Weber State University Magazine Spring 2013 : Page 10

P O O H GENDS E L S From left: Bruce Collins, Ron Abegglen, Jimmy DeGraffenreid Celebrating 50 years of D1 men’s basketball amy hendricks , university communications paul grua , wsu athletics F or Wildcat men’s basketball fans, there have been great moments and then there have been the spill-your-popcorn, hug-the-person-sitting-next-to-you, scream-until-you’ve-lost-your-voice moments that, years later, still give you goose bumps. Like when Jimmy DeGraffenreid sank a 40-foot buzzer beater to miracu-lously slip past Utah State 87-86 in 1993 (the Wildcats didn’t lead that anniversary of Division I men’s bas-ketball. For a few hours, they shared details about big plays, great players and unforgettable coaches. Like what happened the moment after DeGraffenreid hit the long bomb. “I made the shot and everybody dog-piled me. I thought I had tied the game, not won, so I kept thinking, ‘We’re going to get a technical!’ In the chaos, someone poked me in the eye, My dad was a janitor at church, so we went there. I went one-on-one against Willie, and he beat me to death.” Former coaching greats Motta, Johnson, Ron Abegglen , Gene Visscher and others all had stories to tell, as well. Abegglen recalled a Big Sky Championship game against Montana. “We had to win the game to go to the NCAA Tournament. I remember “Weber State basketball changed me. I hope I changed Weber State basketball.” – Bruce Collins game until the very end). Or when Weber State took down No. 3 seed Michigan State in the 1995 NCAA tournament, and four years later, in perfect Cinderella fashion, upset North Carolina 76-74. And while it’s fun for fans to reminisce about those thrilling moments, it’s even more fun to hear the players and coaches relive them. An all-star lineup of former Wildcat greats returned to their old home court in March for an “Evening With the Legends,” in celebration of Weber State’s 50 th so I couldn’t even see the scoreboard,” DeGraffenreid said with a chuckle. Or how Willie Sojourner — who was drafted 20 th by the Chicago Bulls in 1971 — came to play for Weber State. With a sly grin, Nolan Archibald , who played from 1966-68, said, “I’m the reason Willie was here. Coach (Dick) Motta and (Phil) Johnson had brought Willie out to Ogden to watch him play, but the floor was being refinished in the Weber State gym. They called me and asked if there was any other gym where they could watch (Willie) play. thinking I had to say something good to these guys, so I said, “ Ruben (Nembhard) , when we win, you go and shake the opposing team’s coach’s hand. Jimmy (DeGraffenreid), you jump up and down after we win.’ They had to be thinking, ‘This old guy’s nuts,’ but we went out there, had fun, and we destroyed them.” Johnson recalled one of the first games with Sessions Harlan and Justice Thigpen . It was an away game, and the two weren’t playing up to their potential. “They weren’t quick. We 10 wsu magazine | spring 2013

