Dominican guard Verplancken Jr. commits to Weber State looking to expand his game
Starting in the Dominican Republic, Steven Verplancken Jr. has lived a well-traveled life. On April 28, the basketball guard decided to add a stop on his journey, entering the transfer portal after two seasons at Southern Illinois University.
Over the most serious offers from Illinois State, Chattanooga and Montana, Verplancken made his decision just more than two weeks later, tweeting his commitment to Weber State.
“Weber State is a big name in college basketball, in mid-major basketball,” he said. “The reason I came was that they win at a high level, and then my relationship with the coaching staff. It was amazing when I was on the visit, and before that just talking to them every day. And third, they do a good job with development, they bring people in and develop them and set them up for careers afterward.”
MORE: 2022 WSU commitments, stories, news, timeline
The 6-foot-4 guard was born in San Pedro, Dominican Republic, to a Dominican mother and a Belgian father, and lived there until he was 9 years old when his family moved to Belgium.
At 16 in his sophomore year of high school, he was recruited to an academy prep school in West Virginia to play basketball. There he met what he calls his second parents, a sponsor family who took him in so he could attend the school.
“I’ve been blessed, growing up with two great sets of parents, having a host family and traveling around different countries being so young. It’s molded me a lot into who I am. So I’ve been blessed and I wouldn’t change it,” Verplancken said.
He still sees his host parents several times a year, most recently welcoming them for dinner in Carbondale, Illinois. They drove from West Virginia to see him just after his commitment to WSU and before he took a flight to enjoy a week in Belgium with his family.
Without much college recruiting traction out of high school, Verplancken headed to Glenville State University, a Division II program in a town of 1,500 people. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 16.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 28 games, shooting 50% from the field and 45% from the 3-point line.
“Then was when COVID hit, and I just kind of bet on myself and knew I could be a Division I basketball player. So I went into the portal,” he said.
He ultimately landed at Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley Conference. On an average of 27 minutes over 57 games in two seasons, Verplancken averaged 6.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.
Last season, he shot 40.5% from the 3-point line and had a good offensive rating of 111.7. So it was perhaps that efficiency with relatively pedestrian averages — and, for example, shooting 19 total free throws in 1,541 minutes at SIU — that led him to reevaluate where he was.
“I wanted to make it work there. I have a great support staff, I love my team and it’s a great place. But on the court it was just hard, I didn’t feel like I could be myself,” Verplancken explained. “I’m a team player but at the same time, I only have two more years left so I kind of made the decision that I want to go somewhere that’s a better fit, X’s and O’s wise.”
That’s where Weber State hit home. One of the staples of recruiting visits to WSU is a film session where coaches show a player exactly how they fit on the court and why their skills will be magnified in Ogden. Given his shooting touch and the season he had at Glenville State, Verplancken feels there’s plenty more to his game that wasn’t brought out with the Salukis.
“I want to be more involved as a playmaker, in playmaking and decision-making. I want to get back to that groove; I think I need that to be the kind of player I want to be,” he said.
Because he transferred from one four-year school to another — Glenville to SIU — and played immediately, Verplancken does not qualify for the recently instituted rule that provides immediate eligibility for first-time transfers. He’ll need a waiver to play the 2022-23 season, though he said he’s OK if he ends up having to redshirt. He has two seasons left to play.
Two days after his commitment, the school announced the surprise retirement of head coach Randy Rahe and the promotion of Eric Duft to the head seat Monday. Though he isn’t signed yet, Verplancken said via text on Monday evening, “I will still be staying committed to Weber State.”
So, after island life in the Dominican and coastal living in Belgium, with stops in the hills of rural West Virginia and southern Illinois, his next stop is the mountains of the Wasatch Front.
Verplancken is the fifth commitment for the 2022 class and currently gives Weber State 10 scholarship players for next season, leaving three remaining scholarship players to add.
He joins sophomore and San Diego State transfer guard Keith Dinwiddie Jr. as the two transfers thus far to commit or sign to WSU. Freshmen JJ Louden, a guard, wing Chris Dockery and forward Louie Jordan are also signed with WSU.
Junior college forward Adam Afifi arrived in Ogden on Monday night for an official visit. Afifi is a 6-foot-9 player from San Jose, California, who played two seasons at West Valley College near his hometown.
Afifi averaged 17.2 points and 8.7 rebounds in 25.2 minutes per game as a sophomore. In his two seasons there, he shot 71 of 200 (35.5%) from 3 and blocked 2.1 shots per game. In California’s self-isolated junior college competition, he was named Coast Conference MVP and was selected as a First Team All-State player. West Valley College went 28-4 and lost in the California junior college championship game this season.