OGDEN — Well before the pre-competition autograph session began, Timmy Gibbs was on the hardwood finding his rhythm.
Across the top of the 3-point arc, free-throw line jumpers — most found the bottom of the net.
It was the first time Gibbs, a Weber State guard from 1987-89, had set foot in the Dee Events Center since his playing days ended. He and a group of about 30 basketball alumni, hosted by NBA superstar Damian Lillard, took the floor Saturday evening in the third Weber State Basketball Alumni Classic.
He said as long as he didn't have to run too much in the game, he'd be fine.
"I’m just so excited to be here. Just to come back and see the guys … you want to pass the ball to a guy you remember, thinking he will probably be that same guy — but I’m 52 now, you’ve gotta be realistic," Gibbs said. "It’s just all about having fun, getting together, the atmosphere at Weber State and the family love. I just wanted to be around that atmosphere again."
He said memories came flooding back as he put up shots: a time he dunked on the west hoop against Boise State, or walking into the arena out of the snow to put in work at practice.
Gibbs lives in Mexico, where he previously coached professional basketball and now coaches a high school team.
He and others all echoed similar feelings: the tradition and connection Weber State basketball has given them will always be a treasure.
As Gibbs was getting ready to put up shots, Mike Sivulich (1989-93) arrived at the arena and, in excited disbelief, said "is that Timmy Gibbs?!?"
They exchanged a handshake-hug combination. That combo was not in short supply Saturday night.
"The fact that Damian does this gives us a chance to connect and catch up on each other’s lives. I think it’s something beautiful," Gibbs said. "That really shows a lot about Damian man, just to come back and think about the players before him. I feel really blessed and it’s a special thing for people to be here."
As became tradition in 2017, Lillard and a slew of former players filled tables in a concourse as fans lined well down the hall to get autographs before the game. Lillard sat next to former teammates Kyle Bullinger, current coach at Bonneville High School, and James Hajek, a sports communications professional who just moved back to Salt Lake City after time at the University of Nebraska and University of Wyoming.
Gibbs wasn't the only first-timer at the alumni classic. The Show was a yes-show Saturday night.
Harold Arceneaux, kept away from previous iterations of the night due to his international work with the United States Basketball Academy in China, was there with some of his nephews "so they could see the tradition at Weber."
"It’s always been a great feeling for me," Arceneaux said about times he's returned to WSU. "This was a great time in my life, playing here. It always gives me a good, warm feeling. It feels like home."
He stays busy with his work in China and through a music company he runs. But he says fans help him keep up on current Weber State players and, because of his NCAA Tournament exploits in 1999, he becomes a bit more popular every March.
"Some of my friends who coach now, they always call me up and say ‘can you give our guys a speech?’ So during that time, I’m pretty popular," he said.
Ryan Cuff (1995-97) was again a participant, but he's in the Dee Events Center often now — most recently as head coach of the American Fork High School boys basketball team, who played at the DEC about six months ago in the high school playoffs.
"It’s so awesome to come back home to the Purple Palace. You bleed purple, when you leave it stays in your blood. It’s just a great place," Cuff said. "The opportunity to come back and coach here is a comfort. I always look forward to that."
He said while these old hoopers still have dreams of dominating on the court, he knows it's about family and that's why he comes around to the alumni classic.
"We recognize now that we’re older. It’s the relationships that matter the most," Cuff said. "We’re still competitive in our own ways, but to keep those relationships and see guys this weekend, we can’t thank Damian Lillard enough to help create this opportunity for us and get everybody together."
That wasn't lost on senior guard Jerrick Harding, who said the team met with Lillard, Pat Danley and a few others over the weekend.
"It's crazy to see all the people who are the names on posters and stuff upstairs, to see them in person playing is crazy," Harding said. "Weber State has a rich history and we're just trying to carry on the great things they did."
Harding said Lillard's offer to mentor WSU point guards isn't just talk.
"I reach out to him for advice sometimes, I'll text him and he's quick to respond," Harding said. "It's cool having a guy like that — I mean, he's an NBA All-Star, the best player in the league to me. It's cool to be in touch with a guy like that."
After a team photo, the night began with the "shooting stars" competition, which tasks teams of three players to make a layup, free throw, 3-pointer and half-court shot as quickly as possible.
The team of Gibbs, Nick Hansen (2008-10) and Ryan Richardson (2014-17) completed the run in 15 seconds when Gibbs made from half-court, but that wasn't the quickest time of the first round. Lillard, Sivulich and Jimmy DeGraffenried made every shot, and Lillard capped it with the half-court make in 12 seconds.
Those two teams advanced to the finals, where Sivulich made from half-court to lift he, Lillard and DeGraffenried to a win in 14 seconds.
Richardson took the 3-point crown Saturday, defeating Brody Van Brocklin (2006-08) in the final. Richardson scored 18 points in the first round (in the traditional run of 20 balls worth one point, five more worth two). He then made seven straight 3s in his final round before missing the final money ball, scoring 19 points.
DeGraffenried scored 11 points and Cuff 10 in the first round.
There was a healthy appreciation for all the players — locals like Nic Sparrow and Van Brocklin had noticeable crowd support, as well as former MVPs like Arceneaux and DeGraffenried — but there was no doubt who the crowd was there to see.
For the first time in the event's history, Lillard took the court and started for the White team during the alumni game.
Lillard played about seven minutes to open the game and put on a show for the crowd of a few thousand, pulling up for eight deep 3-point attempts. He hit on five, including the final four he took in consecutive possessions for his team.
That obviously delighted the crowd, as well as the current Weber State players seated courtside along the sideline who rose up to celebrate as Lillard kept hitting.
For a run of about five minutes to end the first half for the White team, Lillard shared the court with former teammates in Bullinger, Hajek, Hansen, Frank Otis and Darin Mahoney.
At halftime, the Weber State Alumni Association presented Lillard with the "Outstanding Young Alumnus Award" before Randy Rahe thanked the crowd for coming and introduced the 2019-20 basketball team.
"My biggest fear was we wouldn't have enough medical trainers available for the game tonight," Rahe joked. "Only 20 more minutes, hang in there guys."
Rahe thanked the alumni players for building Weber State's tradition. "It's really all about the players," he said.
Midway through the second half, Lillard extended his range even more and started pulling up from half-court. His first shot from the distance was on line but rolled out.
"He was wide open," public address announcer Robb Alexander quipped, leading Lillard to flash a smirk to the scorer's table.
Lillard's shooting gave the White team a big, early cushion and it cruised to an 84-58 win over the Purple squad.
Lillard said he didn't expect just how fun it would be to play after only participating in shooting competitions in 2015 and 2017.
"Getting back out there playing, it was different. Having the crowd cheering, being out there with my old teammates," he said. "I knew it was going to be fun, but I wasn't sure it was going to be as fun as it ended up being.
"Good pass, Dame — small stuff like that, it takes you back. We were teammates for four years ... it was fun to have that feeling again."