Bowling Green, Ky. — One of the winningest coaches at the NCAA Division II and NAIA levels, an NAIA All-American and a former Hilltopper who helped lead the school to three straight NCAA appearances highlight the staff of first-year Western Kentucky University head basketball coach Ken McDonald. Ray Harper, Lawrence Brenneman and David Boyden have all joined the staff, it was announced on Thursday.
“The biggest criteria I had in putting together my staff was finding the best teaching mentors specifically for Western Kentucky University,” said McDonald. “As a first-year head coach, I wanted to surround myself with experienced guys who can recruit and provide leadership. I had those thoughts in my mind the last few years, but I really targeted these three because I felt they were the best overall fit for this university.
“This staff has won a lot of championships, which is what I want this program to be about. When this head coaching job opened up I had three coaches in mind that I would like to work with if I came to the Hill, and I was able to get all three — I couldn’t be happier about the staff that we’ve been able to put together.”
In 12 seasons as a head coach at Oklahoma City and Kentucky Wesleyan Harper has compiled 342-63 (84.4%) overall record, winning four national championships while reaching the title contest on five other occasions. He helped guide OCU to a 95-17 (84.8%) mark the last three seasons, with the Stars claiming each of the last two NAIA Division I national championships. OCU ended the 2007-08 campaign 31-7 in claiming the national title, while the Stars finished the previous year 35-2 en route to the national title. In his first year leading the program, Oklahoma City posted a 29-8 mark and a runner-up finish in the NAIA Tournament.
Harper’s record as head coach at Kentucky Wesleyan was 247-46 (84.3%), as he helped the Panthers win the NCAA Division II national championship in 1999 and 2001. KWC won 30 or more games six straight years from 1998-03, an NCAA record, claiming five Great Lakes Valley Conference regular-season and five tournament titles in his time with the program. The Panthers were 35-2 on the way to winning his first national title, while the ’01 squad posted a 31-3 finish.
Harper has been named the Division II national coach of the year three times, also earning the honor once with OCU following last year, and he has been selected conference coach of the year on seven occasions as well as the region coach of the year twice. Through seven seasons, he had more victories than any coach at the Division I and II levels. Harper reached 200 wins in 224 games, which was faster than Division I record holder and Hall of Famer Clair Bee, who won 200 in 231 games.
He has also coached on the international level, having led USA Basketball men’s junior team to a 7-1 record and a fifth-place finish at the FIBA World Championships in Greece.
Harper was an associate head coach at KWC for 10 years prior to earning head coach status, aiding the Panthers as they put together a 235-66 (78.1) record. They won the 1987 and ’ 90 Division II national titles, also reaching the tournament two other times. He got his start in the coaching profession as a graduate assistant at Virginia Commonwealth during the 1985-86 season.
“I’m excited to be at WKU and working with coach McDonald. I think he is going to do a terrific job,” Harper commented. “Like coach said during his introductory press conference, I don’t think there’s a ceiling on what we can do at WKU. Kentucky is home to me, I knew this is where I wanted to be. WKU has had a lot of success in basketball — it’s a special place, I have always kept up with the program. I am happy and excited to be a part of it.”
A 1985 graduate of Kentucky Wesleyan, Harper was a two-year starter for the Panthers after transferring from Texas. He became KWC’s first All-American as a senior, and he also earned most outstanding player in the regional, all-region and all-conference accolades. The 1981 Southwest Conference Rookie of the Year after averaging 9.8 points and 3.9 assists per outing, Harper finished his college career with 1,187 points and 605 assists at the two schools.
Harper, who hails from Bremen, Ky., scored 3,033 points during his high-school playing career, earning all-state honors as a senior and district player-of-the-year accolades twice. He earned his master’s degree from WKU in 1995.
“I don’t know that there is a coach out there who I could get to join our staff with the experience that Ray has. I got to know him when I was an assistant here and watched from afar with a lot of respect for what he was able to accomplish at Kentucky Wesleyan,” McDonald said. “We were able to reconnect when I was at Texas after he moved to Oklahoma City. It’s been amazing to watch his career and to see how consistently he has performed at a high level. Ray is a great mentor, a great person, a great coach and a big-time recruiter — he brings a lot of qualities to the table.
“My ego was not a factor in this decision. I’m looking to be able to gain from his experience.”
Brenneman has been an assistant at Binghamton the last eight seasons, helping the Bearcats record 105 victories as they moved from the NCAA Division II to the Division I level. In his first year on the staff, BU won 14 games while reaching the championship game of three different in-season tournaments. The next fall they began the process of moving to Division I, joining the America East Conference and finishing ahead of three schools. The Bearcats improved to 9-7 in the league — which was fourth in the standings — and posted a 14-13 overall mark the following year, including earning victories over regular-season champion Boston University and tournament winner Vermont.
In their first season of eligibility for the AEC tournament, 2003-04, the Bearcats recorded a 10-8 league mark en route to a fifth-place finish. BU earned its first-ever America East Conference Tournament win the next year after defeating Albany in the quarterfinals. Brenneman helped the program go 12-4 in the conference and 16-14 overall in 2005-06, as the Bearcats were second in the regular-season standings and advanced to the semifinals of the league tournament.
After winning 13 contests two years ago, Binghamton once again posted a winning conference record last winter after going 9-7 in league games.
