In the backyard, all the way at the end, on the other side of the pool, in the grassy part, sits Rick Stansbury.
He’s positioned himself at the head of a long, white folding table. And in the warm October sun on an otherwise cool day, his flock has come to hang on his every word.
Members of Western Kentucky’s cheerleading squad and a number of WKU students, both groups rabid about information regarding this year’s team and the upcoming season, are entranced by each syllable that the 58-year-old is spewing.
I imagine Wolf Creek’s finest was stressing the importance of being a part of college athletics and how those experiences can shape one’s time at a university. It’s on his greatest hits album.
You look away from that picture for the smallest of moments, then look back, and like a scene out of the French cartoon Madeline, Stansbury is walking back toward his house, the children following two-by-two as happy as they can be. They’re all headed inside to check out – among other things – the coach’s collection of stuffed rattlesnakes.
Now, I was there, too, with my wife and son and other members of the media and a few of Stansbury’s staff members. And like a seventh-grade field trip we filled that 5,500-foot square manor poking our little heads in every nook and cranny while border collies Buddy and Cash circled around and through us in what they must’ve thought was the greatest day ever.
This last exercise was the finale of a Sunday afternoon at the Stansbury compound in Alvaton. It was there that Stansbury had invited WKU students – many of whom have joined the spirit club “Rick’s Rowdies” – to come get to know the 2018-19 Hilltoppers while they in turn dealt out hot dogs and chips and cookies and drinks.
(Charles Bassey, Western’s prized five-star recruit, anchored the service line in front of a large cooler and handed out cold beverages much like how he’ll be handing out blocked shots this year.)
It was an interesting scene, to say the least, and one I would imagine doesn’t materialize most places around the country. A cookout for the team at coach’s house? Sure. With the student section? And the cheerleaders? And staff? And… media!?
I get asked a lot about the future of Stansbury as Western Kentucky’s basketball coach. Shoot, even after he went 15-17 his first year there were there unsubstantiated rumors he had one foot out the door to take a job at Louisiana State.
Those rumors will undoubtedly start again – whether they come sooner or later, I don’t know – but they’ll be there. Because Stansbury has his best team yet at WKU in just three short years. The Tops are legitimately two-deep with an NBA prospect (actually, maybe more than one) and with good reason are picked to win Conference USA.
Western will be winning a lot this year and winning at a high level. National media outlets will be in and out of campus more often. Professional scouts have already been frequenting Diddle Arena. Expect the Tops to be sprinkled throughout national highlight shows nightly as well.
Above all else – the Hilltoppers are a likable bunch. Like, a really good group of guys. And as a sports writer I have to be guarded in my position so as not to become the chummiest of chums with ‘em.
That’s a tough task. Moustapaha Diagne is about the friendliest and most-genuine human being you’ll find. Junior college transfer Matthew Horton was the first person to greet me and my family at the door Sunday. Lamonte Bearden made it a point to come over and say hello. All Bassey was concerned with Sunday was helping a toddler learn how to walk with practice laps around the patio.
Did I mention they all love to dance?
As the sun began to set Sunday and the attendees began to disperse, one couldn’t help think that Stansbury and wife Meo and their three sons have it pretty good here in Bowling Green. Undoubtedly, a fan base starving to return to glory has now thrown their unwavering support in the family's direction while buying into all the ideals the former Mississippi State coach has been selling since his arrival in March of 2016.
Western Kentucky has a loaded roster and a daunting schedule and will be performing in front of sold-out home crowds all year long. With the way Stansbury continues to recruit we would have to expect all those trends to continue for years to come.
I don’t know how long Rick Stansbury will call Bowling Green home. What I do know is you should enjoy his tenure whether it last six more months or 16 more years (and I lean toward the latter coming to fruition).
Something special is cooking when it comes to Hilltopper basketball. Better hop on the bandwagon now.
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop