×
×
homepage logo

Weber State men’s basketball preview: 5 seniors may have Wildcats poised for memorable season

By Brett Hein - | Nov 5, 2021

Photo supplied, Weber State Athletics

In this October 2021 practice photo, JJ Overton, bottom, reaches up for the help of teammates, from left, KJ Cunningham, Cody Carlson, Zahir Porter and Michal Kozak at the Dee Events Center in Ogden.

OGDEN — During the pandemic, Weber State men’s basketball and head coach Randy Rahe brought in nine new players to reboot a roster in a post-Jerrick Harding world after a 12-20 season.

Isiah Brown became a unanimous first-team all-conference player by scoring 17.7 points per game, third-best in the Big Sky, junior college addition Zahir Porter added 12 points per game, and the Wildcats boasted one of the more high-powered offenses in the country.

WSU went 17-5 in the regular season and 12-3 in the most chaotic conference race in Big Sky history, due to massive imbalances created by COVID-19 cancellations, good for a finish of a half-game out of first place.

It was an unmitigated success — that is, until the conference tournament. WSU was flat for the first 30 minutes and was bounced by a young Montana team in the quarterfinals.

Now, the Wildcats regroup for a full season. Brown is gone and WSU has added four newcomers to a returning group of nine players — including senior transfers Koby McEwen and JJ Overton.

Ken Pomeroy rates Weber State at 114th nationally, tops in the Big Sky, heading into the season. Can this group take that next step and get the Wildcats back to the Big Dance?

Many players spoke in late October about the need for improved mental fortitude to go from good to great.

“I think learning from what we went through last year — this year, there won’t be any excuse of this is a new team, all these new guys coming together. There’s no excuses,” freshman Dillon Jones said. “Us being together, being tough, being every bit of what Coach Rahe is, we learned from our mistakes. We’ve got to be present in the moment.

“We go to Portland State and blitz them the first game, then lose the second game. That game came back to haunt us and we finish a half-game out of first place. We’ve got to be present in the moment, take care of our business.”

There’s a general positivity surrounding the mix of talent and experience in Ogden for the upcoming campaign.

“You see Weber on the schedule, it’s like ‘we’ve gotta deal with them dudes.’ That’s what we want,” Jones said. “You can’t cut the head off the snake on this team because you’re going to get bit by another one.”

DEPARTURES

Isiah Brown: The senior point guard averaged 17.7 points per game and was a unanimous All-Big Sky selection. He moved on from college ball and is playing in Cyprus, while producing his own music under the moniker Zay Wonder and helping run an apparel company, Homs Seattle.

Kham Davis: Davis played 40 games over two seasons, averaging 5.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. He battled a knee dislocation injury in 2019-20 and suffered a car crash in the offseason, but returned to finish his degree.

Tavian Percy: The transfer wing from New Mexico broke a bone in his foot in last season’s first game and has transferred to Lincoln Memorial University, a Division II team in Tennessee.

Darweshi Hunter: After one season at WSU, the Ohio native returned to the Midwest to be closer to his family and transferred to Northern Illinois.

Mitch Brizee: The walk-on big man took a scholarship offer and transferred to Division II program Central Washington.

RETURNERS

Three seniors, two juniors, three sophomores and one freshman return to the Wildcats this season. Class designations remain the same as last season because the NCAA determined players would not use eligibility by playing in the 2020-21 school year due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michal Kozak: The senior forward returns with 119 career games under his belt. If he maintains the health he’s enjoyed over the past four years, he’ll easily eclipse WSU’s program record of games played (currently Jordan Richardson at 132). Kozak saw his minutes drop to 22.4 per game last season due to a well-rounded frontcourt, but upped his 3-point percentage to 39% and averaged 7.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.

Cody Carlson: The senior center burst into his first Division I season last year with a putback dunk, the first bucket of WSU’s season, and displayed a red-hot stroke from deep. He averaged 10 points and 4.8 rebounds in 21 minutes per game, shooting 61.2% overall and 46.9% from deep.

Dontay Bassett: The senior forward/center got the biggest run of his career after transferring from Florida, averaging 8.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in 20 minutes per night after missing the first four games of the season with a knee injury. He’ll provide experience and maturity in the locker room.

Zahir Porter: Porter’s first Division I season after junior college ball showed the junior wing fits at the D-I level. Porter averaged 12 points, three rebounds and two assists in 29 minutes per game, shooting 41.9% from 3. Whether starting or off the bench, Porter can heat up and provide a scoring punch.

David Nzekwesi: The transfer from Denver provides solid insurance to WSU’s frontcourt and helped win a game against Utah Valley last season with a block and a late 3-pointer. The junior big man appeared in 10 games, averaging 2.7 points and 2.3 rebounds in 7 minutes per outing.

Seikou Sisoho Jawara: The sophomore guard was an unknown after one undistinguished season at Loyola Marymount, but earned all-Big Sky second-team honors by averaging 12.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in 31.8 minutes per outing. Sisoho Jawara became potently efficient in the back-half of last season and is one of several players poised to take a big jump.

KJ Cunningham: The third-year sophomore provides a steady option to the guard line off the bench and became a weapon from the 3-point corner last season. He played in all 23 games at 16 minutes per outing, averaging 3.1 points and shooting 42.9% from deep.

Donatas Kupsas: Kupsas’ career was derailed by a knee injury in the second game two seasons ago, but the fourth-year sophomore earns praise for his hard work and dedication in practice and as a teammate.

Dillon Jones: Last season’s lone freshman showed his skills as a utility-knife type of player and won Big Sky freshman of the year honors. Jones averaged 8.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 steals per game in 20.5 minutes per outing. Jones says he’s improved his shooting and should be able to keep defenses honest from the 3-point line this season.

NEWCOMERS

Koby McEwen: One of, if not the, most experienced players in the transfer portal chose Weber State over Arkansas due to the reputation of its coaches for player development. The Marquette transfer by way of Utah State has logged 117 games, 112 of them starts, at 30.6 minutes per outing, and has career averages of 12.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. The senior guard says he tweaked his shooting mechanics to be more consistent and aims to impact the game on both ends of the floor.

JJ Overton: McEwen’s transfer got most of the attention, but Overton’s addition will be plenty impactful. The senior wing from Utah Valley led the Wolverines in scoring at 15.6 points per game, and adds athleticism and competitiveness to both ends of the floor.

Dyson Koehler: After a season at Cal Poly, the Jordan High alum transferred to WSU. As a 6-foot-7 utility player, the Mustangs tended to use him out of position as a center. He averaged 3.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 15.2 minutes per game.

Alex Tew: This season’s lone true freshman is 6-foot-11 center Alex Tew, an England native who played just seven games at a California prep school last season due to COVID-19 and may emerge as an under-the-radar find because of recruiting limitations. His main Division I interest outside of Weber State came from Hawaii, UCSB and Southern Utah. Tew has impressed coaches and should be in the rotation this season.

Photo supplied, Weber State Athletics In this undated photo, the Weber State men’s basketball team huddles during practice ahead of the 2021-22 season at the Dee Events Center in Ogden.

WALK-ONS

Two players return as walk-ons in 6-foot-2 freshman Josh Sanders, a Davis High alum, and 6-foot-7 sophomore wing Jake Furgerson. They’re joined by freshman Chance Trujillo, a 6-foot-3 guard most known for his quarterbacking at Davis High.

THE OUTLOOK

With talent to be considered the top in the Big Sky by computers but motivation to erase the taste of last season’s end, the Wildcats believe they have a good chance to put together a memorable run if health is on their side.

“I feel like the good thing about having almost everyone back is we know our roles, we know each other. So that makes it easier,” Sisoho Jawara said. “Now we have two new guys coming in who will have a big role and seeing how we play in practice, they fit in our system. They know what they have to do and they’re not selfish, they’re great teammates. So I feel like that’s really going to help us. This last year we lost in the quarterfinals so now, a deeper team is going to help us for sure.”

NEW BALL

One change fans may only notice because of its starkly different hue is the basketball. The Big Sky and most of the NCAA is changing to a Wilson EVO-NXT composite basketball with a different texture and, most noticeably, its very light-orange color.

“You can tell a difference,” Kozak said. “I remember when we went to a tournament in The Bahamas and we used the Nike balls that are similar to these, and especially in such a humid environment, it was easy to lose control especially when your hands get sweaty. But you get used to it the more you practice with it, and we have done it all preseason.”

