Ex-Hilltopper assistant McDonald takes over at Western Kentucky

Updated: April 6, 2008, 6:53 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Ken McDonald is heading back to Western Kentucky, this time with the top job.

The Texas assistant was hired as head coach on Sunday, replacing Darrin Horn who left the Hilltoppers for South Carolina last week. McDonald has worked under Rick Barnes with the Longhorns since 2004.

"I think when I left here, there was some unfinished business," McDonald said. "I think we need to have the attitude that we'll take on anybody, anywhere at any time."

McDonald had been an assistant at Western Kentucky under Dennis Felton from 1998-2003. McDonald was with Felton when the Hilltoppers went to three straight NCAA tournaments and were 100-54 during McDonald's five seasons with the program.

McDonald had been an assistant under Barnes at Clemson for four years prior to going to Western Kentucky in 1998.

Horn led the Hilltoppers to the Sweet 16, beating Drake 101-99 in the tournament's most thrilling game on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Ty Rogers in overtime.

Western Kentucky then went on to beat San Diego in the second round before losing to UCLA in the Sweet 16.

The Hilltoppers, who finished 29-7 overall and 16-2 in the Sun Belt Conference, lose their top three players in seniors Courtney Lee, Tyrone Brazelton and Rogers.

Western Kentucky also interviewed Florida assistant coach Larry Shyatt and Minnesota assistant coach Vince Taylor for the position over the weekend.

Barnes told Western Kentucky athletic director Wood Selig that McDonald was "the best assistant he's ever had."

Not that Selig needed to be reminded. McDonald was Felton's lead recruiter during his five years at the school from 1998-03, and Selig said McDonald's development as a teacher with the Longhorns helped put him over the top.

"I'm amazed at the growth he's had in the last five years," Selig said. "He's made a brilliant transformation as a coach and it really came through during the interview. We could start to see him in a different light from the assistant that we knew five years ago."

McDonald, 38, said he knew he could have left the Longhorns sooner to become a head coach, but stayed until the right opportunity came along. He takes over a program vastly different from the one he came to as a young assistant under Felton in 1998.

At the time the Hilltoppers were coming off three straight losing seasons and had lost much of the luster that made the program one of the nation's most consistent winners from the 1960s through the 1990s.

This time, there will be no rebuilding necessary.

"I really believe that this program has no ceiling," McDonald said. "During the interview process I told them I think it would be a big mistake if you put a ceiling on this program because as much as we did when I was here, as much success recently as Western has had, I don't think it has to stop."

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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