved, what felt like, the impossible given the season's circumstances. Some fans were reluctant to become too excited, while others felt like they were witnessing something special.
Although a #3 seed and one seed lower than Arkansas Little-Rock, the Denver Pioneers were 22-8 heading into the conference semifinals. It was a close game, but George Fant's - the nephew of WKU-great Jim McDaniels and current Seattle Seahawk offensive tackle- 19 points, Kahlil McDonald's 14 points, and Derrick Gordon's 7 points and 6 rebounds led WKU to a 67-63 victory against Denver. WKU led 65-63 when Denver missed a 3-point attempt and rebounded, but Gordon swatted the shot, and McDonald got the rebound, then made the final two free throws to put away the game.
WKU was set to face the #5 seeded North Texas in the championship game: leaving fans shocked. If WKU lost, they still would have advanced further than imaginable. If WKU won, Harper had done the unthinkable.
The Mean Green led by as many as 13 points in the second half. Just as the Hilltoppers had done throughout the season and tournament, they rallied. As the came closer and closer to an end, WKU took the lead for good at 70-68 after Kahlil McDonald made a 3-pointer. Teeng Akol would score 23 points, and George Fant scored 17 to lead the Hilltoppers to a 74-70 win over North Texas. The win secured the team's first NCAA tournament berth since 2009.
"This season has been unbelievable. A coaching change...Everyone was down on us before we got out here, saying we weren't old enough, mature enough, we couldn't guard some of the people we obviously guarded here. It speaks for itself." -George Fant
WKU Basketball is more than just a statistic; however, those statistics assuredly make an argument in defense of WKU being one of the most historic programs in the nation: #17 in the nation in all time victories, #9 in the nation in winning percentage #3 in the nation in regular-season conference titles, and 7th in the nation in 20-win seasons. WKU Basketball has 22 NCAA Tournament appearances, which puts the program at #41 in the nation, #1 in CUSA, and in the top 12% in that statistical category: having more appearances than teams like Memphis, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Florida, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Wichita State, and so on.
There are many stories and adjectives that describe the tradition and legacy that is “WKU Basketball:” none of which will fully encapsulate the century-worth of history. There are simply not enough words to convey the impact WKU Basketball – coaches, players, staff, and so on – has had on the university, community, state, and nation. So whether you are attending a basketball game or waving the Red Towel, know that you are in the presence of legends...know that this story has only just begun.