Stansbury: Tops to take preseason trip to Costa Rica

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Rick Stansbury, hired by Western Kentucky nearly one year ago, did not have a whole lot of time to bond his first team of Hilltoppers.

He’s changing that in 2017-18.

The first-year WKU coach said Monday on his weekly radio show that his second team on The Hill will go international to begin the process of pursuing a championship.

“You’re only allowed to do it once every four years – we’re planning on doing it this summer,” Stansbury explained. “Planning on doing it in August. Planning on going to Costa Rica to play four games in a seven or eight-day trip.”

Stansbury said WKU will travel to the Central American country in mid-August and is able to use 10 days of practice before then. And while the games against international competition will be beneficial, it’s the practice workouts that will pay dividends come October and November when most other teams are still trying to figure each other out.

“You get 10 days of practice and it’s invaluable. Ten days of practice is a lot,” he said. “What it allows us to do, too, is evaluate your guys and their strengths and weaknesses so when October comes, whatever you need to tweak, you’re not trying to tweak in October vs. in November when games start.

“Now you can go in, have a better feel for young guys and some new guys and putting parts together. It’ll be big for us.”

While the Tops struggled to a 15-17 record in Stansbury’s first year, the former Mississippi State coach was busy stockpiling a dangerous roster for Year Two. He signed three high school seniors of high-caliber talent – McDonald’s All American center Mitchell Robinson (Chalmette, La.), state champion winner and four-star guard Josh Anderson (Baton Rouge, La.) and possible Kentucky Mr. Basketball winner Taveion Hollingsworth out of Dunbar High School.

Then, Stansbury got Buffalo guard Lamonte Bearden to transfer in and forwards Moustapha Diagne and Robinson Idehen to enroll at WKU. Walk-on guard Miles Weber is also expected to join the program.

“It will be a new team. In every way,” Stansbury said. “I wanna believe, now we understand, kinda what we have here. The players we got coming in here – seen ‘em, recruited ‘em. I think the guys we got have a lot of potential.”

Western Kentucky loses five seniors from this year’s squad, but should return junior forward Justin Johnson and junior walk-on guard Tyler Miller, redshirt-sophomore forward Jabari McGhee and freshmen guards Tobias Howard and Damaris Parris.

Shortly after WKU’s trip to Costa Rica, the new-look Hilltoppers will leave the country again in November to take part in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas where 2016 national champion Villanova, Pac-12 Conference tournament champion Arizona, Big Ten Conference regular-season winners Purdue, 30-game winners and American Athletic Conference champs Southern Methodist, Tennessee, North Carolina State and Northern Iowa will all be waiting.

Preparing for that tournament can now begin a lot sooner than originally planned.

“The new guys that you bring in can go on the (Costa Rica) trip. That’s what’s good about it,” Stansbury said. “High school kids can go and we’ll try to get as many as those kids we can in school. Now you have a chance to see, mix your guys together a little bit, see what you got. More importantly than that, you get a chance to do this with ‘em: Put ‘em together, do some things, spend some time and start developing that chemistry.

“To be able to do that? The playing is great, but the practice time, and the time these guys can spend together is more valuable.”

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop