BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Ray Harper, who has 12 years of collegiate head coaching experience including four national championships, has been named WKU’s 14th full-time head coach in its illustrious men’s basketball history, Athletic Director Ross Bjork announced Sunday. Harper has led the Hilltoppers on an interim basis since January 6.
Quotes from WKU President Dr. Gary Ransdell, Bjork and Harper can be found at the end of the release. WKU will be holding a press conference coinciding with an introduction and pep rally at 6:00 Monday night on the main floor at E.A. Diddle Arena. Information about press conference logistics will follow.
Harper’s stellar head coaching resume includes four national championships in 12 seasons at Kentucky Wesleyan College and Oklahoma City University, five national runner-up finishes, eight conference titles, five national coach-of-the-year honors and a remarkable .844 winning percentage after winning 342 of 405 games at his two stops before WKU.
In his nine years at Kentucky Wesleyan in Owensboro, Ky., Harper laid claim to seven NCAA coaching records, surpassing Division I record-holders in all instances, including becoming the fastest to 200 wins (224 games), holding the most consecutive 30-win seasons (6) and compiling the most wins in each of the first four-through-eight seasons of his career.
With NCAA Division II title game appearances each season from 1998-2003, the Bremen, Ky., native became the first NCAA head coach since John Wooden to appear in six-straight NCAA National Championship games.
The NCAA requires a minimum of 10 seasons at the Division II level to officially qualify for its list of head coaching records, but Harper’s nine-year record of 247-46 at Kentucky Wesleyan would give him the best winning percentage in Division II history at .843, topping Walter Harris, who led Philadelphia University to a 240-56 record (.811) in 13 seasons spanning the mid-1950s and 1960s.
After capturing his second-straight NAIA Division I national title at Oklahoma City in 2007-08, Harper accepted a job as an assistant coach at WKU. As a part of head coach Ken McDonald’s staff, Harper was instrumental in WKU’s two 20-win seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10, its 2009 Sun Belt Conference Regular Season and Tournament Championships and run to the second round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
Harper was in the middle of his fourth season as an assistant coach at WKU when he was asked to take over the program 16 games into the 2011-12 campaign. The Hilltoppers were 5-11 at that point, and in Harper’s 11 games as interim head coach the team rebounded and won four games, lost four others by six points or fewer and climbed from last place in the Sun Belt Conference East Division to as high as third in just five games in late January and early February.
With a 75-66 win over South Alabama on February 4, 2012, Harper earned his 250th career victory as an NCAA head coach in just his 300th career game.
Hilltopper Nation responded extremely well after Harper took over on an interim basis. In the nine home games prior to Harper being named head coach WKU was averaging just over 3,000 fans per game at E.A. Diddle Arena, but in four home games under Harper crowds swelled to an average of 5,105 fans per contest.
He helped guide Oklahoma City to a 95-17 mark the three seasons prior to joining the WKU staff, with the Stars claiming two-straight NAIA Division I National Championships. Oklahoma City ended the 2007-08 campaign at 31-7, capturing the national title. The previous year, the Stars were 35-2 and won the national championship. In his first year leading the program, Oklahoma City posted a 29-8 mark and were runners-up in the NAIA Division I Tournament.
In his three years at the helm at Oklahoma City, Harper had six individuals earn NAIA Division I All-American recognition, highlighted by Ollie Bailey, who was selected as the National Player of the Year in 2007-08. In addition, 10 student-athletes were honored on the All-Sooner Athletic Conference Team and six made the NAIA Division I All-Tournament squad. Kameron Gray was named the tournament’s most valuable player in both 2007 and 2008.
Harper’s results at Kentucky Wesleyan were just as impressive, as he compiled a 247-46 record and an .843 winning percentage, and he led the Panthers to the 1999 and 2001 NCAA Division II National Championships. Kentucky Wesleyan won 30 or more games in six-straight seasons from 1998-2003, an NCAA all-division record, and claimed five Great Lakes Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles in his time with the program. The Panthers were 35-1 on their way to winning the program’s first national title in 1999, while the 2001 squad posted a 31-3 finish.
Harper guided Kentucky Wesleyan to a 31-3 record for three-straight years from 2000-02, including winning 90 percent of the Panthers’ league games over that span for a 54-6 mark. Harper’s 1997-98 squad, which posted a 30-3 ledger, advanced to the national title game. Kentucky Wesleyan’s amazing six-year run from 1998 to 2003 included two NCAA Division II titles (1999, 2001) and four runner-up finishes (1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003).
Harper was named the NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year four-straight years from 1999-2002, while earning the honor at the NAIA Division I level once with Oklahoma City following the 2008 title run. He was 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 NCAA Division I and II levels (210). Harper reached 200 wins in 224 games, which was faster than NCAA Division I record holder and Hall of Famer Clair Bee, who won 200 in 231 games.
On February 17, 2008, Harper’s number 12 jersey was permanently retired at Kentucky Wesleyan, and the floor at Jones Gymnasium was named “Ray Harper Court.”
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 2003 FIBA World Championships in Greece.
Harper was an assistant coach at Kentucky Wesleyan for 10 years, including six as its associate head coach, prior to taking over the program. As an assistant, Harper aided the Panthers to a 235-66 record while they won the 1987 and 1990 NCAA Division II National Titles, also reaching the tournament two other times.
In fact, Kentucky Wesleyan won more than 20 contests in each of his first nine years on the staff, beginning with a 28-5 mark in 1986-87. The Panthers followed that performance with a 23-7 finish the following season and then went 24-7 in 1988-89, before posting a 31-2 record en route to the 1990 national title. Kentucky Wesleyan finished 22-8 the next year and was 23-8 in 1991-92 on the way to reaching the NCAA Division II Elite Eight. After recording a 21-6 mark in 1992-93 the school won 23 contests in each of the next two years, including going 16-2 in the conference in 1994-95.
In addition to finishing in the top 20 in the final polls in each of his first six seasons with the school, the Panthers won no fewer than 12 games in the Great Lakes Valley Conference in his time as an assistant.
At Kentucky Wesleyan, Harper coached two National Players of the Year, seven All-Americans and nine individuals who earned NABC Great Lakes All-Region honors. Eleven of Harper’s players were selected for All-Great Lakes Valley Conference honors, including five who were named the league’s player of the year. In postseason play, seven Panthers were voted to the NCAA Division II All-Tournament squad with three selected most outstanding player, while nine earned All-Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament accolades, including four Most Outstanding Player honorees. Off the court, six student-athletes earned academic honors from the conference.
Harper got his start in the coaching profession as a graduate assistant at Virginia Commonwealth during the 1985-86 season.
A 1985 graduate of Kentucky Wesleyan, Harper was a two-year starter for the Panthers after transferring from Texas. He became the school’s first All-American as a senior, and he also earned most outstanding player in the regional as well as all-region and all-conference accolades. The 1981 Southwest Conference Rookie of the Year at Texas 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.
In April of 2010, Harper was named to Kentucky Wesleyan’s All-Century Team. One of 30 members selected to the All-Century team, Harper coached 12 of the players, including six of the top 13 vote-getters.
Harper scored 3,033 points during his high school playing career, earning all-state honors as a senior and District Player of the Year acclaim twice. He earned his Master’s degree from WKU in 1995.
Harper and his wife, Shannon, reside in Bowling Green, Ky.