Western Kentucky will look to a pair of sophomores in 2018-19 to take the WKU program to another level.
Both Taveion Hollingsworth and Josh Anderson are expected to make notable leaps forward with their play – that’s significant for two Hilltoppers who racked up a lot of minutes as true freshmen in 2017-18.
“Remember this, there’s no substitute for experience. There’s no magic pill I can give ‘em or no magic dust you can give ‘em,” WKU coach Rick Stansbury said. “Experience is a very valuable thing. There’s probably not many more freshmen in the country that gained more experience than (Hollingsworth) gained in the role he was in last year.”
A 6-foot-2, 165-pound guard from Lexington, only seniors Darius Thompson (1,354) and Justin Johnson (1,314) played more minutes than Hollingsworth’s 1,312 last year. The Dunbar High School graduate holds the WKU record for points scored in a season by a freshman (506) and was third on the team in scoring (13 ppg), steals (39) and assists (71).
Hollingsworth also shot 48 percent from the field, 37.8 percent from long range and 79.1 percent from the line. Stansbury was often quick to remind anyone who would listen that his diamond in the rough of a recruit also led the Tops in offseason conditioning one summer ago and drew the toughest defensive assignment most nights through the course of 38 games.
The biggest offseason changes for Hollingsworth, beside a new hairstyle and changing his No. 13 to No. 11, has been focusing on his strength.
“I think you’ll see the mental part of his game go to another step now. What I mean by that is confidence. Confidence, that’s a special thing,” Stansbury said. “It’s a little thing but it’s a special thing, especially in athletes. They gotta feel good about who they are in their roles and how they’re playing to be as good as they can be. I think (Hollingsworth) feels terrific about where he’s at. I know I feel terrific about where he’s at. I’ve seen the improvement in him.”
While Hollingsworth proved much of what he could do one year ago, Anderson (6-6, 195) is primed for a breakout season for a myriad of reasons.
A guard from Baton Rouge, La., Anderson didn’t make his Western debut until Jan. 6 while awaiting NCAA clearance. In 23 games, mostly off the bench, Anderson averaged a pedestrian 7.4 points per game.
But now Anderson has had an entire offseason to adjust to the commitment it takes on and off the court in Stansbury’s program. The third-year coach hesitated to called Anderson a, “project,” but did express what areas he has been instructing the guard focus on more than others.
“We’ve gotta get him understanding all the little things you have to do every day over and over and over. You can’t do it one day, one drill – you gotta be consistent. The word with him is being precise. That’s what he has to become,” Stansbury said. “When that becomes a consistent thing in his personal life everyday, you’re gonna see him become a really, really special player with that athleticism.”
What will also help Anderson’s game at the start of the 2018-19 campaign is his work at the point guard spot. With redshirt-senior Lamonte Bearden ineligible until Western Kentucky’s first academic semester ends, Anderson has worked at playing the point guard position throughout the summer and will continue to do so during preseason practice.
As a senior at Madison Prep Academy in Baton Rouge, Anderson averaged 12 points, 42. assists and 2.2 steals while playing that position to help his team to a third straight state championship. Stansbury and his staff also went to great lengths to help the guard improve his shot.
“He’s worked hard on that boomerang he used to have. It looks like a shot now,” Stansbury said. “Like I told him, ‘That’s not gonna be your major role, but it’s something you got better at. Keep elevating your game, it’s gonna be something people gotta respect who you are out there.’
“He’s worked tremendously hard. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at some improvement he’s made in a lot of areas. He’s gotta continue to do it every day, every drill. When he does that, again I’ll repeat myself, I think he’s got a chance to be really special.”
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop