IF HE'D WANTED to, Weber State guard Ruben Nembhard could have gotten farther away from the home to play college basketball. But it would have taken some work. And a big map. And maybe even a passport.

Nembhard didn't actually plan on ending up in Ogden at this stage of his college career. Raised in the Bronx, he wasn't expecting to find himself waking up in the Rocky Mountains and wondering what the snow base is at Nordic Valley."No," he laughs. "I didn't follow (Weber's) scores."

Had Nembhard stayed at home and played in New York, it would have been all the better for the BYU Cougars. They could have done all right without having ever met him. Wednesday night at the Dee Center, he scored a career-high 31 points and added five assists and five rebounds as the Wildcats took an 86-74 win. The outcome put BYU's instate record at 0-2 and had the Wildcats wondering why they don't invite the Cougars up every year.

Nembhard's high school career was a typical star-studded production. Originally, he figured - as do most New York area players - he would matriculate to one of the nearby Big East powers: St. John's, Seton Hall, Syracuse.

But poor grades kept him from getting into a major college. Instead, he headed west to Paris (Texas) Junior College, which if nothing else got him used to being on the edge of nowhere. It's also where the Wildcats stumbled into the picture.

Three years ago, Weber coach Ron Abegglen was in Texas to scout a player at Tyler Junior College named Johnny Moore, who ended up going to Weber State. But as Abegglen watched, he also noticed the player from Paris who was impressive, especially going to the basket. A coach for 33 years, Abegglen knew an opportunity when he saw one. He knew two opportunities as well.

"I asked, `Who is this guy?' " says Abegglen. "They told me `You can't take him.' They said he was going to Arkansas or Arkansas State or Syracuse."

But Abegglen, who coached four years in Alaska, already knew all about talking people to the ends of the earth to play basketball.

To Abegglen's good fortune, Nembhard didn't have enough credits to graduate from Paris College after two years and was unable to get into the larger college programs. Abegglen said he could wait. He invited Nembhard to come to Ogden, redshirt a year and work on academics, then play two seasons for the Wildcats.

"I told him if he'd come out here I'd introduce him to a couple of Jazz players," says Abegglen.

So has he?

"Well, no," says Abegglen sheepishly.

Nembhard hasn't worried about the broken promise yet. He was just glad to get out of New York "because there's a lot of trouble you can get into there."

"I made a (recruiting) visit. I like the mountains . . . and here I am," he says.

If Nembhard liked Utah before, he may be looking at buying a house sometime soon. The place hosted his best major college game yet. Wednesday night he turned in a respectable nine-point first half. But that was only the prologue. He opened his second-half scoring with an eight-foot jumper, then added two free throws.

Quickly he was into high gear, scoring 12 points in an eight-minute span. He dropped in a 3-pointer with 7:49 to go to put the Wildcats up by six. He slam-dunked coming in from the right side. He lofted up a another 3-pointer, landing the shot and drawing a foul to complete a rare four-point play.

"I wasn't even worried about the shot going in," says Nembhard. "I was thinking about them calling the foul."

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Moments later he stole a pass for a layup and the Wildcats had the game on ice. Still in the proverbial zone, Nembhard complained, "Coach, I'm trying to get them to huddle up so I can tell them something and they're just wandering around. They're not listening."

But by then it didn't matter. The Wildcats were up by a dozen and BYU was throwing desperation shots and nobody in the Dee Center was leaving until the final score was up.

"These instate rivalries are big, like St. John's and Seton Hall and those teams in New York," says Nembhard.

Or at least big enough to get him a career night. And big enough he doesn't want to leave Ogden anytime soon.

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