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Western Kentucky promotes interim coach Ray Harper

Feb 19, 2012, 5:50 PM EDT

spt-120219-rayharper AP

It seems the fans like what Ray Harper’s doing at Western Kentucky. So do his bosses.

Harper will be the school’s new head coach, athletic director Ross Bjork announced Sunday. He’d had the interim tag ever since taking over from Ken McDonald, who was fired in early January.

The Hilltoppers (9-18, 5-9 in Sun Belt) are just 4-7 under Haper, but attendance is up. That was one of the things Bjork liked about him.

“We have total confidence in his ability to return our program to prominence,” Bjork said in a statement. “We put him in a very challenging situation by naming him our interim coach on January 6, but he has performed admirably in these unique circumstances while bringing much-needed energy and excitement to our program.

“He has a comprehensive plan for improvement for every aspect of our basketball program, and he is the right man to lead our historic program into the future. We are confident he will have us back on the path for success in short order.”

Harper, 50, was coach of the year at D-II Kentucky Wesleyan four times and won two titles while these. He also was NAIA coach of the year at Oklahoma City and won two titles there.

They’ve come to expect similar success at Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers are one of the game’s proudest programs, reaching the NCAA tournament 21 times, the Sweet 16 seven times and the 1971 Final Four. The last 11 coaches at the school have taken their teams to the Big Dance. McDonald was 62-36 during his tenure, including a trip to the second round in 2009.

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