The faces around Western Kentucky University last season were almost as red as those towels everybody waves during games in Diddle Arena. The Hilltoppers simply flopped, embarrassingly so, in what was supposed to have been a superseason. The final record was 16-10, barely good enough for third place in the Ohio Valley, a tough little conference that Western was favored to stick into its hip pocket. "Our fans have expressed to the players and the coaching staff their disappointment in our season," said Coach Johnny Oldham, with massive understatement. "This year we're working on this thing called togetherness."
With four sophomores starting most of the time, some Western partisans were inclined to attribute last season's problems to "sophomoritis," a view that is slightly naive. Western had the physical ability—nobody came up with a better sophomore center than 7-foot Jim McDaniels—but, as Oldham suggests, the Hilltoppers' demise was due to a sort of spiritual and mental malaise that spread rapidly and then fatally at season's end, when Western lost its last three games. A lack of on-court leadership begat a lack of team play that in turn begat virtual anarchy on the floor. So Oldham closed most of Western's practices this fall and the coaches began trying to restore order.
The catalyst may be 6'1" sophomore Guard Danny Johnson, who averaged 19.7 points for the freshmen but has impressed Oldham more with his passing and ball handling. "We believe he will sort of take command," said Oldham, "because he's the kind of kid who would rather make an assist than a basket—and that's certainly what we need." Western definitely is not lacking for shooters, beginning with McDaniels, a giant who prefers scoring from the key to going underneath. He averaged 24.8 points a game as a sophomore, and although Oldham says "he had a fine season," the coach would be happier if McDaniels were more aggressive rebounding and on defense. McDaniel upped his weight 12 pounds over the summer to 220 and will play a high post this season, with 6'8" senior Wayne Bright on a low post, 6'3" junior Jerome Perry on the wing and 6'3" junior Jim Rose in the back court with Johnson. The team's best rebounder may be 6'8" junior Clarence Glover, but he will be only the No. 6 man until he learns to shoot.
The Hilltoppers should find out a lot about themselves on Dec. 15, when they play Duquesne in Pittsburgh. "If we can pull ourselves together, this should be our year, because usually you get your best year out of juniors," says Oldham. If that's so, the blush at Western may yet become the pink flush of success.