Brenneman spent four seasons as an assistant at Seward County Community College, helping the Saints to a 98-38 (72.1%) mark including a berth in the semifinals of the 1998 National Junior College Athletic Association tournament. They would finish 35-3 (92.1%) that year after claiming the NJCAA Region VI Tournament championship.
“WKU has a strong tradition throughout the years. What really drew me to the university was the commitment to the program,” said Brenneman. “They’ve been to the Final Four, made the NCAA Tournament 20 times, and have had numerous legendary coaches. I’m really excited about working with coach McDonald, I’ve known him over the years, and the enthusiasm he brings to the program. The fact that he has been here before is important because he knows the lay of the land.”
Brenneman also has eight years experience as a head coach at the high school level, leading Andover (Kan.) HS to an 88-34 (72.1%) record from 1989-96 — the school would qualify for the state tournament in his final season guiding the program — while posting a 48-16 (75%) mark in two years at Wichita High. He was also an assistant at Tabor (Kan.) College during the 1986-87 campaign, helping the school to a 19-7 (73.1%) finish.
A 1985 graduate of Geneva (Pa.) College, Brenneman earned NAIA All-America honors on the court after being selected a Kodak All-American and all-state twice at Hillsboro (Kan.) HS. He would go on to earn his master’s degree from Wichita State in 1992.
“I first met Lawrence when I came to WKU and was on the road recruiting. We ended up sitting together at a tournament on my first trip,” McDonald stated. “He was an assistant at a great junior college then, which meant that he had to help replenish the roster every year. You have to recruit a ton of players, and you need to be good to maintain your program at a high level. We’ve known each other for 10 years now, and have kept in touch as he has helped Binghamton make the transition to the NCAA Division I level and move into the upper level of their league.
“I’ve watched Lawrence enjoy success at schools where it may have been a little tougher. I’m impressed with his experience, his leadership and his ability to recruit.”
Boyden lettered on the Hill from 2000-03, helping the Toppers win 24 or more games each of his final three seasons as they would claim Sun Belt Conference East Division and tournament championships while advancing to the NCAA Tournament. He started 123 of the 125 contests he appeared in — the first figure still ranks second on the school’s all-time list — while the 3,283 minutes Boyden played are the sixth-highest total in WKU history. In four years, the Richmond, Va., native scored 1,167 points, which stands 27th on the career list, grabbed 650 rebounds and handed out 130 assists while recording 64 steals and 32 blocked shots.
He was named first-team all-SBC as a junior after collecting 11.3 points and 6.1 boards per game, and was a second-team all-league selection his senior season after posting 12.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per outing. Boyden was also chosen to the 2003 Sun Belt all-tournament team after helping lead WKU to its third straight title. After both his first and last years, he was presented the E.A. Diddle Award — which is given to the Hilltopper who best displays leadership, character, loyalty, ability and love of fellow man, and was initiated by the Bowling Green Civitan Club in 1971 in honor of the Hilltoppers’ legendary coach — at the program’s postseason banquet.
The Toppers finished 24-7 overall, going 14-2 in the conference, in 2000-01, earning the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth in six years. His efforts would help WKU to a 28-4 finish and another Sun Belt East Division and tournament championship the following winter, when it would end the regular-season 19th in the Associated Press poll. The Hilltoppers went 24-9 in his final campaign, claiming 12 straight games en route to another SBC division and tournament title — WKU would fall in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament by just five points to nationally ranked Illinois.
“It’s great to be back among so many friends and familiar faces. I’m looking forward to being able to build on those relationships as a coach on the Hill,” Boyden said. “It’s a great honor to be able to impact this program not only as a player, but from the sidelines as a coach. I’m thrilled to be a part of the staff that coach McDonald has put together, being back with him and knowing that he is a winner is a big reason I returned to WKU. He’s been around a lot of great programs, I think we can continue that here. We have an exceptional group of guys who are ready to help the program continue to succeed.”
After earning his undergraduate degree from WKU in 2003, Boyden joined former Hilltopper head coach Dennis Felton on the staff at Georgia. He was an administrative assistant during the 2003-04 season before ascending to director of basketball operations in 2004-05. Boyden has been a full-time assistant at Eastern Kentucky the last three years, where he helped the Colonels advance to the 2007 NCAA Tournament after claiming the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship. In his three seasons at EKU, the Colonels always finished with a .500 record in league play — they were 13-7 in the OVC, 21-12 overall in 2006-07 — to earn a berth in the conference tournament.
“I think David is a big-time coach who is going to be a star,” said McDonald. “He embodies how I want the student-athletes we bring into the program to represent the university. David was a blue-collar player, he is a graduate of Fork Union Military Academy and he exhibits class — I know that he will represent himself and the program in the way I want us to be viewed. I think he is going to be an incredible mentor to the players, he’s just young enough for them to really respect what he has been able to accomplish on the court and in the phase of his career where he has grown into a respected college coach.
“David has won championships here, and he will bring us energy, enthusiasm and a dedicated work ethic — that was a huge plus in my mind.”
“Everything we do will be a group effort,” McDonald added. “I know sometimes the head coach gets credit for most of what goes on in the program, but they’re the guys who do most of the work and all the little things to make the program better. A lot of what people don’t see behind the scenes is dependent on the assistants. Being able to bring these three to the Hill thrills me about the future of WKU basketball.”