OGDEN — Going into Wednesday’s annual Purple and White preseason scrimmage, Weber State coach Randy Rahe said he'd be evaluating each player's toughness, effort and execution.
After three 10-minute periods and a White win of 51-38 over Purple at the Dee Events Center, Rahe said he saw good signs for all of those things, but to be competitive in the Big Sky Conference this season, his guys need to give more.
“You saw a little bit of good from everybody,” Rahe said. “I thought when we were fresh, we played really well and with a good amount of toughness, but then I thought we gave into fatigue.”
The Wildcats return seven players from the 2011-12 team that went 25-7 and finished second in the Big Sky.
Without Lillard, the second-leading scorer in the country last season, and departed seniors Kyle Bullinger and Darin Mahoney, Rahe says he’s looking for a more balanced attack this season and hopes to have a deep rotation of eight to 10 players.
Among the bright spots were a game-high 18 points from junior forward Davion Berry, a transfer who sat on the bench after last year’s Purple and White scrimmage for eligibility requirements.
“It felt good to play this game knowing that I’m going to play the next game,” he said. “I’m hungry and I’m ready to go out there and play my heart out for the team and do whatever I have to do to get the win.”
Other notable performances came from 6-foot-9 freshman forward Joel Bolomboy, who hauled in a game-leading eight rebounds, and a solid performance from sophomore guard Gelaun Wheelwright who showcased his speed to the basket with six points and a pair of boards.
Returning senior point guard Scott Bamforth proved he hasn’t lost his touch putting in 15 points including a 1-of-3 performance from the 3-point line while forward Frank Otis, the only other senior on the team, contributed five points and a trio of rebounds.
Rahe says he was a little disappointed on the defensive side of the ball, an aspect he’s expecting more from this squad over past teams.
“We’re trying to play a more aggressive style of defense because we’re more athletic and a little bigger in size,” he said. “The tendency the first time you play in front of somebody is to be really excited offensively, and defensively a little bit back on their heels and we’re going to have to change that.”
On the other side of the coin, Rahe said he was impressed with the way his team shared the ball and was conscious about making crucial extra passes to find the open shot.
The 2012-13 Wildcats also had a chance to show off in front of former teammate and sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Damian Lillard, who was in town as his team, the Portland Trail Blazers, are slated to play the Utah Jazz tonight. Lillard talked to media during a short press conference before the scrimmages and was asked if it was special for him to be back in the Dee Events Center.
“Yeah it is,” Lillard said. “I’m really excited to see how the team looks and I’m happy it worked out like this so I could come back the day before and then play tomorrow.”
Lillard says he still talks to his former teammates on a regular basis, including the night’s top scorer in Berry. Berry in turn said it was good to have his former teammate there for support.
“(Lillard) is like my big brother slash cousin,” Berry said. “So it felt good to have him in the house tonight.”
Berry says he and Lillard talk regularly and he appreciates the advice he gets from the former Wildcat.
Rahe and his staff, including new assistant Keith Berard, put the squad through their paces through three 10-minute scrimmages, alternating between different combinations of players, with coaches on all sides of the floor putting up plays and calling defensive configurations.
Weber State was picked to finish second behind Montana in the Big Sky Conference preseason polls and the Wildcats will host Arizona Christian for their regular season opener on Nov. 9.
Weber State’s women’s basketball team, which played before the men, featured nine freshmen among the 11 new players on the roster.
Led by second-year coach Bethann Ord, it was hard to recognize a team that struggled last season, and is looking to regain a foothold in the Big Sky.
“I’ve been recruiting for a lot of years,” Ord said. “I know you’ve got to have great players and then once you get them here you have to build that chemistry.”
Freshman guard Regina Okoye and forward Jalen Carpenter both scored in double digits with a combined 22 points and 12 rebounds on the night for a Purple team that logged a 42-33 win after 20 minutes.
Another bright spot was the junior center from Louisville, Ky., Zakiyyah Shahid-Martin, who showed solid play inside along with the team’s tallest player, 6-foot-2 freshman Tinisha Toussaint.
“We’re adding more athleticism so we can play the type of basketball we want to play,” Ord said. “We have great team chemistry and that is one of the toughest things in women’s basketball. It’s also one of the most important things.”