Moving steadily toward a Big Sky men's basketball title a year ago, the Weber State Wildcats were forced to take a step back when star Joel Bolomboy suffered a leg injury in the middle of one game and then missed the next two.
In a way, it was a sneak preview for the rest of the Wildcats — who, to a man, return for the current campaign.
Bolomboy, now with the Utah Jazz, was the only senior for Weber State in 2015-16. Now the rest of the 'Cats are prepared to turn last season's audition into the real thing.
"We have a great group of guys who have been working all summer, all offseason, just to be ready to go," said returning starter Zach Braxton. "It's going to be a fun season."
Braxton, now a sophomore, returns to the frontcourt with top reserve Kyndahl Hill. Weber State coach Randy Rahe, starting his 11th season as the Wildcats' head coach, expects that redshirt freshman Jordan Dallas will complete a fairly tight three-man rotation in the front court.
It'll be a variation on a theme for the 'Cats.
"We're a little thin up front. I wish we had more guys, but the guys we do have I like them. We're going to play small at times," said Rahe, who ended up moving 6-foot-4 Dusty Baker into the paint when Bolomboy went out. "We did it last year when Joel got hurt and we found that we kind of liked it. We did it out of necessity, but it was hard for teams to match up."
Hill, coming off the bench last year, averaged 8.2 points per game as well as grabbing almost six rebounds per game. Braxton, who had averaged 6.9 points and 4.1 rebounds, said the idea is to make up for Bolomboy's absence by committee.
"Joel got 13 rebounds [per game]; he was third in the country, but everyone has to come together to do that," Braxton said. "Guys who usually get three a game, get five. Those who usually get seven, get nine. Everybody needs to heighten their production a little bit."
If Weber does have to draw from the backcourt, at least the Wildcats will know there's plenty of players to choose from. Senior Jeremy Senglin scored a team-high 17.9 points per game last season and was picked to the Big Sky all-conference first team. Although this could change, sophomore point guard McKay Cannon and fellow sophomore Cody John are set to start alongside Senglin at guard.
Junior Ryan Richardson, who frequently started in 2015-16, will join Richaud Gittens and Baker in the backcourt. So deep is the guard position that athletic sophomore Juwan Williams is slated to redshirt this season.
Rahe, who set the Big Sky record for coaching victories last season, wants to ensure his players stay "humble and hungry" after a season in which Weber State won both the regular season and tournament conference crowns.
"I was on the lookout for complacency and I never saw it," said Rahe. "I saw players who wanted to get better this summer. We had more guys stay up here for the summer than any time since I've been here.
"The guys didn't want to go home," Rahe added. "They wanted to stay up here and keep working."