For the fourth-straight season, the Weber State University men’s basketball team has been picked to finish atop the Big Sky Conference.
The Wildcats were unanimously picked to win the conference in the coaches’ poll, receiving eight first-place votes. The University of Montana came in second in the poll, and the University of Northern Colorado rounded out the top three.
WSU shooting guard Scott Bamforth said the team isn’t thinking too much about the preseason ranking, but focusing on the regular season.
“Obviously it’s something good to have,” Bamforth said. “But the preseason doesn’t really mean anything until you actually get out there and play, and actually do it. Obviously every one of us would love to finish first in the end, rather than at first.”
The team has been practicing for a few weeks, and Bamforth said they are coming together well, although he said there are still things the team needs to work on.
“At the start of the year, there’s always things you’ve got to get better at,” Bamforth said, “but we’ve been able to play hard every day and practice hard, and if we continue to do that every day, I think we’ll come together quicker, and that’s all we need to do.”
Head Coach Randy Rahe said he was happy his team was picked first, and that no matter where the team is ranked, what matters is the performance on the court.
“It’s an honor for our team to be picked first,” Rahe said. “Regardless of the polls, we have high expectations for our team. After today, the polls really don’t mean anything, because you have to prove it on the court.”
The Wildcats will have a stron
g team this season, with the return of Damian Lillard. Lillard, who was the 2010 Big Sky Player of the Year and missed much of last season with an injury, will be back this season.
Lillard will be joined in the back court by sharp-shooter Bamforth. Last season, Bamforth had the fourth-highest three-point shooting percentage in the nation with a 48.7 percent average. He went 78-160 from behind the arc. Bamforth was recently voted the 10th-best shooter in an article in Sports Illustrated.
Bamforth said the harder the team works in the preseason, the more it will pay off once the regular season gets under way.
“Usually it takes time to come together as a team,” Bamforth said, “but if we practice hard and play hard every day, they’ll come together quicker.”
Along with Bamforth and Lillard, WSU will return five other players, including seniors Kyle Bullinger and Darin Mahoney. Bullinger, along with junior Bamforth, earned First Team All-Big Sky honors last season. Also returning for the Wildcats is sophomore Byron Fulton, who was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year last season, and sophomores Jordan Richardson and Kyle Tresnak. Rahe will return for his sixth season as head coach of the Wildcats. He has a 60-20 career record in Big Sky games.
The Wildcats are coming off an 18-14 record in 2010-11 and their third-straight appearance in a postseason tournament. The Wildcats finished third in the Big Sky and advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament and competed in the College Basketball Invitational. The Wildcats finished with an 11-5 conference record and have won 10 or more conference games for five straight seasons, for just the fourth time that has occurred in league history.
WSU will open their season on Oct. 26, when they will play in the annual Purple and White Game at the Dee Events Center. The Wildcats will play their first exhibition game on Nov. 7 against the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and will officially open their season on Nov. 11 against Northern New Mexico University at the Dee Events Center.