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Weber State basketball: 50 years later, ’Cats still dominate

Weber and its talented casts have owned the Big Sky from the start.

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"My whole goal is to be part of that history," said WSU guard Scott Bamforth, who found out about his school’s past on the Internet. "I know there were a lot of great players to play here and I feel like I played with the best player in Damian [Lillard]."

Lillard, taken sixth overall in 2012 NBA Draft by Portland, tops a list of talented athletes who have played in Ogden. Even during its days as a junior college, Weber State has never lacked for quality players. In 1959, a year after finishing second, Allen Holmes led the Wildcats to the NJCAA Tournament title.

At a glance

WSU coaches

Dick Motta » 1962-68, 120-33 — 3 BSC titles

Phil Johnson » 1968-71 68-16 3 BSC titles

Gene Visscher » 1971-75, 63-45 — 2 BSC titles

Neil McCarthy » 1975-85, 200-98 — 4 BSC titles

Larry Farmer » 1985-88, 34-54

Denny Houston » 1988-91, 43-42

Ron Abegglen » 1991-98, 152-83 — 3 BSC titles

Joe Cravens » 1999-06, 116-88 — 1 BSC title

Randy Rahe » 2006-present, 142-73 — 3 BSC titles

WSU notable marks, records

NCAA victories

1969 » Seattle, 75-73; New Mexico State, 58-56 (Consolation game)

1972 » Hawaii, 91-64

1979 » New Mexico State, 81-78 (OT)

1995 » Michigan State, 79-72

1999 » North Carolina, 76-74

Top 10 scorers

Bruce Collins » 2,019

Damian Lillard » 1,934

Jimmy Degraffenried » 1,624

Jermaine Boyette » 1,613

Willie Sojourner » 1,563

Jimmy Watts » 1,553

Al Hamilton » 1,452

Todd Harper » 1,382

David Johnson » 1,369

Harold Arceneaux » 1,357

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The first true game-changer for WSU, however, was Willie Sojourner. The 6-foot-8 Philadelpha native, who would eventually play in the ABA, was a freshman during Motta’s final year. Back then, freshmen were ineligible to play varsity games.

"When I left our freshmen team could beat our varsity," Motta said. "We told Willie we knew he was coming and the ‘WS’ logo on the nearby mountainside stood for Willie Sojourner’s hill."

In three seasons, Sojourner grabbed 1,143 rebounds and scored 1,563 points while leading WSC to three consecutive NCAA berths.

Joining Sojourner and Lillard as three-time All-Big Sky First Team performers were Jimmie Watts (1974-76), Bruce Collins (1978-80) and Jermaine Boyette (2001-03).

Lillard and Arceneaux were also named as Big Sky’s MVP twice. Others who won the award include Ruben Nembhard (1995), David Patton (2007) and Kellen McCoy (2009).

Seven of the school’s nine coaches, including Neil McCarthy, Joe Cravens, former player Gene Visscher and current Wildcat leader Randy Rahe, have taken teams to the NCAA Tournament.

"I knew about the tradition long before I got here," said Rahe, now in his seventh season. "It was also reassuring — this is a good basketball job, and if you do it the right way and do what you’re supposed to, you might have a chance to win."

Not that there haven’t been disappointments.

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There have been lost leads and blown chances in conference and NCAA tournaments. Three times, Weber State failed to advance to the second round because of missed free throws. This included overtime losses to Santa Clara (1969) and Florida (1999). In 1995, Weber State had a chance to beat Georgetown in regulation. Missed foul shots and a tip-in at the buzzer spoiled that opportunity.

One of the most painful losses came in 1980, when the Collins-led Wildcats, ranked in the top 20, had a first-round NCAA game at home but lost by one to Lamar. But most of all, Weber State has set itself a standard of success.

"We want to continue to have success," Rahe said. "But we’re looking at trying to take that next step. So, we’re selling [recruits] on a dream, too."


Portland Stateat Weber State

O At the Dee Events Center (Ogden)

Tipoff » 7 p.m.

TV » None

Radio » 1280 AM

Records » PSU 8-18, 5-13 Big Sky; WSU 22-5, 16-2

Series history » WSU, 19-1

Last meeting » WSU, 73-69 (Dec. 22, 2012)

About the Vikings » PSU has lost 10 of its last 13 games and has been eliminated from the Big Sky tournament.

About the Wildcats » WSU is 21-0 this season when outrebounding its opponent. ... The ‘Cats rank in the top 10 nationally in field-goal percentage (2nd), 3-point percentage (1st), 3-point percentage defense (5th) and scoring margin (7th).... Scott Bamforth needs 15 points to become the 12th all-time scorer in school history.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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