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WEST | NO. 2 UCLA VS. NO. 15 WEBER STATE

New coach makes a quick turnaround

March 12, 2007|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

Randy Rahe became head basketball coach at Weber State a year ago.

He was offered the job to lead a team coming off a 10-18 season, and after Rahe gave a "get tough, get to class, get my message" speech, four returning players left. When Rahe explained to two other Wildcats that they might not fit into his vision of precise, structured, no-freelance basketball, Rahe was left with three returning players -- David Patten, Juan Pablo Silveira and Dan Henry -- and a fistful of scholarships.

"I'll tell you what," Rahe said Sunday after his Weber State team had been given a No. 15 seeding in the NCAA tournament and a first-round game against No. 2 UCLA, "My staff and I went underground for three weeks. We started calling players in the state, then looked at a couple of junior college kids, then just talked to trusted friends in coaching who could give us the right line on kids who wanted to play our way.

"We ended up signing 10 guys. Nine of them didn't have another Division I offer."

Rahe came to a program with a history of NCAA appearances and some noteworthy successes -- in 1995 as a 14th-seeded team, the Wildcats upset Michigan State, and in 1999, again as a No. 14, they upset North Carolina in the first round. Weber State has won or shared 14 Big Sky Conference regular-season titles

Perhaps Weber State's best team was the one in 1968-69. It was led by charismatic Willie Sojourner, who had been recruited from Philadelphia to Ogden by coach Dick Motta. Motta left to coach the Chicago Bulls and Phil Johnson took Motta's recruits to a 27-3 season and a second-round NCAA tournament loss to to Santa Clara at Pauley Pavilion.

The maturing of this Weber State team is almost as unexpected as Sojourner's journey to Ogden. Rahe took players from College of Eastern Utah (Tyler Billings) and Salt Lake Community College (Brody Van Brocklin). Three walk-ons were needed to fill out the roster. Football star Ty Sparrow joined the team at midyear just to play on the scout squad and toughen up the basketball players.

When the Weber State job opened last spring, UCLA Coach Ben Howland, a Weber State alumnus, called Athletic Director Jerry Graybeal to recommend Rahe, who was an assistant at Utah.

"Ben will downplay that," Rahe said, "but our people here have so much respect for Ben. He was very instrumental in helping me get this job.

"And now I love getting the chance to play Ben's team. They defend the heck out of you, take good shots, play good basketball. It's what we try to do without the athletes he has. If I could blueprint a team, it would be Ben's team."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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