OGDEN — When he thinks back on those famed NCAA Tournament upsets, Ron Abegglen doesn’t think about the Xs and Os he drew up or even the personal acclaim he received as a national media darling.
Nope, when he thinks about surprising Michigan State in 1995 and North Carolina in 1999, the former Weber State men’s basketball coach thinks about the pure joy he saw in his players’ eyes.
He thinks about what it meant to them then, and what it means to them now.
“It’s easy to remember the good things and throw the bad stuff out the bus,” Abegglen said. “The memories of how the players reacted and how much they enjoyed the whole process (are most meaningful).”
Abegglen, who is in Ogden this weekend to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of Weber State’s Division I basketball program, coached the Wildcats from 1991 to 1999. He helped guide the ’Cats to a pair of the NCAA Tournament’s biggest upsets.
They beat No. 3 seed Michigan State in 1995 and narrowly lost to No. 6 Georgetown in the second round. Four years later, Abegglen’s guys upset No. 3 North Carolina in the first round before falling to No. 6 Florida in overtime in the round of 32.
“From a coaching standpoint, it was just great to be a part of it,” he said.
On Friday, Weber State will host “An Evening With Legends” dinner beginning at 6 p.m. at the Dee Events Center. Abegglen and former coaches Dick Motta, Phil Johnson, Gene Visscher and Neil McCarthy, plus current head coach Randy Rahe, will be in attendance along with ex-WSU playing greats Bruce Collins, Ryan Cuff, Jimmy DeGraffenried , Stan Mayhew and David Patten, among others.
Tickets to the event are $100 per person and may be purchased at the WSU ticket office or through the Wildcat Club.
Weber State has a strong reputation among college hoops followers, and much of it is based on the success the Wildcats had under Abegglen.
Abegglen had some star players in DeGraffenried and Ruben Nembhard in 1995, and Harold Arceneaux and Eddie Gill in 1999.
But the coach doesn’t mince words when explaining the importance of team work up and down the roster and even with the support staff.
“I’m probably not a huge fan of isolating certain players, but I know you have to do that,” he said. “To me, it was a team effort, a team game and everybody involved contributed.”
Abegglen had prolific scorers who gained notoriety, especially after those upsets in the NCAAs, but he said he won’t soon forget the players who contributed in other ways.
“It’s hard for me to pull out a star (when there is also) the guy that made the best pass, the critical pass in a tough situation,” he said. “Maybe he didn’t score 20 points, but he may have scored a couple, and he (also) made a big-time assist or a defensive effort.
“To me, it’s always been a team sport and everybody contributed from the coaching staff, the medical staff, the secretaries — everybody contributed.”
In 1991, Joey Haws was a skinny 6-foot-10, 210-pound senior at Brighton High School in Salt Lake City. He also was Abegglen’s first high school recruit and later became a member of the 1999 team that stunned North Carolina’s storied Tar Heels.
As a senior on that team, Haws averaged less than a point a game, but he played an important role, Abegglen said.
And Haws, like so many of Abegglen’s players, took something away from the time spent in a Wildcat uniform.
“The further I get away from it, it’s like the wisdom that comes with the ages,” he said. “I learned to appreciate all the lessons that he was teaching me throughout my entire time with him. I always look back and use it as a badge of honor that I was Coach A’s first high school recruit.
“I started with him, I ended with him and I look back at all those things, and every time I think about the experience of playing basketball at Weber State — which really is almost daily — I hear his voice in my head. There’s always going to be a soft spot in my heart for that guy.”