Jimmy DeGraffenried doesn't hesitate to tell people about the tradition and successes of his college basketball team.
"Whenever I get a chance," the third-leading scorer in Weber State history says. "I love it whenever Weber beats anybody in-state and when they beat some of the bigger schools. It's something that Weber has done regularly."
Weber State will celebrate its 50th season of Division I men's basketball with a weekend of events.
The school is selling 50 cent tickets in the upper bowl at the Dee Events Center for tonight's 7 p.m. game against Portland State. The game will have a '60s theme and costume contest to turn back the clock to 1962-63, WSU's first year of D-I hoops after making the jump from junior college status.
Weber State officials will also honor former coaches and players at an event sponsored by the Wildcat Club on Friday night, then recognize them at halftime of Saturday's season finale against Eastern Washington.
WSU has won 19 Big Sky Conference regular-season championships, but when the school's name comes up now on the national stage, it's because of a former Wildcat making noise in the NBA.
"I think the perception changed a little bit over the years," DeGraffenried said. "I think actually Damian Lillard did a ton in the last year or two. You look at Randy Rahe and the coaching he's done there, you look at Ron Abegglen before that. I think people look at it as a winning program."
DeGraffenried is well-aware of Lillard's accomplishments, having been passed by him for second place on the all-time scoring list last season.
Lillard, now the Portland Trail Blazers' starting point guard and top contender for the NBA's rookie of the year award, moved within striking distance of Collins before declaring for the NBA draft, where he was taken sixth overall, the highest draft pick ever from the school.
Before Lillard, it was a pair of Cinderella upsets by Abegglen's teams in the NCAA Tournament that helped educate college hoops aficionados on the proper pronunciation of Weber State.
DeGraffenried, the Big Sky MVP in 1996, was a part of the No. 14 seed Wildcats team that took down third-seeded Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 1995.
"Being there in Tallahassee, Fla., and having the fans cheering for Michigan State to the second half, everybody in the whole arena was going for us," he said. "Two nights later, when we played Georgetown and almost beat them, everybody there was for us. You go around the town and there were 'Go Weber State!' signs in Florida. I thought that was pretty cool. That was probably one of my best memories there."
Another career highlight for DeGraffenried, now a high school basketball coach at Salem Hills High School, was a game-winning shot to beat in-state rival Utah State.
"That's probably the one that most people remember about me," he said.
DeGraffenried's teammate Alex Fisher missed playing in Weber State's defining NCAA Tournament wins by a year in either direction.
"I was a redshirt the year we went and beat Michigan State, but being part of that team was second to none," said Fisher, another member of the 50th anniversary team. Fisher led the Big Sky in scoring in 1996-97 but graduated in 1998 -- missing out by a year on 15th-seeded Weber State's upset of defending national champion North Carolina in the first round of the 1999 NCAA Tournament.
The 50th anniversary team includes current player Scott Bamforth, who ranks 13th in school history in scoring and third in career 3-pointers.
Weber State athletics communications director Paul Grua, who has worked at the school in various capacities for nine years, first attended a WSU basketball game with his grandpa when he was about 10 years old. He's been supporting the purple and white ever since.
Grua, who put together the 50th anniversary team, is working on a book for his master's project that will be available to order at Friday's celebration, featuring former coaches and players' memories of some of the most successful seasons in Weber State history.
"I want to meet some of these coaches that have been there," DeGraffenried said. "I always like to see my coach, Ron Abbeglen, but I want to meet some of these guys like Dick Motta. I've met Phil (Johnson) before, but Neil McCarthy (and others) ... I've heard about them my whole life."
Abegglen, McCarthy, Motta, Johnson and Gene Visscher will join current coach Randy Rahe at the event. Motta and Johnson went on to long NBA coaching careers and were part of a tradition that saw ESPN rank Weber State last year as the 39th most successful program over the past 50 seasons.
It's been fun to dive into forgotten history, Grua said.
"That stretch from the early '60s to the mid-70s, the (Wildcats) won almost everything all the time," Grua said.
"The Dee Events Center has hosted so many great events -- four NCAA Tournaments, numerous Big Sky championships. We used to pack the place, 11,000 fans and that's kind of neat. I think the community will appreciate reliving some of these memories. We've had some of our fans that have been coming to games for years and years -- some of them probably 50 years."