Ogden • Weber State basketball coach Randy Rahe knew his program would continue to be successful after Damian Lillard.
He just needed to tinker a bit with the formula.
"We were still going to recruit character guys, but we wanted guys who were better athletes," Rahe said. "We wanted to be faster, quicker and jump a little higher."
So far, so good.
The Weber State that emerged in 2013 is deeper, more athletic and more balanced than its 2012 counterpart. Whether the Wildcats are better than 2012, after roaring out to a 7-0 conference start, is still to be determined.
"It's pretty hard to say you're better when you lose a [first-round] draft pick," Weber State athletic director Jerry Bovee said. "So better may not be the correct word in my mind. We are more well-rounded. We may not have that star component, but we have a lot of stars."
A trip Saturday to Montana will reveal plenty as the Wildcats revisit the site of last year's blowout loss in the BSC Tournament final.
Coming into this season, "I knew we had good pieces," Rahe said. "My biggest concerns were if we had the toughness and we had the leadership and the togetherness. I feel like we have them."
Injuries late in 2012 derailed what began so promisingly. They also exposed several weaknesses. When Weber State's season ended following an overtime loss at Loyola Marymount in the CIT, Rahe vowed he would retool.
"When we got through that CIT experience, that's the point when Randy said we have to be more athletic," Bovee said.
It's true. This year's Wildcats do not yet have a marquee star. But they are drastically more balanced. The player who scores 20 points one night may only have three the next.
"It's really fun it's what you want in a team," Rahe said. "I always loved coaching balanced teams. Everybody prospers, everybody gets involved. It's good for team camaraderie."
Five different players have led WSU this season in scoring. Forward Davion Berry (13.9), center Kyle Tresnak (12.0) and Scott Bamforth (13.1) top WSU's scoring chart, but four other Wildcats average 7.4 points or better a game.
"I love it when teammates have each other's back," said Berry, who fit his slash-and-drive style into Rahe's offense.
WSU's improved athleticism has carried over to the defense, where opponents are shooting just 38 percent. The Wildcats' focus has been overplaying the 3-point shot and not allowing layups.
"Last year, we weren't that good defensively," said Berry, a redshirt in 2012. "We tried to outscore people. This year we embraced defense. We trust what the coach tells us."
Berry, who transfered from Division II Cal State-Monterey, and freshman center Joel Bolomboy have added energy on both ends of the court. Bolomboy has emerged as a force. Playing just 22 minutes a game, the 6-foot-9 post from Fort Worth, Texas, still grabs nine rebounds per game and has 27 blocked shots.
"Coach told me he wanted to become more athletic," Bolomboy said. "He said if I come in and get better I could have a big impact."
There is one other aspect to consider when looking at this version of Weber State. Lillard brought with him points, swagger and a boatload of victories.
The Big Sky's two-time MVP was on a different level of ability.
"Our guys loved Damian to death, but he was such a good player, that it was sometimes hard for them to play with him," Rahe said. "Damian was the best at involving teammates, but the guys could tell he was whole different level. It put a lot of heat on them."
Bamforth said that he and his teammates sometimes got too comfortable, knowing they could rely on Lillard.
"Last year I felt like we were a tough team," Bamforth said. "We had leaders, but we lacked an edge sometimes. At Montana we noticed that. We didn't have the edge."
Has the edge returned?
"I think so," Bamforth said. "There are a lot of questions when you lose a guy like Dame. You lose a lot. But I had confidence, no doubt in my mind, we'd come together and be a good team."
firstname.lastname@example.org A closer look
• Following a disappointing finish to 2012, Weber State coach Randy Rahe vowed to have a more athletic team.
• A balanced Weber State team features seven players who average 7.4 points or more.
• Newcomers Davion Berry and Joel Bolomboy have sparked the offense and defense. Berry leads WSU in scoring and Bolomboy in rebounds and blocks.