Bowling Green, Ky. — Western Kentucky University Director of Athletics Dr. Wood Selig announced Sunday at a press conference on the main floor of E.A. Diddle Arena that Ken McDonald has been named the school’s new head men’s basketball coach.
McDonald — who was an assistant on the Hill for five seasons under Dennis Felton — replaces Darrin Horn, who accepted the same position at South Carolina Tuesday. He has been an assistant at Texas the last four years.
“I had what I perceive to be an incredible job at Texas, so it was going to take a truly special situation for me to consider leaving,” McDonald stated. “I’ve been on different benches the last 14 years waiting for an opportunity like this. The two main reasons I’m here today are the leadership of [WKU President Dr.] Gary [Ransdell] and Wood and trust that they want to continue to grow the program, and I truly believe this is a job with no ceiling.”
“Six days ago, we learned that we were going to have a basketball coaching search. We formed a committee very quickly with a goal to find the best fit,” said Selig. “As we concluded our interviews, his passion, his energy and his commitment came through. There was no doubt in our mind that Ken represented the best coach for WKU.”
As an assistant under Rick Barnes, McDonald has helped guide the Longhorns to a 106-35 (75.2%) record during that stretch, which is the most victories in a four-year period in school history. UT has advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, topped the 30-win mark and picked up a pair of Big 12 Conference regular-season titles in two of the last three seasons, while also qualifying for the NCAA Tournament the other two years.
Three Longhorns have earned Associated Press All-America honors the last three seasons, with Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin named to the first-team each of the last two. In all, UT has had five All-Americans, two Big 12 Players of the Year, a pair of Big 12 Freshmen of the Year and seven individuals pick up all-league honors in McDonald’s time with the program.
Off the court, led by Augustin — a first-team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American — the school had a conference-best six players named to the Academic All-Big 12 Teams, which included four first-team selections. In seven of the last nine semesters, UT basketball has posted a team grade-point average of 3.0 or higher as 12 of 14 players on the roster achieved the feat in the fall.
Texas just completed a 31-7 campaign last month by reaching the Elite Eight, setting school records for total wins, regular-season victories (26), home wins (17) and wins away from home (14). The Longhorns went 15-5 against schools that competed in this year’s NCAA Tournament including victories over UCLA, Kansas and Tennessee, which made UT the only school in the nation to defeat three teams in the top five of the AP’s final regular-season rankings, and they also claimed the Big 12 regular-season title.
The Longhorns recorded a 25-10 mark in 2006-07 despite starting four freshmen and a sophomore, while the year before they set the previous school record after going 30-7 en route to a regional championship game appearance in the NCAA Tournament. UT also won 20 contests in his first season on the staff.
Prior to joining the staff at Texas, McDonald was an assistant at Georgia under Felton during the 2003-04 season. The Bulldogs qualified for the National Invitation Tournament after winning 16 games that winter, including a sweep of the NCAA Tournament’s top overall seed Kentucky as well as a win over eventual national runner-up Georgia Tech, despite playing with just seven scholarship players.
In his five years at WKU, McDonald helped the Hilltoppers earn three straight Sun Belt Conference regular-season and tournament championships as they competed in the NCAA Tournament each year. In addition to winning 100 games during that time, the Toppers recorded a 76-20 (79.2%) mark over the final three seasons. His efforts helped five different players — David Boyden, Chris Marcus, Derek Robinson, Patrick Sparks and Mike Wells earn all-league honors, while two other individuals he helped recruit (Nigel Dixon and Anthony Winchester) would eventually go on to claim that distinction as well.
“Once it came open, this was a position that was obviously close to my heart because of the good times and success that we experienced here from 1998-03,” said McDonald. “I am very proud of what we were able to accomplish while I was here, but also feel that there is still unfinished business.
“I’m anxious to get out in the community and reconnect with our longtime supporters while also getting to know new fans who I didn’t have a chance to meet the first time I was at WKU.”
McDonald’s first stint as a coach under Barnes came from 1994-98, when he was an assistant at Clemson. In four years, the Tigers were 74-48 (60.7%) while making the NCAA Tournament field three straight seasons for the first time in school history. That included a trip to the Sweet 16 in 1997, a year in which CU would climb as high as second in the national polls.
His efforts on the recruiting trail have helped six classes earn top-75 national rankings, with two of those coming while he was on the Hill — WKU’s 1999 class was considered 30th in the country, while the recruits of 2002 were 75th. Each of the last three classes have been ranked among the top 25, with the Longhorns’ ’06 group finishing fifth nationally. Six of his recruits have earned McDonald’s High School All-America recognition.
During McDonald’s 14 years as an assistant, he has worked with teams that have qualified for national postseason play on 12 occasions including earning 10 berths in the NCAA Tournament, and he has been a part of five squads that have won conference regular-season championships. Individually, six players garnered All-America accolades, five were chosen league Player of the Year, five were selected conference Freshman of the Year and 18 earned all-conference distinction.
And, 10 players who McDonald has worked with have gone on to either be selected in the National Basketball Association draft or sign contracts with teams in the league.
“We had an incredible pool of candidates for this job,” Ransdell said. “We started with 30-40 great names in college basketball, but it was a very thorough and expedient process.
“I am impressed with Ken’s resolve, and after hours of conversation I agree with his fundamental points including that there is no ceiling for this program. He’s been an assistant for two of the most respected men in the business in Dennis and Rick, I have known them both for years and respect what they tell me. What they said is that he’s the best they’ve ever seen.”
As a player, McDonald was a two-year letterwinner at Providence — helping the Friars advance to the quarterfinals of the NIT in 1991 — before earning his bachelor of science degree in 1992. In 50 career appearances, he averaged 5.6 points and 1.5 rebounds per outing, hitting 66 three-pointers while connecting on 92 percent from the foul line. He earned National Junior College Athletic Association first-team All-America honors at the Community College of Rhode Island, where he set the school scoring standard as well as single-game, season and career three-point records in two years prior to attending PC.
Prior to joining the staff at Clemson, McDonald played professionally for the St. Paul Revelles in Killarney, Ireland, while also serving as the organization’s coach from 1992-93.
“We are so happy for Ken and his family,” said Barnes. “I obviously go back a ways with Ken, from the time when he played for our teams at Providence and later worked as an assistant on our staff at both Clemson and here at Texas. It is almost like he’s grown up before our eyes.
“The thing that I’m most excited about for Ken is that after he spent the five years as an assistant at Western Kentucky, he has always referred to the head coaching position at WKU as a dream job. I know what a great passion he has for Western Kentucky. We’re excited to see him earn this opportunity, and we all wish him the best.”
The 38-year-old McDonald and his wife Angie — a former women’s basketball player at Clemson who worked in the WKU Athletic Department in both academic advising and marketing during the couple’s first stay in Bowling Green — have one daughter, Ella Grace, who was born Jan. 24 this year.