The yo-yo that is Western Kentucky’s season continued to spin on Wednesday, as the school announced that senior DeSean Murray was leaving the program to “pursue professional opportunities.”
The departure caps Murray’s stint as a Hilltopper at just eight games, as the graduate transfer had just joined the program over the offseason. After starting his career at Presbyterian, Murray spent the 2017-18 season at Auburn, where he was an important part of the Tigers’ 26-win, NCAA Tournament team.
Adding the burly, versatile forward was seen as yet another feather in Rick Stansbury’s recruiting cap. At the time he signed, Stansbury raved about the leadership and toughness Murray would bring to the team. That, however, may not have translated into as big a role as Murray expected right away. He was averaging fewer minutes per game than at Auburn (20.4 MPG) and had come off the bench twice this season. He leaves with scoring (9.5 PPG), rebounding (4.6 RPG) and shooting (43.9 FG%) numbers that were the lowest of his four-year career.
His final moment in a WKU jersey was a scoreless, 11-minute appearance in the Hilltoppers’ win at Arkansas last Saturday. The Bowling Green Daily News’ Brad Stephens tweeted about how the move could affect Stansbury’s rotations.
Marek Nelson played 27 minutes Saturday at Arkansas and scored the game-winning basket. I think you'll see him play a bigger role.— Brad Stephens (@BradBGDN) December 12, 2018
This also opens up more playing time for freshman big man Tolu Smith, who Rick Stansbury has wanted to play some alongside Charles Bassey.
Murray’s whirlwind stint at WKU is the latest in a line of personnel shakeups in Bowling Green under Stansbury, beginning, most notably, with the Mitchell Robinson saga last offseason. This season, returning starting point guard Lamonte Bearden was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester.
Bearden will presumably take the court in the coming weeks, which could not come at a better time for WKU. The highly regarded Hilltoppers have had highs (wins against West Virginia and Arkansas) and lows (losses at Indiana State and Missouri State) thus far this season, as sophomore combo guard Taveion Hollingsworth has had to moonlight at point guard with Bearden out. With Murray now gone, the infusion of experience from Bearden’s return becomes that much more important.
The Hilltoppers have remained in our Other Top 25 despite four losses, and remain exciting with Hollingsworth, five-star freshman center Charles Bassey and a slew of other young talent. Those players will now need to play even greater roles if WKU is to reach the heights many expected in CUSA and beyond.