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Weber State's Doc Nelson (right) looks to pass the ball while being guarded by BYU's Jahshire Hardnett (left) during the second half of the Beehive Classic game on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017, at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

The head coaches from Utah’s four top college basketball programs convened Tuesday morning in Salt Lake City for a media event to kick off ticket sales for the 2018 version of the Beehive Classic.

While tickets went on sale and tip times were announced for this year’s matchups on Saturday, Dec. 8, at Vivint Smart Home Arena — Utah vs. BYU at noon, Weber State vs. Utah State at 2:30 p.m. — WSU head coach Randy Rahe used the opportunity to talk up his team and reveal more about his plans for the 2018-19 season.

During a panel discussion in a Vivint Arena atrium hosted by Utah Jazz TV broadcaster Craig Bolerjack, Rahe quipped, “We’re undefeated. We’re happy with where we’re at right now.”

The Wildcats return two seniors in Zach Braxton and Brekkott Chapman, plus experienced juniors Jerrick Harding, Cody John and Jordan Dallas. Sophomore Michal Kozak also spent most of last season as a starter.

“I really like our team,” Rahe said. “We’ve got a nice blend of veterans. We’ve got five, six guys who have played a lot of basketball for us.”

WSU also brings a whopping six true freshmen into the season. Among them are three-star recruits Israel Barnes out of Kansas and Dima Zdor from Ukraine by way of Maryland. Zdor had offers from Illinois and Arkansas, while Barnes was pursued by Valparaiso and other top mid-majors.

Rahe opened up to explain he expects most of the new class to step in and contribute.

“I’ve got six new freshmen. But out of those six freshmen, that class might be the best class we’ve had since I’ve been at Weber State,” he said. “We’ve got five of those freshmen for sure who are going to play minutes for us. And I’m excited about them ... We have a chance to be a pretty good team.”

Rahe said his team got more athletic with the additions and revealed more style changes are on the way. Last season, Rahe deviated from his tried-and-true package of Stew Morrill-influenced set plays to install a free-flowing offense that gave Rahe the second-highest scoring offense by per-game average (78.5) in his tenure.

This season, Rahe said Weber State would play “a little faster” and indicated defensive wrinkles were on the way, saying the ‘Cats would be “more pressure-oriented.”

It’s an idea Rahe seems to have been set on for some time. Shortly after the 2017-18 season ended, Oklahoma guard Caleb Nero committed to WSU and hinted at changes.

“He thinks me, Jerrick and Doc (Ricky Nelson) can play well together. He wants to run more and be a great offensive team,” Nero said in April.

RECRUITING AND DEVELOPMENT

Fielding a question from Bolerjack about the impact of former players like Damian Lillard and Joel Bolomboy, Rahe laid out his sales pitch to potential players.

“We try to recruit a little bit higher-level kid than maybe we should at the Big Sky level,” he said. “We go in and say, ‘hey, come to our place, No. 1, you get a chance to play early. And if you play early as a freshman, you’re going to get better. You don’t get better by sitting around waiting for your chance to play.

“’Come here, play early, get better quicker, we’re going to do everything we can to develop you as a player. And if you get good enough, we’ve got proof that they’re going to find you. You can play at the highest level from our place as well as any other place.’”

That echoes what those being recruited told the Standard-Examiner.

“I have versatile skills and (Rahe will) use me in the right way,” Zdor said in June. “Weber State’s development program is on the same level as any high-major in the country.”

Don Shopland, one of Zdor’s prep coaches, said: “It was important for us to find a program that is going to teach, and a place he can plant roots and be there four years ... (Weber State’s) reputation for family and development, guys like Joel Bolomboy ... having somebody know who Dima is and invest in his development, that reputation was important to us.”

CONTINUING THE CLASSIC

The 2018 Beehive Classic will be the second installment. Utah defeated Utah State and BYU beat Weber State in the inaugural 2017 event.

The current contract calls for a third year in 2019, when Weber State will play Utah and BYU will take on Utah State.

“It’s an event that, with all of us being in different leagues … basketball in the state of Utah is a real tradition and there’s real passion for each other’s universities. And I think it’s important that we play,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “This is a great venue … and I’m excited to be part of it.”

According to a statement from the Utah Jazz, last year’s event put $30,000 total into the schools’ scholarship funds as the Jazz pass most of the earnings back to the four universities.

On the Jazz’s official Ticketmaster site accessed through WeberStateTickets.com, lower-bowl tickets are listed at $60, same as last season, while upper-bowl tickets have dropped from $30 to $20 per ticket. Tickets are good for both games.

Contact Brett Hein at bhein@standard.net, follow him on Twitter @bhein3 and at facebook.com/brettheinwrites.

Brett Hein is the sports editor and covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner.

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