Hoops Legends, Celebrating 50 Years of D1 Men

Amy Hendricks, University Communications Paul Grua, Wsu Athletics

For Wildcat men’s basketball fans, there have been great moments and then there have been the spill-your-popcorn, hug-the-person-sitting-next-to-you, scream-until-you’ve-lost- your-voice moments that, years later, still give you goose bumps.<br /> <br /> Like when <b>Jimmy DeGraffenreid</b> sank a 40-foot buzzer beater to miraculously slip past Utah State 87-86 in 1993 (the Wildcats didn’t lead that game until the very end). Or when Weber State took down No. 3 seed Michigan State in the 1995 NCAA tournament, and four years later, in perfect Cinderella fashion, upset North Carolina 76-74.<br /> <br /> And while it’s fun for fans to reminisce about those thrilling moments, it’s even more fun to hear the players and coaches relive them. An all-star lineup of former Wildcat greats returned to their old home court in March for an “Evening With the Legends,” in celebration of Weber State’s 50th anniversary of Division I men’s basketball. For a few hours, they shared details about big plays, great players and unforgettable coaches.<br /> <br /> Like what happened the moment after DeGraffenreid hit the long bomb.<br /> <br /> “I made the shot and everybody dog-piled me. I thought I had tied the game, not won, so I kept thinking, ‘We’re going to get a technical!’ In the chaos, someone poked me in the eye, so I couldn’t even see the scoreboard,” DeGraffenreid said with a chuckle.<br /> <br /> Or how <b>Willie Sojourner</b> — who was drafted 20th by the Chicago Bulls in 1971 — came to play for Weber State.<br /> <br /> With a sly grin, <b>Nolan Archibald</b>, who played from 1966-68, said, “I’m the reason Willie was here. <b>Coach (Dick) Motta</b> and <b>(Phil) Johnson</b> had brought Willie out to Ogden to watch him play, but the floor was being refinished in the Weber State gym. They called me and asked if there was any other gym where they could watch (Willie) play. My dad was a janitor at church, so we went there. I went one-on-one against Willie, and he beat me to death.” <br /> <br /> Former coaching greats Motta, Johnson, <b>Ron Abegglen</b>, <b>Gene Visscher</b> and others all had stories to tell, as well.<br /> <br /> Abegglen recalled a Big Sky Championship game against Montana. “We had to win the game to go to the NCAA Tournament. I remember thinking I had to say something good to these guys, so I said, “<b>Ruben (Nembhard)</b>, when we win, you go and shake the opposing team’s coach’s hand. Jimmy (DeGraffenreid), you jump up and down after we win.’ They had to be thinking, ‘This old guy’s nuts,’ but we went out there, had fun, and we destroyed them.” <br /> <br /> Johnson recalled one of the first games with <b>Sessions Harlan</b> and <b>Justice Thigpen</b>. It was an away game, and the two weren’t playing up to their potential. “They weren’t quick. We Could not get the ball into play, and we got beat. Afterward, Coach (Motta) cornered them at the water cooler and said, ‘You CANNOT play that way. You HAVE to get us into play and play PROPERLY.’” <br /> <br /> “What Coach Johnson failed to tell you was that Coach (Motta) had tears in his eyes,” Thigpen said. “We were drinking water, and I felt a tug, and there he was. It was a shock to see him crying. He taught us about the importance of teamwork and victory. He brought out the best in me.” <br /> <br /> On a night filled with nostalgia, WSU's alltime scoring leader <b>Bruce Collins</b> summed it up best saying, “Weber State basketball changed me. I hope I changed Weber State basketball.” With a roar of applause, the fans believed he — and all of those on the 50-member, 50th-anniversary team — did.<br /> <br /> <b>2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year</b><br /> <br /> When <b>Randy Rahe</b> took a trip to Oakland, Calif., in 2007, he didn’t know what he was going to find.<br /> <br /> He was tipped off by a friend about a driven young point guard, and like most recruiting trips, the Weber State men’s basketball coach intended to sign the best player he could get his hands on.<br /> <br /> When he first arrived to watch the 16-year-old play, he unknowingly witnessed a unique talent that would some day become the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year.<br /> <br /> “An AAU coach and good friend of mine called me up and told me about this kid named <b>Damian Lillard</b> who was still in his junior year of high school,” Rahe said. “So I went out in the spring of that year with one of my assistants and the first time I saw him, I looked at my assistant and said, ‘I’m not sure we can actually get this kid. He might be too good.’” <br /> <br /> Six years later — after an illustrious career at Weber State that included two Big Sky MVP awards and an AP All-American honor — Lillard is taking the NBA by Storm. On May 1, Lillard became the first player from a mid-major college basketball program to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award since the 1982-83 season, also becoming just the fourth player to win with a unanimous vote.<br /> <br /> Drafted No. 6 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers last June, the rookie guard immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, and started all 82 games for the upstart Blazers.<br /> <br /> Lillard led all rookies in scoring with 19 points per game, in assists with 6.5 per game and in 3-pointers made. His 185 “treys” set a single-season franchise record and also broke Stephen Curry’s 2009-10 NBA single-season mark for rookies. He also became the first-ever rookie to lead the NBA in minutes played (3,167).<br /> <br /> As the season progressed, the awards Started to pile up for the Wildcat.<br /> <br /> He was chosen to participate in the All-Star Weekend Rising Stars Game, and then won the Taco Bell Skills Challenge in dominating fashion, taking the crown away from perennial All-Star Tony Parker. He swept all six NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month awards, in addition to earning the league’s Kia Community Assist award, recognizing his charitable work.<br /> <br /> Looking back on Lillard’s successful rookie season in the NBA, Rahe is still proud that he managed to talk the superstar into playing for Weber State.<br /> <br /> “We got the recruitment started and we stayed with him and developed a relationship,” Rahe said. “As more higher level schools started to show up to his games, we were starting to get discouraged. But Damian was different. He didn’t really care about the Level of play. He wanted to be with the people he trusted.” Lillard’s loyalty and impact on WSU continues, long after he is gone.<br /> <br /> “What he’s been doing to this point has been terrific exposure,” Rahe said. “Our name is out there. Every time they talk about Damian, they talk about Weber State. It’s been nothing but positive for everyone involved. You put that on top of being the NBA Rookie of the Year from Weber State and it just adds to all of that.”

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