Commitment is the magic sauce for WSU’s Wildcats
By Joseph Silverzweig
In a season in which Utah flagship universities are not projected to produce strong seasons, the eye of the sports fan looking for a great game to watch may be looking elsewhere.
But if that fan wants to see sound fundamentals, competitive games, strong records and interesting post-season options, they should be taking a hard look at the Weber State Wildcats basketball team.
Coach Randy Rahe has done remarkable things putting together back-to-back 20-win seasons with two NCAA appearances and two Big Sky championships in just the last four years.
There’s no doubt he’s a great coach: Coach Rahe has had only one losing season in 11 years on the job. He has elevated his performance of late, however, by identifying and developing players other teams miss.
Weber State developed one of the best players in the NBA. Damian Lillard plays for the Portland Trail Blazers and is considered one of the most clutch players in the game now that he has fully matured from the young player who was selected 6th overall in the 2012 NBA draft.
Lillard was anointed the Rookie of the Year in the 2012- 13 NBA season and made the next two all-star games. He’s been an exceptionally consistent shooter, scorer and rebounder relative to other NBA guards and is continuing to develop his abilities on the defensive end of the floor. He has a long, exciting career ahead of him.
Joel Bolomboy is the second star to shoot out of Weber State, although he has yet to shine as brightly as Lillard. Bolomboy was a second-round draft pick for the Utah Jazz and has bounced around a bit, currently splitting time between the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and their developmental league affiliate.
Bolomboy has been dominant in the developmental leagues, and observers expect him to continue to improve his game.
Bucking the Transfer Trend
WSU assistant head coach Eric Duft has been with Coach Rahe every step of the way, and he’s helped build the Wildcats into a force of nature. He recognizes that some talent has come their way but credits the culture he and Coach Rahe have built and the character of the kids he recruits as enabling that transformation.
Coach Duft is always looking for talented players with the length, quickness and skills to contribute but said that the “first thing we want to find is somebody who loves basketball .… We recruit guys where basketball is really important to them.”
Duft finds players with potential and builds greatness from the ground up, and he has the time to do it. “We don’t have many players transfer out of our program,” Duft said. “What’s that’s allowed us to do is … only sign a couple of players.”
Transfers have become pandemic in college basketball— the NCAA reports that 40 percent of college basketball players have transferred to a new program by their sophomore year. This transfer trend means that most universities have to recruit at least five or six players every year, including other transfers who have to be ready to contribute immediately. Weber State’s culture of commitment solves that problem.
Instead of looking for the fastest, tallest, or best shooting players, Coach Duft scouts other skills as he travels to high school gyms throughout the region each fall. “Playing hard is a skill, competing is a skill. We’re looking for a certain type of player that’s a gym rat, that fits our culture here at Weber State, that’s a four-year guy and [is] very mature when they arrive.”
Secure Players Earlier in Their Careers
Small recruiting classes and program stability means the Wildcats can fine-tune their targets to their specific needs, whether that’s a power forward who can shoot from the perimeter and stretch the floor one year or a nimble point guard who can distribute the ball and be an on-court general for the Wildcats the next.
It also means they can target and secure players earlier in their high-school careers, getting a leg up on building recruiting relationships and perhaps signing them before other, bigger programs realize what they are missing.
The culture of commitment is what makes the Wildcats tick. They target exactly the players they need, take the time to develop the skills they desire and don’t waste time on kids who will transfer.
These program traits have generated some incredibly successful NBA players and have led to a lot of wins for the Wildcats.
Not only that, but the games are a truly entertaining product for the fans. Regardless of what conference you are in, doing things the right way is a recipe for excitement.