OGDEN — Whether looking to build off a strong campaign or put last year’s frustrations behind, every college basketball media day marks the beginning of a new season full of optimism and hope.
With work nearing completion on the installation of a new videoboard unit over the court, Weber State men’s basketball convened Thursday in the Dee Events Center concourse for team photos and interviews.
Players and coaches have been able to meet for limited periods of time over the summer and into fall, but media day marks the opening of a full practice schedule. WSU head coach Randy Rahe, entering his 14th season at the helm, likes what he sees so far.
“Overall, I like this group. I think we have a very hard-working, hard-playing, tough, competitive group, which is the kind of groups I like,” Rahe said. “I’ve seen it this summer, I’ve seen it this fall so far. I do believe we have those things that have always been really important to us here to have success.”
The Wildcats enter the 2019-20 season with two scholarship seniors in guards Jerrick Harding and Cody John. Harding, who is on pace to become the program’s all-time leading scorer, said it’s weird to be one of the seniors, that it felt like he just stepped on campus yesterday.
Rahe and players identified those two — as well as junior and Pitt transfer Khameron Davis, who must sit out this season due to transfer rules — as the team’s emerging leaders.
The seniors lead by example, mostly.
“They’re not going to be overly vocal, they’re going to lead by example a lot because they’re both extremely hard-working kids, they’re both tough kids, they’re both highly competitive kids,” Rahe said. “And the biggest thing, they’re all about winning. That’s all they care about.
“So from that standpoint, you don’t have to be vocal, but if the other guys see that our seniors — you usually kind of develop into who your seniors are in your team identity, a lot of times. If this team develops into that identity that Cody and Jerrick have ... then we’re going to like coaching this team. They’re all about the right stuff.”
Harding said the way last season ended — an 18-15 campaign that finished with a 29-point loss to Montana in the Big Sky semifinals — is at the front of players’ minds.
“That’s a big motivation for us,” Harding said. “We used it during the summer in the weight room, on the court, wherever. Our goal is to win the Big Sky conference and this year, I feel like we’re not taking no for an answer.”
As the offseason neared its end, the team went on a retreat to Bear Lake for a couple of days. John said the team watched a documentary about the 2004 Detroit Pistons, perhaps the most recent NBA team most known for winning the NBA Finals without a true superstar.
John said things like that go a long way toward cementing the team’s culture.
“Stuff like that shows us exactly what we need to do and how to get a championship,” he said.
Rahe said getaways are meant to encourage team togetherness but he’s seen a large amount of that anyway.
“They’re together a lot already anyway, I’ve noticed that a lot with this team,” Rahe said. “They’re doing most things together, which is really good. You’ve got to have that chemistry.”
Fifth-year senior and walk-on Brenden Morris joins Harding and John as the team’s seniors. Forward Michal Kozak is the lone eligible junior, with Davis required to sit.
Guards Caleb Nero and Israel Barnes, forward Donatas Kupsas and big man Dima Zdor return as sophomores. They are joined by forward Boubacar Diakite, an eligible transfer from St. John’s by way of Iowa Western Community College. Walk-on Sano Gasana, who recently made the team through an open tryout, will also be a sophomore.
Big man Tim Fuller returns as a redshirt freshman and is expected to play a large role. Guards KJ Cunningham and Judah Jordan, and wing Austin Galuppo comprise WSU’s true-freshman class. They are joined by walk-on freshmen forward Mitch Brizee.
Talk among players at media day indicated they expect WSU to run a deep rotation onto the floor each night this year, they’re just not sure how the pieces of the puzzle will fit together yet.
“Everyone’s fitting in just right,” John said. “We’ve just been waiting ... so we’ll see how we put it together.”