With a full practice schedule approaching for the upcoming 2019-20 season, Weber State men’s basketball put out a call for current students to try out for a walk-on roster spot.
With its allotment of 13 scholarships filled, Weber State isn’t necessarily looking for an impact player when it holds open tryouts. The need is practical and somewhat uninspiring: skilled players willing to work hard in practice on the scout team and maybe, just maybe, play a handful of minutes during blowout wins against non-Division I opponents.
“We want a good kid. We want somebody who has enough ability to help us in some ways and somebody who wants to be part of the program,” head coach Randy Rahe said. “It’s not a very fun job because you have to work as hard as everyone else on the team and the chances of ever playing aren’t great. So you’ve got to love basketball, love Weber State and love to come and help us out.
“And they have to understand the game because, as a scout team guy, you’re learning the opponents’ offenses and out of bounds plays. You get about 15-20 minutes to learn 10-12 different things to do in practice.”
It’s not as much of a one-way street as it sounds, however. At Weber State, at least, walk-on players don’t sit out until it’s time to run scout-team sets. They learn the same skills, run the same practice reps, travel with the team and can participate in the same weightlifting and training regimen.
Some walk-ons at Weber State use it as a springboard for other opportunities, grabbing scholarships to play at junior colleges or Division II schools elsewhere.
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Eight young men answered the call to try out for coaches on Sept. 17 at WSU’s Stromberg Complex.
One was Riley Cearley, a 2019 graduate of Clearfield High School. The former Falcon said he had some opportunities to play collegiately out of state but they didn’t make sense financially, so he stayed at home to attend Weber State. The 6-foot-7 forward worked during the summer to put on weight and prepare for the tryout.
“It wasn’t my best shooting day but I outmuscled some guys on some rebounds, so that felt pretty good,” Cearley said. “I wanted to walk on because I have nothing to lose. The worst thing that could happen is they don’t talk to me again, and that’s OK.”
The eight hopefuls spent time warming up before the try out began. Eric Daniels, Weber State’s newest assistant coach, then set up the players for a shooting drill as Rahe and assistants Eric Duft and David Marek looked on.
As Daniels ran players through an offensive ball-movement set and then finished with a four-on-four game, senior players Cody John and Brenden Morris arrived at the court. Morris, a Ben Lomond High graduate, is entering his fifth year in the program and has been a walk-on for four of them.
Any player to make the team from the tryout would join Morris and freshman Mitch Brizee of Twin Falls, Idaho, as walk-ons. Brizee, a 6-foot-9 forward, said he targeted Weber State as a Division-I opportunity because he liked the culture Rahe has built and he was interested in WSU’s business school.
One player who stood out during the workout was a 6-foot-4 guard wearing Layton Christian Academy tennis shorts and a College of Southern Idaho basketball shirt.
It was Sano Gasana, a 2018 LCA graduate. After playing the 2018-19 season on scholarship at CSI, the coach there, Jared Phay, was hired away to be an assistant at Idaho State under new head coach Ryan Looney.
Gasana said none of the freshmen returned to the team at the Twin Falls junior college under the new coach. He may have a spot to land at a Division II school, he said, but not until next season. So he returned to Utah to take advantage of in-state tuition and try to walk on with the Wildcats.
“I’m a little out of shape but I did alright,” Gasana said after the tryout. “I could’ve done a lot better. I’ll be getting back in shape and hopefully they give me a call.”
He wasn’t deterred from the rigors of being a Division I walk-on.
“I love basketball, so I was like, if I get an opportunity to walk on, I’m going to try my hardest and hopefully something good comes out of it,” Gasana said. “If I don’t make it, I’m going to keep working out and hopefully get a school for next year.”
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Eight days after the tryout, Rahe called Gasana into his office Wednesday morning with the news: he wanted Gasana on the team.
“When we watched him play, we liked what he did out there,” Rahe said. “He’s got some ability. He’s a good kid and he’ll be good for our scout team.”
Former University of Utah player Shaun Green, who Rahe recruited to Utah, is active in local basketball and an assistant coach at Davis High. Green called Rahe to vouch for Gasana, and also said he told the young player that he better be ready to work.
“I like that he’s serious about his program,” Gasana said about Rahe. “He told me he doesn’t need distractions and I understand that. I’m grateful to be here, I just have to take the opportunity and work my hardest so I can have a shot for something next year. I’m going to work hard regardless of if I’m playing or not.”
Gasana, a native of Rwanda, learned he was on the team Wednesday, participated in media day Thursday, and full practices begin Friday.
“I’ll be ready,” he said. “It’s going to be a big change from playing (junior college), not knowing what I was going to do, then to having an opportunity like this. I’ll work my hardest at everything.”