Weber State basketball: ‘Slim Twins’ work together to increase offensive punch, defensive versatility
OGDEN — When JJ Overton committed to Weber State men’s basketball in April, WSU wing player Zahir Porter was at least somewhat surprised.
In his first Division I season, the 6-foot-6 Porter averaged 12 points per game — playing in 22 of 23 games and starting 21 of them — shooting 47.6% overall and 41.9% from the 3-point line.
Perhaps in line to become a more featured scorer with the departure of point guard Isiah Brown, Porter, a junior in athletic eligibility, was now looking at welcoming in Overton, a 6-foot-6 senior wing transferring after being Utah Valley’s leading scorer.
Similar player, same position.
But one of the things Porter felt he improved most this offseason was his headspace.
“I feel like my mental maturity definitely improved. Coming from junior college, it’s different than Division I,” Porter said. “I definitely improved that during the summer.”
From his viewpoint, Overton wondered how he’d be received — both by players who might see him as a threat to playing time and by the team overall, considering WSU and UVU played both a scrimmage and an official game against each other during the shortened campaign last season.
“I mean, we were playing against each other, talking junk and stuff,” Overton said, indicating it would be a problem “if we were all about ‘oh, JJ is from Utah Valley, he’s a transfer trying to play my position.'”
But instead of resentment, Porter wanted to learn more about Overton and, as workouts began in the summer, the wing players who hail from far-apart locales in the United States — Porter from The Bronx, New York, and Overton from San Diego, California — quickly coalesced with each other and their teammates.
Their physical similarities were also readily apparent.
So when opponents line up against Weber State, they’ll be introduced to the “Slim Twins.”
“Everybody was like, ‘you and Z are like the same player, you’re both slim.’ We just turned a joke into the Slim Twins,” Overton said. “That’s my brother … same position or not, our relationship is what dictates how we approach playing.”
“That’s my guy,” Porter said.
Instead of skepticism, the Wildcats embraced Overton from the start.
“They accepted me right when I got here. I think the best thing about this team is our relationships,” Overton said. “Every single one of us — all the players, the coaches, all the team managers — we all have a family-based relationship, which is exactly why I came here. Our relationship with everybody is the best thing, outside of playing on the court.”
Overton wasn’t exactly looking to leave Utah Valley and take someone else’s job, either. Trying to use the extra season of eligibility provided by the NCAA due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic meant Overton could begin a master’s program, but Utah Valley didn’t have any he felt fit his bachelor’s degree in psychology and what he wanted to do next. He’s now studying in the master’s program of criminal justice at WSU.
So when the academic part wasn’t lining up, Overton reconnected with Weber State assistant coach Eric Daniels, a former UVU assistant who recruited Overton to Orem out of high school and again out of junior college.
His final choice for his graduate transfer included Fresno State and Portland as options, but WSU “had everything I needed,” he said in April, “outside basketball and including basketball, with their record, coach (Randy) Rahe and the type of style he plays, it just kind of worked out perfect.”
From the jump, Overton said he merely wanted to “do my part” and “be part of that winning culture.”
Overton and Porter stand to boost Weber State’s versatility and talent on both ends of the floor.
Overton scored 15.6 points per game for the second-place Wolverines in the WAC, shooting 50.7% from the floor and grabbing 4.2 rebounds per game. Porter’s no sieve defensively, but Overton is the better defender and ball-handler.
But Porter spent significant time this offseason improving his ball-handling and passing, which he showed flashes of last season.
“That was a focal point to improve this summer with the coaches,” Porter said.
Overton shot 50.7% from the field last season despite a cold 22.7% mark from deep (he averaged only 1.2 attempts per game). Porter is the better outside shooter.
But Overton spent a lot of his offseason on his 3-pointer. He and freshman Dillon Jones both say they’ve taken a jump from behind the arc.
“Adding a 3-ball is like being a three-way scorer, and that will help us win,” Overton said. “Make everybody respect everyone on the court.”
Overton slashes well off the ball and can score in the midrange. Porter can heat up from deep in a hurry. Both play above the rim.
Weber State returns sophomore guard Seikou Sisoho Jawara, who was recently voted to the Big Sky’s preseason all-conference team, to run the point. WSU also brought in former Utah State and Marquette guard Koby McEwen, with 117 career games under his belt, to play both on and off the ball.
Along with McEwen and Jones, the Slim Twins are a big reason the Wildcats feel they can add a deadly fastbreak game to last year’s potent half-court offense that finished eighth nationally in effective field goal percentage. And, they should combine with McEwen to increase defensive versatility, effectiveness and rebounding.
Who between Overton and Porter will start and who will come off the bench? Or will they play together? Or some of both?
“We don’t know yet,” Porter said in late October. ” It doesn’t really matter. It’s all about winning, if I’m going to be honest … you just go out there, play basketball and just win. It’s going to be fun this year.”
The Weber State men unofficially open the 2021-22 season by hosting a non-counting exhibition game against Concordia-St. Paul at 7 p.m. Thursday, the Division II team out of Minnesota where WSU big man Cody Carlson began his college career. There will be no live stream or radio for the exhibition game.
The regular season begins with a women’s and men’s doubleheader Tuesday, Nov. 9, at the Dee Events Center. The women host North Dakota that day at 4:30 p.m. and the men play Western Colorado at 7 p.m.