There's a member of WKU's 2001-03 championship teams still running the floor with the Toppers as they play full-court, five on five.
It's the practice court mind you, but assistant coach David Boyden can still mix it up with the younger guys. Boyden still knows how to pass, how to shoot, how to crash the boards and how to play as hard as he can for the duration of the practice.
"He's very competitive still," coach Ken McDonald said. "Even though he's got bad knees and not quite the shape he was in, he's gonna go in there and compete. I think the players really respect that. Obviously, we're not real big and David's a big guy. He'll get in the rebound drills and set a great example. He's not the most athletic guy out there, he's not in the best shape, but when he's in there and competing, you can't help but respect the effort and see what goes into being a great player."
He's certainly earned the respect of the players as well. Of course, when you can prove you can still hoop, you get some credibility. At 29 years old and the youngest of the four coaches on WKU's staff, Boyden is also still one of the guys and someone that can relate well with the players.
"He'll get in there and still play like he used to play back in the day," senior guard A.J. Slaughter said. "He brings a lot of experience to the game and just someone that us as players can relate to. The door's always open to his office, so we can go in there and talk to him about anything at any time."
Relating to those around him is something that Boyden has prided himself on. As a former college basketball player, Boyden isn't far removed from the rigors of college life on and off the court.
"Just being able to coach those guys through some of those things and helping them grow up a little quicker, I think I do end up being big brother, which I love," he said. "Just having a good relationship with those guys where we're still talking about stuff that's current with them, that they can come, like, 'Did you see the BET Awards?' or just little stuff like that. Playing Playstation with guys and still being young enough to do some of those things or play with some of those guys when we practice."
Boyden certainly saw the big action as a player at WKU from 1999-2003. But his blend of coach-like leadership, while still being one of the guys, made him endearing even before he came to the 'Hill.'
Former coach Dennis Felton was thoroughly impressed with Boyden after watching him, then meeting him during Boyden's prep year at Fork Union Military Academy.
"What stood out, he actually jumped out at me when I had the opportunity to meet him," Felton said. "I think he just has such spectacular character. He has the kind of personality and charisma, where people just want to be around him and just want to be in his presence and be a part of whatever he's a part of."
It might be hard to believe then, that Boyden was slow to take to the game he now calls his job. Boyden has always been tall, but it took a while for that to translate in a basketball sense. He grew up playing soccer and when he tried basketball, as a seventh and eighth grader, he was cut from the team. Also inhibiting his chance to make an impression growing up was moving, from Richmond Va. to Delaware, to North Carolina and back to Virginia, until he was finally noticed off the court at Hermitage High School.
"Right before my tenth grade year, that summer, I kinda had my heart set just on playing soccer and not playing basketball," Boyden said. "The basketball coach saw me walking in the halls, 6-foot-7, really thin, but basically dragged me to the gym and kinda told me I was playing. I started my last three years of varsity. I was kinda just a late-bloomer, really thin, really awkward, but each year I got a little better and fell in love with it."
It took a while for his academics to catch up with that love, resulting in his year at Fork Union to get his SAT score up. But when he got the score, he chose the Toppers over offers that included Providence, Virginia Commonwealth and Richmond.
Boyden was part of a large class that included Todor Pandov, Filip Videnov, Mike Wells, Jimmy Boykin, Nate Williams, Raynardo Curry and Chris Marcus. And though that first season with an influx of newcomers was trying at times, with an 11-18 record, Felton had entrusted a big role with Boyden.
"David was as close as it gets to being the backbone of our program, an outstanding leader," Felton said. "I leaned on him extremely hard to be the leader from within the ranks, to bring energy, enthusiasm, charisma and leadership to the locker room and to be an extension of me to the team. He just did an extraordinary job at it."
The ability to relate to and rally his teammates earned Boyden a team captain designation as a sophomore. He was captain again as a senior. And after that first season, the winning came with Boyden and his teammates' growing experience and maturity with a conference title. They came the following two years as well.
Over his four years at WKU, Boyden collected 1,167 points, which ranks No. 27 among Toppers and sits second in games started at WKU, with 123. He was a first-team all-conference selection after his junior season, a second-team pick after his senior season and was chosen to the Sun Belt all-tournament team his senior season. In a sign of his personality, he was given the E.A. Diddle award after his freshman and senior seasons, given to the player who displays leadership, character, loyalty, ability and love of fellow man.
After his senior year, Boyden, unsure of a career, mulled his options over the summer. He decided his future wasn't in professional basketball, although offers were there overseas. Instead, he chose to become an administrative assistant under Felton, who had taken the head coaching job at Georgia. He was the director of basketball operations there the following season, before spending the next three seasons as an assistant coach at Eastern Kentucky.
When McDonald became the Toppers' head coach before last season, Boyden was one of his top priorities to be a part of the new WKU staff. McDonald had coached Boyden as an assistant at WKU under Felton.
"His work ethic is impressive, he communicates very well, he's willing to learn," McDonald said. "He sees the game like a coach now. He breaks down a game and he takes a lot of pride in what he does, whether it's a recruiting situation, whether it's a scouting report, whether it's on the court with the players tying to help them develop. Every aspect of his approach is really fine tuned."
Already, Boyden's ability to level with players has paid dividends in recruiting. He was a key figure in landing point guard Caden Dickerson and forward William Green to the incoming freshman class.
"I don't know, he just seemed like a normal dude," Dickerson said. "It's hard to describe. I thought he was very honest. Then, his approach to everything. It's just the way he talks about it and stuff. He knows what we're going through. He just went through all that. He's there when we're doing good and when we're doing bad, he helps us out a lot."
Boyden might also owe his outgoing personality and ability to relate, to his mother. It might get a few double takes though, that the two vastly, physically different people are mother and son.
"I think it messes with other people more than it messes with us," he said. "Anyone who's ever met my mom knows she's only five-foot. She's just a little shorter, we obviously don't look like each other and I'm 6-7 and 240."
But Boyden and his mom especially, have grown close.
"I think other people struggle with trying to piece out how we're related and how she's my mom and I'm her son. With us, it's all I've ever known and I've known I was adopted as far back as I can remember. As long as I can remember, my mom's always been my mom and my dad's always been my dad and that's just kinda how our family goes."
He's still young, but on the rise, according to Felton. Boyden's ability to translate his experience to coaching might move him up the coaching ranks in the near future.
"He had an ability to communicate to a diverse group of people," Felton said. "Between the fact that he was genuine and caring, between that and his ability to relate to different people with ease, is what made it easy for me. It's one of the things that makes him a spectacular coach because that's extremely valuable when it comes to recruiting and it's even more valuable when it comes to leading people and being a leader."
But Boyden is still learning, whether it's running the floor with players, recruiting or going over X's and O's with coaches and players. He still has the mentality of a player, just like today's Toppers. It shows on the practice court, but it also showed during WKU's NCAA Tournament run this spring.
"It's funny, we beat Illinois, I'm back here as a coach now and I'm jumping up and down like we won the NCAA Tournament," Boyden said. "I've never been past the first round. Literally, all of our players are just shaking hands and kinda like, that's what we're supposed to do. I should've conducted myself more like them rather than, as late as I was, being my first time past the first round. That's the kind of stuff that's been cultivated here the last couple of years is that it's not an excitement just to get to the NCAA Tournament, it's almost expected once we get there."
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