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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Former WKU basketball coach Ken McDonald happy to be among professionals in new job

Ken McDonald
Western Kentucky head coach Ken McDonald directs his players during their 72-70 overtime loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, a day before he was fired on Jan. 6, 2012. McDonald will this season coach the Austin Toros of the NBA's D-League. / AP Photo/Daily News, Joe Imel
Ken McDonald doesn’t miss college basketball these days.
The former Western Kentucky University coach was recently promoted to head coach of the Austin Toros, the San Antonio Spurs’ NBA D-League affiliate. He takes over for Taylor Jenkins, who is now an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks.
McDonald hopes to follow a similar path. He said he’s had opportunities to be a college assistant but is focused on the pros.
“I quickly made a decision that this is what I want to do — as far as taking a stab at the NBA,” he said. “Possibly being on the bench some day. That is the goal. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I’m really enjoying this. It’s such a professional environment at this level. It’s been fun.”

Does this mean McDonald, 43, has shut the door on returning to college?
“I would never say never but I’m not looking in that direction,” he said. “I’m excited about the possibilities at this level.”

McDonald’s career at WKU came to a screeching halt when he was fired mid-season in January 2012 by then-athletic director Ross Bjork. It was a somewhat abrupt change by Bjork who had given McDonald a contract extension but lowered his pay after the team went 16-16 in 2010-11. But the team’s 5-11 start to 2011-12 coupled with declining attendance led to McDonald’s ouster.

The final insult was a 72-70 home loss to Louisiana-Lafayette when referees failed to notice that the Ragin’ Cajuns had six players on the court for the game-winning shot. The next day, McDonald was fired.

McDonald was replaced by his former assistant Ray Harper, who rallied WKU late that season to win the Sun Belt tournament championship and reach the NCAA tournament.

When asked if he had any regrets about the way things ended in Bowling Green, McDonald declined to reveal specifics but said: “Of course. ...There were a lot of positives and a lot of negatives — some self-inflicted, some out of my control. That’s all a learning experience as you go through a career.”

Being a D-League coach is essentially the same as being a minor league baseball manager. The priority is on developing talent and not necessarily on wins and losses. Last season, the Toros went 27-23 and reached the semifinals of the playoffs. McDonald said in the pros it’s just about basketball without the college concerns of recruiting and monitoring players' academic responsibilities.

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