Friendship with former KU walk-on Brad Witherspoon adds to exhibition excitement for Emporia State coach Craig Doty
Emporia State head coach Craig Doty, in his first year leading the Hornets program, has had exactly nine days to practice and prepare for tonight’s exhibition clash with Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.
And while that might not sound like nearly enough time for an undermanned underdog like ESU to prepare for the No. 1-ranked team in college basketball, Doty was not at all interested in getting hung up on the timeline of things.
“We could’ve been practicing for three years and I don’t know if we’d need to be where we need to be to compete with the No. 1 team in the country,” Doty said during a phone interview with the Journal-World earlier this week.
With that in mind, the former juco national champion who joined Emporia State last summer and brought nine new faces to town with him, will enter tonight’s game — 7 p.m. on Jayhawk TV and ESPN+ — with one major goal and the laid-back willingness to let the chips fall where they may.
“Going into the game, we just have to focus on doing what we do,” Doty said.
While “doing what we do” might not entail putting four or five players taller than 6-foot-8 or a handful of McDonald’s All-Americans onto the floor, it can mean playing hard, competing every possession and doing their best to use the chance to tangle with Kansas as a tune-up for what’s ahead when the Hornets tip off their regular season schedule.
According to former KU walk-on Brad Witherspoon, an assistant coach at Barton Community College in Great Bend who has enjoyed a friendship with Doty for the past six or seven years, that’s exactly what will happen tonight.
“Knowing him, I think they’re going into that game trying to win it,” Witherspoon told the Journal-World. “But at the same time I think he’ll let his guys have a little fun, take in the experience and enjoy everything that playing at Kansas has to offer.”
Witherspoon, who played at KU from 2006-08, and Doty first became friends when the former Jayhawk began working on the Midwest Elite Basketball camp circuit founded by Doty.
The two still talk once a month, recently hung out together at the Final Four and keep an eye on how each is doing in the coaching ranks.
“It was always fun having him work camps,” Doty recalled. “He’d bring in his national championship ring or his Big 12 championship rings and the campers would love seeing those. Brad is a good buddy of mine and I’ve always heard from him about how things go and how the program is run at Kansas and always got great insight about that. I don’t think Brad’s going to give any secrets about how KU’s going to play this week, though.”
Witherspoon confirmed the unofficial gag order that comes with being a KU alum, but had plenty of praise for Doty’s coaching chops and what he brings to his teams.
“You know what, first of all, he wins games,” Witherspoon said. “That’s the one thing he’s done pretty much everywhere he’s been.”
That might not be as easy for Doty tonight as it has been throughout his coaching career, but, from Witherspoon’s perspective, that’s also a major focus for this young Kansas squad full of new faces.
“They take it a little more serious now,” Witherspoon said of the transition from practice time to real games. “The ball’s going up and that first one’s always fun. For the guys who were new, the game day preparation was always a big deal for a lot of guys, scouting report, going over all of those types of things for a real game. A lot of those guys haven’t played out on the court for anything other than Late Night and even though that’s cool it’s not the same as an actual game.”
As for Doty, tonight’s opponent might not look like most of the rest he’ll see with the Hornets throughout the upcoming season, but the first-year ESU coach said taking the time to take it all in will be as big of a priority as anything.
“Any time you get to coach at Allen Fieldhouse, it’s going to be a memorable one,” Doty said. “Three years ago I was coaching Division III juco ball in Rockford, Ill., and now we open our season in Allen Fieldhouse. It’s going to be a lot of fun and our focus will be on trying to take a big stage and shrink it down.”