The official start of the college basketball season is Friday. Western Kentucky is still officially without two of its players.
Coach Rick Stansbury awaits word from the NCAA on whether or not freshman Josh Anderson and/or redshirt-sophomore Moustapha Diagne will be eligible to play for WKU this season. The coach has not been told when that word will come.
“We get ‘em back, all that’s gonna do is make us better, when that time comes,” he said. “When that is? Don’t even ask me. I got no clue.”
Anderson, from Baton Rouge, arrived on campus in August after completing his academic work for Madison Prep Academy. It was while he attended school there that major floodwaters in January of 2016 displaced many students and athletes – including Anderson.
Anderson’s coach Jeff Jones told the Springfield News-Leader in January, “FEMA and Red Cross and whatnot were overwhelmed. It did put a little bit of strain (on players attending basketball practice). Instead of living at home with a 10-minute commute to the school, you're living in hotels an hour away.”
Diagne’s case dates back to the spring of 2016 when the now redshirt-sophomore entered his name in the NBA’s draft process without hiring an agent after playing the 2015-16 season at Northwest Florida State, a junior college in Niceville, Fla. Unlike NCAA rules, NJCAA rules do not allow players to return to that level of competition after declaring their intentions to turn pro.
The native of Senegal enrolled at WKU in August of 2016 as a traditional student and was not a part of the basketball program until this past summer. He played at Pope John XXIII High School in Sparta, N.J., and had originally intended to sign with Syracuse in 2015 before it was determined he was not an academic qualifier.
While awaiting for an answer may be frustrating to Stansbury and his program, he said he’s not dwelling on something he has no control over.
“I can’t think about it a lot because we got games to play,” Stansbury said. “Nobody feels sorry for us. We’re not making excuses. We gotta play with what we got. I like the effort and the guys we have. And that’s who we have right now. That’s where our focus has got to be. Our focus can’t be on those other two guys.”
The absence of Anderson and Diagne from games has been one problem, but has also trickled over to the practice court, Stansbury said. While that duo, Austin Peay transfer Jared Savage and walk-on transfer Jalen Baker are all available to practice, none are available right now when the lights go on.
That’s forced the second-year WKU coach to be be mindful of the eight players he does have going into the start of 2017-18 schedule.
“We can’t let bad habits slip into your team, so we’re gonna go hard. We just can’t go as long. I gotta avoid as much injury stuff as I can avoid,” Stansbury said. “There’s some drills I normally do more of – I like putting that rebound ring up on that rim and throwing it up there and going to get it. Well I’ve been more cautious with that because a body at 75 percent right now is probably better than not having one at all.
“But as long as the guys, I feel like, are giving me great effort, I gotta keep making that work as long as I can. Getting (Lamonte Bearden) back (from an ankle injury), that’ll give us eight bodies that can play. That’ll help us in the flow of that game some, too.”
Western Kentucky opens the season at 7 p.m. Friday against Missouri Valley Conference preseason favorite Missouri State. Eleven days after that it will take the floor in the Bahamas against No. 6 Villanova.
The Hilltoppers will have to play those games whether Anderson and/or Diagne can suit up or not.
“All I know is we got a lot of good opponents on our schedule that’s gonna keep coming,” Stansbury said. “They’re not gonna cancel any games.”
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop