Rick Stansbury spent the 2020 offseason watching Netflix while people were isolating amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coach knew what he had coming back for the upcoming season, because the vast majority of his players were returning for another shot at a Conference USA championship after falling in the previous two and having the 2020 tournament canceled before his Western Kentucky team had a chance to even take the floor in Frisco, Texas.

But this summer for Stansbury there was no “Outer Banks,” no “Breaking Bad” and no “The Office” – there was a Netflix documentary about consuming meat he recommends you don’t watch, though – because there was work to be done with a significant portion of the 2020-21 roster now gone.

“There wasn’t no Netflix, I can promise you,” Stansbury said. “It’s called the portal now – that’s what I watched all this spring, was the portal.”

Stansbury was tasked with replacing nine players from last year’s team, and the veteran coach in his sixth year at WKU had to do it in a way he hadn’t really before.

WHAT WAS LOST

Included in the nine players the Hilltoppers had to replace from last year’s 21-8 team that claimed a regular-season C-USA East Division title and finished as the league tournament runner-up were three starters in center Charles Bassey, guard Taveion Hollingsworth and forward Carson Williams.

Bassey was C-USA’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, and was also named an All-American by several outlets. He was selected with the 53rd overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. Hollingsworth started every game during his time at WKU, set program records for minutes played and games started and is fifth on the all-time scoring list with 1,896 points. Williams started 56 games in two seasons after transferring from Northern Kentucky, averaging 10.9 points and six rebounds.

Jordan Rawls was a key player in WKU’s rotation the last two seasons, primarily off the bench last season, but the guard transferred to Georgia State in the offseason. Lipscomb transfer Kenny Cooper was eligible for the 2020-21 season and began the year as the team’s starting point guard before having his playing time limited off the bench as the year went on. Cooper returned to Nashville and is now at Tennessee State. Forward Kevin Osawe also saw significant minutes off the bench, but the Vincennes transfer elected to enter the portal following his only season at WKU. The Hilltoppers also lost reserves in guard Kylen Milton, Jackson Harlan and Patrick Murphy.

WHAT’S BACK

The most experienced player in a Hilltopper uniform this season is Josh Anderson. The 6-foot-6, 190-pound guard elected to use an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to return for his fifth year at WKU. Anderson has played in 114 games over the last four years with 73 starts. He’s averaged 10 points per game and 3.8 rebounds, and has been one of the best in program history at turning opponents over – his 168 steals rank fifth.

“Having Josh back, Josh gives us some more experience,” Stansbury said. “Guy’s been around.”

WKU returns two others who saw significant minutes throughout last season in Luke Frampton and Dayvion McKnight. Both guards are entering their second season and are expected to have an increased role.

McKnight moved into the team’s starting point guard role midway through last year, and the 2020 Kentucky Mr. Basketball finished his freshman campaign averaging 5.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists.

“You all know how I felt about Davyion McKnight for a long time, and he doesn’t do anything but keep solidifying how I feel about him even more,” Stansbury said.

Frampton was the Hilltoppers’ top shooting threat last season. The 6-foot-5 Davidson transfer shot at a 41.1% clip from 3-point range, knocking down 51 while primarily coming off the bench. He averaged 7.4 points and 1.8 rebounds.

“Luke, where he’s at this year compared to last year, there’s no comparison,” Stansbury said. “We all know when he got here late last year it was a huge adjustment for him, but he’s done great, he’s comfortable, he’s playing well, he’s shooting the ball extremely well and turned into one of our leaders.”

WKU also returns 6-foot-7 forward Isaiah Cozart, who saw time in 11 games last season, and Bailey Conrad, who played late in five games, as well as Noah Stansbury, who did not play last year.

NEW FACES

When WKU opened practices two weeks ago, it did it with nine new players.

It took a new way to get those players to Bowling Green, instead of the traditional recruitment of high school kids Stansbury is known for. Six of the nine new players come to WKU with some kind of college experience under their belt, whether it be playing for a junior college, mid-major or Power Five program.

“This spring, as you well know, our life has changed, our world has changed. It’s not like it used to be, at all. It’s not the way recruiting that I’ve ever had to deal with, but it’s the change of times,” Stansbury said. “It’s what it is and you’ve got to adjust to it.”

WKU did add three players from the high school level with Zion Harmon, Elijah Hughey and Tyler Olden.

Here’s a look at the players WKU added this offseason:

-Darrius Miles: Miles is a 6-foot-10, 295-pound center that comes to WKU from Odessa College. He comes with four years of eligibility remaining, and played in one semester, making 17 appearances after joining the program midway through the season. Miles was a three-star prospect out of Faith Family Academy in Dallas, according to 247Sports.

“I wasn’t wrong on him, wasn’t wrong on what he can be,” Stansbury said. “It’s not what he is, and we knew he was going to be – project is not the right word – but a down-the-road type guy. But down the road you can’t teach 6-11 and 300.”

-Jaylen Butz: Butz is a 6-foot-9, 230-pound redshirt senior forward who comes from DePaul with one year of eligibility remaining. He started 47 games and appeared in 89 over three seasons with the Blue Demons – he did not play last year and decided to enter the transfer portal midway though the season in January – and averaged 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds as a junior. He shot 58.9% from the field while at DePaul – the third-best mark in program history.

“He’s made strides from just getting his effort level where we want him to play at more,” Stansbury said. “He’s got a long way to go, but he’s making progress. I like him as a person. He has multiple skills, can score the basketball a lot of ways in (and) around that paint. He’s a very skilled guy.”

-Keith Williams: Williams is a 6-foot-5, 215-pound guard using his extra year of eligibility after playing the previous four years at Cincinnati. He finished his time with the Bearcats with 1,156 points, and was a second-team All-AAC player his senior year after averaging 14.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Cincinnati won two regular-season AAC titles and two AAC Tournament titles while he was there.

“Brings some toughness, brings some real experience and some real toughness and I always call (him) a dog – when everybody says, ‘You’ve got a little dog,’ that’s a compliment – and he’s got a little of that in him,” Stansbury said.

-Jairus Hamilton: Hamilton is a 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward that comes from Maryland with two years of eligibility left. He appeared in all 31 games at Maryland last year, averaging 6.5 points and 2.4 rebounds while shooting 43% from 3-point range. The two seasons before that, Hamilton played at Boston College. He averaged 9.5 points and 4.3 rebounds while making 20 starts his final year there.

“Has two years left and played five and some four at Maryland, but made 35 3s at 43%,” Stansbury said. “I like the progress he’s made.”

-Elijah Hughey: Hughey is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound guard out of Lancaster High School in Texas. He averaged 11.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals as a senior while shooting 49% from the field and 40% from 3-point range. Stansbury said he’s “got to continue to work and get better in a lot of areas.”

-Tyler Olden: Olden is a 5-foot-11, 210-pound freshman guard from Hillcrest Prep in Arizona. He played three seasons of varsity ball for Hillcrest Prep, appearing in 39 games and averaging 4.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists.

-Sherman Brashear: Brashear is a 6-foot-5, 180-pound guard from Panola College who’ll have four years of eligibility. He played one season at Panola, where he appeared in 17 games with eight starts, averaging 11 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 36.4% from 3-point range. Stansbury found him while at the JA48 junior college event in June, where he was named the MVP after averaging 23 points and shooting 47.6% from deep. Stansbury said he was recruiting for the next class, but found out his grades made him eligible to come immediately.

“I love his foundation from a work ethic standpoint. He’s in the gym too much, too much, especially during two-a-days,” Stansbury said. “ ... The game has to slow down for him. Like all young kids they’re just wide open, wide open. As the game slows down for him, he’s going to be a terrific player because he’s got all those other intangible things it takes, that foundation that most of the time you have to try to set a little bit or modify a little bit.”

-Zion Harmon: Harmon returns to Bowling Green for college, after helping Bowling Green High School to a KHSAA Sweet Sixteen championship as an eighth-grader. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound guard finished his prep career at Marshall County, and was a consensus four-star recruit and a top-50 prospect according to ESPN.

“Like a lot of young guys, there’s always a lot of big adjustments for them, but to his credit he’s making adjustments,” Stansbury said. “Not on the court as much – it’s all the little things off the court. When you’ve been isolated by yourself for 18 months or so and not going to school, no having to be on time for a class, then all of a sudden you’re showing up and there’s breakfast and there’s classes and there’s study table and all that – that’s an adjustment in anybody’s world. He’s getting better in all those areas, making baby steps every day with him.”

-Jamarion Sharp: Sharp brings size to WKU with three years of eligibility left after playing at John A. Logan College. Sharp is a 7-foot-5 Hopkinsville native that averaged 7.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.8 blocks as a sophomore at Logan, where he was named an all-conference and all-region selection. Sharp’s a four-star prospect and the top junior-college player in the nation in his class according to 247Sports. Stansbury said he measured in at 217 pounds when he arrived, but has since gotten up to about 237.

“He’s made progress there and he’s probably done a lot of things off the court being able to adjust, being able to anticipate for a junior college guy,” Stansbury said. “I like where he’s headed. He’s missed a few days of practice because of some injuries, but I like his upside a lot.”

In addition to the changes in ways of recruiting, Stansbury said the team also faced the challenge of not being able to host recruits on campus during the offseason.

“When you’re trying to just do it on the phone, we get lumped in with a lot of people and that was our challenge this past spring. It hurt in some areas,” he said. “I knew if I could’ve gotten a couple more kids to visit this campus, I’d have separated myself, but again that’s kind of where it was.”

Stansbury has been known to get some of the top high school prospects in Kentucky and still plans to, saying “I want all of them I can get to help us win championships,” but other marginal talent from further away might not be as much of a priority to recruit now with the portal.

“That’s where our game is. It’s going to be that way,” Stansbury said. “There’s going to be very few teams that you come in and you start as a freshman and end as a senior. That’s what we’ve all been accustomed to. That’s just not what it is now.”

WKU is scheduled to play preseason exhibitions at E.A. Diddle Arena against Campbellsville on Nov. 1 and University of the Cumberlands on Nov. 5, before opening the regular season at home Nov. 9 against Alabama State.{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit bgdailynews.com.