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When former SCHS star and current Western Kentucky University guard A.J. Slaughter put up 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a 68-54 victory against the University of Louisville in December, the basketball world took notice.
It seems, however, that many had forgotten about the ‘Toppers.
If WKU didn’t win the Sunbelt Conference Tournament, some thought they might not make the NCAA Tournament.
Now that the Hilltoppers are firmly in the field of 65, some may think their 1-year wonder has passed.
However, this is a new group of ‘Toppers, and Slaughter is leading the charge.
Last year it was Courtney Lee and Tyrone Brazelton’s team with Coach Darrin Horn.
This year it’s Slaughter and Orlando Mendez-Valdez’s team with first-year Coach Ken McDonald.
Mendez-Valdez took Sun Belt regular-season MVP honors, but Slaughter was named tourney MVP, scoring 52 points in three games.
Ty Rogers, who hit the game-winner against Drake in the first round last year is gone, but Mendez-Valdez and Slaughter form a formidable backcourt, and inside WKU has tournament experience with D.J. Magley, Jeremy Evans, Steffphon Pettigrew and Matt Maresca.
This is a team that can win, especially after being matched up with Illinois.
Earlier this season, Slaughter said he knew his chance to lead would come.
“When they [Lee and Brazelton] were seniors, they told me that this would one day be my team to run,” Slaughter in December. “I’m just trying to imitate them and do things the way they did it.”
So far so good.
Slaughter has WKU back in the tournament in another winnable game.
All a team can ask for is a chance, a chance to compete and a chance to win.
With Slaughter at the helm, running the team and making sure his teammates believe in their chance, Western will have a shot.
Illinois is no powerhouse, and the second round could match WKU against the mid-major all mid-majors aspire to be: Gonzaga.
That would be very interesting.
No mid-major comes to mind with the history and success of Western, but no mid-major has been as successful and consistent this decade as Gonzaga.
All 8th-Region Team
In 2006 A.J. Slaughter was named to the All-8th Region team, and following in his footsteps this year, Haleigh LeCompte and Donovan Johnson were chosen for the team.
LeCompte led the Lady Rockets with 12 points and seven rebounds a game. Johnson was tops on the Rockets with 16 points and nine rebounds a game.