After Weber State men’s basketball’s lackluster, offensively challenged, injury-filled 2019-20 season, the Wildcats began the process to put that 12-20 campaign behind them.
Randy Rahe’s stated recruiting goals were to immediately bring age and experience to his roster, while upgrading shooting and adding enough length and athleticism to be good defensively.
Now that the 2020-21 season approaches, beginning Nov. 25, here’s a look at the recruiting offseason and what the numbers say about how the recruiting class compares to those goals.
SUMMARY OF CHANGES
Graduated seniors: Jerrick Harding, Cody John, Brenden Morris (walk-on).
Returning players: KJ Cunningham, Kham Davis, Michal Kozak, Donatas Kupsas.
Outgoing transfers: Israel Barnes (DII Texas-Permian Basin), Bouki Diakite (NAIA University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma), Tim Fuller (DI Utah Valley), Austin Galuppo (JC Palm Beach State College), Judah Jordan (JC Blinn College), Caleb Nero (DI North Dakota), Dima Zdor (DI Grand Canyon).
Incoming transfers: Dontay Bassett (DI Florida), Isiah Brown (DI Grand Canyon), Cody Carlson (DII Concordia-St. Paul), Darweshi Hunter (DII Central State), David Nzekwesi (DI Denver), Tavian Percy (DI New Mexico), Zahir Porter (JC Independence), Seikou Sisoho Jawara (DI Loyola Marymount).
Incoming freshmen: Dillon Jones.
AGE & EXPERIENCE
WSU rostered four scholarship upperclassmen (seniors or juniors) in the 2019-20 season. The 10 other Big Sky programs averaged 7.2 total upperclassmen; six teams had eight or more, three had nine or more.
Weber was unquestionably one of the youngest teams in the league by experience, fielding essentially five scholarship players with no college basketball game experience.
This season, Weber State will have eight upperclassmen in five seniors and three juniors. Only one player, Jones, has no college basketball experience.
Considering age only, last year’s squad had two players who were 22 or older on opening night (Davis, John) and four players under the age of 20 (Barnes, Cunningham, Jordan, Zdor).
The upcoming Wildcats have six players 22 or older on opening night (Bassett, Brown, Carlson, Davis, Kozak, Kupsas) and one under the age of 20 (Jones).
That kind of maturity was a focus of the offseason and Bassett, a senior big man, said it manifested immediately.
“We’re a group of guys who play hard and play for each other. It’s something we never had to work on or even talk about. It’s just a given, we play hard and play for each other,” Bassett said. “Having a group of guys come together and already have that is really good.”
Experience-wise, a comparison of college games, starts and minutes between the rosters for the 2019-20 and the 2020-21 teams shows the current roster outpaces last year’s team in those areas, even though nobody on the current team brings more than Harding or John had in any of those measures coming into last season.
This year’s team averages 20 more game appearances per player, six more starts per player, and 258 more college minutes per player than last year’s squad. Cumulatively, this team has 254 more games, 71 more starts and 3,353 more college minutes entering the season than its predecessor.
Kozak, the program’s elder statesman, said the difference has been key during an offseason disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. While Weber State fared better than many teams in regards to access to facilities and ability to work out, full team practices where schemes are installed still began later than usual.
“There are some times it would have taken longer with the group of guys we’ve had the last couple years, but this year, we have more guys who already know about certain principles and things, so they were ready to put something in and just play,” Kozak said. “There maybe were some habits to change but they knew what they were doing, so it was much easier than it would have been.
“Everyone here is a really hard worker, so with that and the positive attitude everyone has, it was easier to get everything done in a short amount of time.”
The foundation seems to be built. Many of the 2020-21 Wildcats are looking to step forward into larger roles than they’ve had in the past, but they are decidedly older and more experienced than last year’s team. What happens from that foundation remains to be seen.
Though no one on the current roster individually brings more college career points than either Harding or John did entering last season, the current team has 894 more career points entering the season (69 points per player) compared to last year’s group.
When comparing career 3-point percentages, the two teams are nearly identical at 34.1% — though, experience wise, the current team averages 10 more career makes and 30 more career attempts per player than last season’s team.
That’s not a great number. It dipped significantly when Balint Mocsan decided to take his career 42.6% 3-point shooting and sign a pro contract in his native Hungary instead of playing as a graduate transfer at Weber State.
In overall shooting, this year’s team has more in-game attempts (54 more per player) but shoots at a lower clip — 44.1% compared to 46.6%.
Unlike many teams, WSU has benefited from a full course of offseason work from June to now. Offseason development will be key to WSU’s shooting ability.
Of myriad ways Brown, a senior guard from Seattle, says he’s improved in an offseason full of nothing but basketball and training, 3-point shooting was at the top of his list.
“Doing things like working on my standstill shot, my spot-up shot, being able to hit 40% (from 3) and being a knockdown shooter instead of just a guy who is a tough shotmaker was kind of the jump I wanted to make. I feel really good about that. I’ve been shooting the ball well,” Brown said.
LENGTH & ATHLETICISM
Athleticism is hard to quantify, and the measures that might quantify it — think NBA Combine drills — are not publicly available.
But height is easily comparable, and changes here may help Weber improve defensively.
Overall, WSU’s roster of 13 scholarship players is 11 inches taller than last season — increasing the roster’s average height from 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-6.
Weber will be noticeably taller and longer on the guard line. This year’s guards and wings are an average height of 6-foot-4.2 — up nearly 1.5 inches of height per guard from 6-foot-2.8 last season.
Relatedly, WSU has been in the top one-third nationally in defensive rebounding percentage nearly every year of Rahe’s tenure until last season, when the Wildcats were 221st (barely out of the bottom one-third).
While raw rebounding stats don’t paint a full picture of rebounding ability, the data is not available to compare rebounding percentages. So comparing total career rebounds, this year’s team averages 164 career rebounds per player entering the season — up from 96 per player entering last season.
WSU’s increased height, especially on the guard line, and improved rebounding experience would seem to bode well for improvement in that area.
“I definitely want to strive for the highest of accolades for this team because I know we have the ability to do it,” Bassett said. “I think if we sharpen up our mindset defensively ... with the group of guys we have, we’re really long and athletic, we can run the floor, so I feel like once we take all that and use it to reach that one common goal, I feel like our potential is through the roof. I definitely have high expectations for this team.”