Ray Harper has resigned as WKU basketball coach

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Western Kentucky athletic director Todd Stewart announced Thursday that coach Ray Harper has resigned from his position. He will remain in paid status through the end of his contract term June 30.

"Earlier today, I informed Todd Stewart that I was resigning as WKU head men’s basketball coach," Harper said through a release. "I feel this is in the best interests of the program; a program I care deeply about. It has been a true honor being a part of this historic program, as both a head coach and assistant coach.

"I want to thank my assistant coaches, our support staff and certainly our players for their efforts, dedication and sacrifices on behalf of me and our program. I also want to thank Gary Ransdell, Todd Stewart and our administrative staff for their support and dedication. WKU Athletics has an outstanding group of people, and there is no better place to work. Finally, I want to thank the Bowling Green community and the Hilltopper Nation for the tremendous support they provided my wife Shannon and I. We were proud to call WKU home, and I wish everyone all the best.”

Said Stewart through a release: “I would like to thank Ray Harper for his many contributions to our program over the past eight years. Today is obviously a very difficult day. President Gary Ransdell and I met with our team a short while ago. We will begin the process of identifying and hiring our next head coach immediately.”

Stewart also announced that Fredrick Edmond, Marlon Hunter, and Chris McNeal have been suspended from the program following the outcome of a hearing conducted by the University Disciplinary Committee on Wednesday.

“Federal law prevents us from public discussion of any details related to student disciplinary cases,” Stewart said. No information concerning the disciplinary charges or outcome will be released by the University, according to the school.

WBKO has been able to confirm at this time that the suspension of the three players was not an academic matter, nor was it NCAA related.

Harper went 89-64 since taking over the program in the middle of the 2011-12 season after former coach Ken McDonald was fired. He led the Hilltoppers to back-to-back Sun Belt Conference titles and NCAA Tournaments in 2012 and 2013, winning over Mississippi Valley State and losing to Kentucky in '12, and losing to Kansas in '13.

A former Kentucky Wesleyan and Oklahoma City Community College, Harper was making a base salary of $500,000. All of his current assistants are still on staff and going about their business as usual, according to a university spokesman.

The Hilltoppers went 18-16 this year and were eliminated in the Conference USA tournament by Old Dominion last week. They are expected to return McNeal, Edmond, and Hunter, as well as Tennessee transfers Willie McGhee and Jabari McGhee, center Ben Lawson, and forward Justin Johnson.

Edmond, a junior college All-American, scored 12.2 points per game and grabbed 5.9 rebounds per contest. McNeal, a freshman, totaled 134 assists to go along with 5.6 points per game. Hunter, also a freshman, played in 32 games and averaged 4.3 points.

Western Kentucky has one signee for the 2016-17 class, guard TJ Howard from DME Academy in Florida. Howard told WBKO on Thursday he has no comment on Harper's resignation.

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop