Jacksonville State has selected a proven winner to take over its men’s basketball team.
On Wednesday, Gamecocks athletics Director Greg Seitz announced the hiring of Ray Harper as the program’s 11th head coach and the fifth to run the Gamecocks at the Division I level. Harper will be formally introduced at a press conference on Thursday at 11 a.m. in the Media Room at Pete Mathews Coliseum. The press conference will be streamed live on the OVC Digital Network at this link.
“We are thrilled to have Ray Harper take over our men’s basketball program,” Seitz said. “He is a winner and has proven that at every stop he has made in his coaching career. We feel fortunate to be able to land a coach with his credentials at Jacksonville State.”
A veteran with over 30 years of coaching experience at the collegiate ranks, Harper takes the reigns in Jacksonville with a 431-127 career record in 17 years as a head coach. That career includes four national championships – two at the Division II level and two in NAIA.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Harper said before meeting with his team for the first time on Wednesday evening. “We are going to work extremely hard and we are going to be about winning championships. We know it’s going to be a lot of work, but we are ready to get started.”
“Our goal at Jacksonville State is to win championships and play in the NCAA Tournament in all of our sports,” Seitz said. “Coach Harper has won championships everywhere he’s been, and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue that success at JSU. The future of JSU Basketball is a bright one.”
Harper replaces James Green, who reached mutual agreement with JSU to part ways on March 16. He was chosen from a long list of what Seitz called very qualified applicants.
“As expected, we had a great deal of interest in this job,” Seitz added. “We had over 180 applicants and many very qualified coaches that showed interest in becoming the next coach at Jacksonville State,” added Seitz. “Coach Harper’s credentials stood out from the rest of the candidates, and we are excited to have him join the Gamecock family.”
“JSU is committed to having a winning basketball program where student-athletes excel both on and off the court,” JSU President Dr. John M. Beehler said. “Hiring Coach Harper is the first step in this journey. He is a top-flight coach with a track record of conference titles, post-season tournament appearances and student-athlete academic success. He is the right coach at the right time to take our program to the next level.”
He comes to Jacksonville after a five-year stint at Western Kentucky that saw him post an 89-64 mark that included three 20-win seasons and two trips to the NCAA Tournament. After serving over two years as an assistant at WKU, he took over as the Hilltoppers’ interim coach in January of the 2011-12 season and was named the full-time head coach in early February.
At WKU, he went to the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and 2013 and won 20 games in his first three full seasons, making him the first coach in WKU history to achieve the feat.
After taking the helm at Western Kentucky in a tough situation midway through the 2011-12 season Harper began to put his stamp on the program, and the team responded in a big way. The Hilltoppers went 11-8 after he took over and 7-1 after he was named full-time head coach, which came after starting the season with a 5-11 record.
His debut with the Hilltoppers saw him rally them to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament title and a win over Mississippi Valley State in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament in Dayton. A 20-12 record in 2012-13 ended with the Hilltoppers’ second trip to the Big Dance in as many years.
Prior to joining the WKU program as an assistant in 2009, Harper built a head coaching resume that included four national championships, five national runner-up finishes, eight conference titles, five national coach-of-the-year honors and a 342-63 record over 12 years at Kentucky Wesleyan and Oklahoma City University.
Harper was named the NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year four-straight years from 1999-2002, while earning the honor at the NAIA Division I level once with Oklahoma City following the 2008 title run. He was selected conference coach of the year on seven occasions, as well as the region coach of the year twice.
In nine years at his alma mater Kentucky Wesleyan in Owensboro, Ky., Harper laid claim to seven NCAA coaching records, surpassing Division I record-holders in all instances, including becoming the fastest to 200 wins (224 games), holding the most consecutive 30-win seasons (6) and compiling the most wins in each of the first four-through-eight seasons of his career.
With NCAA Division II title game appearances each season from 1998-2003, the Bremen, Ky., native became the first NCAA head coach since John Wooden to appear in six-straight NCAA National Championship games. He won in 1999 and 2001.
The NCAA requires a minimum of 10 seasons at the Division II level to officially qualify for its list of head coaching records, but Harper’s nine-year record of 247-46 at Kentucky Wesleyan would give him the best winning percentage in Division II history at .843.
At Kentucky Wesleyan, he coached two National Players of the Year, seven All-Americans and nine NABC Great Lakes All-Region players. He had 11 players selected All-Great Lakes Valley Conference and two that were named the league’s player of the year.
Through seven seasons, he had more victories than any coach at the NCAA Division I and II levels (210). Harper reached 200 wins in 224 games, which was faster than NCAA Division I record holder and Hall of Famer Clair Bee, who won 200 in 231 games.
On February 17, 2008, Harper’s number 12 jersey was permanently retired at Kentucky Wesleyan, and the floor at Jones Gymnasium was named “Ray Harper Court.”
From Kentucky Wesleyan, Harper went to Oklahoma City, where in three seasons at the NAIA Division I institution, Harper put together a 95-17 record that featured back-to-back national titles in 2007 and 2008.
He has also coached on the international level, having led USA Basketball men’s junior team to a 7-1 record and a fifth-place finish at the 2003 FIBA World Championships in Greece.
The native of Bremen, Ky., and a 1985 graduate of Kentucky Wesleyan, Harper was a two-year starter for the Panthers after transferring from Texas. He became the school’s first All-American as a senior, and he also earned most outstanding player in the regional as well as all-region and all-conference accolades. The 1981 Southwest Conference Rookie of the Year at Texas after averaging 9.8 points and 3.9 assists per outing, Harper finished his college career with 1,187 points and 605 assists at the two schools.
In April of 2010, Harper was named to Kentucky Wesleyan’s All-Century Team. One of 30 members selected to the All-Century team, Harper coached 12 of the players, including six of the top 13 vote-getters.
Harper scored 3,033 points during his high school playing career, earning all-state honors as a senior and District Player of the Year acclaim twice. He earned his Master’s degree from WKU in 1995.