The Perimeter is a column on The Sideline that serves to shine light on the uncovered, the undiscovered, and the unpublished side of the sports world – things you won’t find on front pages. See the rest of the column here.
Western Kentucky Head Men’s Basketball Coach, Rick Stansbury, has no fear in starting over.
Stansbury was an assistant coach at Texas A&M the past two seasons and helped lead the Aggies to two NCAA tournament appearances while advancing to the Sweet 16 this past season. The Sweet 16 run was the farthest a Texas A&M team has ever made it in the NCAA tournament.
Along with the success on the court, Stansbury helped sign a Top-10 recruiting class which is considered one of the best if not the best recruiting class in Texas A&M history.
After being hired in March of 2016, Stansbury is already making an impact at Western Kentucky.
In June, Coach Stansbury picked up his first commitment in the class of 2017. Mitchell Robinson, a 6-foot-11 center from New Orleans, committed to Texas A&M last fall while Stansbury was one of the assistant coaches and the lead recruiter for the program. Soon after Stansbury announced he would be leaving the Aggies for the Head Coaching position at Western Kentucky, Robinson decided to decommit from Texas A&M and decided to take his talents to Bowling Green, Kentucky and play for the Hilltoppers.
Robinson is the 9th ranked player in the Class of 2017 according to ESPN.com and is ranked 6th nationally by 247Sports. What makes Robinson unique is that he is not your typical big man. The 6-11 center is at his best in the open floor. Robinson is a lengthy, physically strong player who will not dominate you in the post but can run the floor like a “deer” and will grab rebounds in his sleep. Along with his rebounding ability, Robinson knows where his teammates are at all times and will find the open man on the perimeter or cutting to the basket. Defensively, Robinson’s length and leaping ability lets him block shots with ease and doesn’t take a possession off with his high motor.
Robinson is being labeled as the biggest recruit to ever commit to a Conference USA school since former NBA MVP Derrick Rose committed to play for Memphis and Coach Calipari in 2007.
Click here to see Mitchell Robinson’s 2016 Summer Highlights
Just when you thought he was done, Stansbury added another player from the state of Louisiana to his already surprising 2017 Recruiting Class.
Josh Anderson, a a 6-foot-4 guard from Baton Rouge, committed to the Hilltoppers a little less than 3 months after Robinson pledged to Coach Stansbury.
Anderson visited the campus over the summer and loved the hospitality of the players and coaches and how welcomed he was there. What really helped the program land Anderson were the ties to Louisiana. Western Kentucky assistants Quannas White and Shammond Williams previously were assistant coaches at Tulane University in Louisiana. While at Tulane, White and Williams recruited Anderson and were able to build a nice relationship with Anderson and eventually persuaded him enough to join them at Western Kentucky.
A four-star guard according to ESPN.com and Scout.com, Anderson is considered one of the most athletic 2-guards in the Class of 2017. Much like Robinson, Anderson excels in transition and is at his best in a up-tempo style offense and finishing above the rim on the break. While he struggles with his consistency from behind the arc, Anderson makes up for it with his pull-up from 15 feet and his ability to create opportunities for his defense.
Along with Anderson and Robinson, Western Kentucky is still in the running for former LSU commit and three-star point guard Cedric Russell who is also from Louisiana. Another recruit Stansbury is in the hunt for is 6-foot-4 shooting guard Jay Jay Chandler. A four-star recruit from Texas, Chandler is also considering the Oklahoma Sooners and Kentucky Wildcats. But according to 247 Sports Crystal Ball predictions, he is 80% leaning towards the Hilltoppers, 10% to Oklahoma and 10% to Coach Cal and Kentucky.
Click here to see Josh Anderson’s 2016 UA Highlights
While Stansbury and his staff are stealing top 100 high school prospects from top programs such as Kentucky, Arizona, Duke, etc. They are also very busy on the transfer market.
Lamonte Bearden, a rising junior who led the University of Buffalo to back-to-back MACC championships, joined the Hilltoppers this summer after transferring from Buffalo. During his sophomore year with the Buffs, Bearden averaged 13.7 points per game which made him the leading point scorer and was relied on heavily for his playmaking abilities.
With addition of Bearden, Stansbury went out and got former Syracuse recruit Moustapha Diagne. A member of the 2015 Syracuse recruiting class that included tourney standout Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon and Frank Howard, Diagne was unable to enroll at Syracuse due to failing to meet academic requirements. The 6-foot-8 Diagne then enrolled at a junior college in Florida where he averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds per game. After the season, Diagne then decided to put his name into the NBA Draft. In contrast with the NCAA, the NJCAA states that if a player declares for the draft then they cannot come back to the school. Diagne withdrew his name from the NBA Draft and then was immediately approached by Rick Stansbury and the Western Kentucky coaching staff. Diagne committed to the Hilltoppers in August which then added another addition to the Hilltoppers’ already surprising loaded roster.
It’s easy to point fingers at Stansbury and bring up the topic of how he is getting all these players to play for him at a school like Western Kentucky. With Stansbury’s past run-ins with the NCAA and violations that he’s been responsible for at Mississippi State, many are curious as to whether Stansbury is recruiting the right and legal way, or he’s giving his recruits certain benefits which draw them into committing to the program.
It’ll be interesting to see if anything comes about after a season or two depending if Stansbury is able to add more recruits and the success of the program. As we’ve seen in years past, not all coaches who can recruit top players are able to coach them. Stansbury has proved he can recruit but he has yet to prove if he will be able to get the players to buy into a team game that’ll make them a successful team throughout the season and a possible dangerous mid-major team in the NCAA tournament.
In the meantime, it’s admiring to see how a coach can change people’s outlook on the program in such a short time and to go along with the fact that Stansbury hasn’t had the opportunity to coach a single game yet at Western Kentucky.
Will this be a continued trend with the Conference-USA program? Or is Stansbury and company’s plan going to be a total fail and his team will fall short of expectations which we’ve seen in the past with coaches who are unable to control their players who were highly touted recruits coming out of high school.