Sisoho Jawara added: “There’s a big difference between these balls and the ones from last year, but we’ve been practicing them every day, I’ve been working out with them every day. So hopefully it shouldn’t be a major difference.”

VACCINATIONS

The spread of the coronavirus canceled seven of Weber State’s games last season. Three dates were filled with new opponents, four were not, and WSU missed five conference games (four at home) because of it. Just one of the seven cancellations was due to symptoms at Weber State; no WSU players tested positive COVID-19 during the season.

The hope is that with vaccinations widely available to the general population for the last six months, COVID-19 will not play a role in the upcoming season.

Weber State is close to 100% vaccination, with a few players finishing up dosing schedules as camp concludes and the season begins.

“We never knew what was going to happen each week, if a game is going to be on, if it’s going to be canceled, what’s going to happen because of COVID,” Kozak said. “Now the mandates that almost require us to take the vaccine — which, everyone can have a different opinion on it, but at the same time, we’re here to win championships. So if you’re not going to be able to play, we can’t do that.

“So it’s one way where maybe people had to sacrifice to get vaccinated … that we needed to get done so we have the greatest chance to succeed. So I’m happy we’re all on the same boat and we shouldn’t have the issues we had last year with COVID.”

TRAVEL

Between a shortened season and tight budgets, COVID-19 condensed the travel map for many college basketball teams last season, especially those like Weber State. This season has trips in store to Pennsylvania, Florida and Washington.

“Getting back out toward the East Coast, that’s going to be fun. And definitely just playing more Division I teams,” Porter said. “We didn’t get to play as many last year because COVID canceled games. We’ve got a great schedule of Division Is and what we need to get ready for conference. It will be exciting.”

SCHEDULE HIGHLIGHTS

The 2021-22 schedule is the most compelling in several seasons, especially at home. It includes home non-conference games against BYU, Utah State and Fresno State. WSU will also take trips to Washington State, Duquesne, and a three-game tournament in Florida.

WSU has shifted Saturday conference games to 6 p.m. tipoffs.


FULL MEN’S SCHEDULE

All times Mountain

All games streamed on ESPN+ unless noted

Nov. 9: vs. Western Colorado, 7 p.m.

Nov. 15: @ Duquesne, 5 p.m.

Jersey Mike’s Classic, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Nov. 18: vs. UMass, 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports)

Nov. 19: vs. Ball State, 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports)

Nov. 21: vs. Green Bay, 10 a.m. (CBS Sports)

Nov. 27: @ Dixie State, 7 p.m.

Dec. 2: vs. Northern Arizona, 7 p.m.

Dec. 4: vs. Portland State, 6 p.m.

Dec. 8: @ Wash. St., 8 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

Dec. 11: vs. Maine Fort Kent, 2:30 p.m.

Dec. 15: vs. Utah State, 7 p.m. (KJZZ)

Dec. 18: vs. BYU, 6 p.m. (KJZZ)

Dec. 23: vs Fresno State, 4 p.m.

Dec. 30: @ Montana State, 7 p.m.

Jan. 1: @ Montana, 7 p.m.

Jan. 8: @ Idaho State, 6 p.m.

Jan. 13: vs. Idaho, 7 p.m.

Jan. 15: vs. E. Washington, 6 p.m.

Jan. 20: vs. Idaho State, 7 p.m.

Jan. 24: @ Southern Utah, 7 p.m.

Jan. 27: @ Northern Colorado, 6 p.m.

Jan. 29: @ Sacramento State, 8 p.m.

Feb. 3: vs. Montana, 7 p.m.

Feb. 5: vs. Montana State, 6 p.m.

Feb. 10: @ E. Washington, 7 p.m.

Feb. 12: @ Idaho, 3 p.m.

Feb. 17: vs. Sacramento State, 7 p.m.

Feb. 19: vs. Northern Colorado, 6 p.m.

Feb. 24: @ Portland State, 8 p.m.

Feb. 26: @ Northern Arizona, 2 p.m.

March 5: vs. Southern Utah, 6 p.m.

March 9-12: Big Sky Tournament, Boise

Newsletter

Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)