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Weber State basketball: After highly successful season, Wildcats aim to go dancing again

Weber State's Joel Bolomboyn shoots over Xavier's James Farr (2) during the second half of a first-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 18, 2016, in St. Louis. Xavier won 71-53. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Weber State's Joel Bolomboyn shoots over Xavier's James Farr (2) during the second half of a first-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 18, 2016, in St. Louis. Xavier won 71-53. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel, AP

OGDEN — No, it didn't turn out the way Weber State hoped it would.

Heck, when it's all said and done, let's face it — there's only one Division I men's team in the entire country that walks away from the college basketball season each year feeling complete joy and contentment.

And even though their 2015-16 campaign ended in defeat and disappointment, the Wildcats walked away from it with their heads held high.

"Overall, I couldn't be more proud of these guys and their effort and how they represent Weber State," head coach Randy Rahe said following Friday night's 71-53 NCAA Tournament first-round loss to No. 2 seed Xavier. "… And I told these kids they've done something that I don't think a lot of teams in the country can say they've done this year, and that's win three championships. We won the Florida Gulf Coast Tournament, we won the regular-season Big Sky championship and we won the Big Sky Tournament. I don't know how many teams in the country can say that.

"They've had one hell of a year. Take tonight out of it, they've had one hell of a season, and they've earned every bit of it."

The Wildcats wound up 26-9 overall, one of the best records in school history, and they did it with just one senior on their roster — 6-9, 235-pound forward/center Joel Bolomboy, who piled up a school-record 26 double-doubles this season, was the nation's third-leading rebounder and became the all-time leading rebounder in Big Sky history, as well as the school's career leader in blocked shots.

Coach Rahe was asked to summarize what Bolomboy, this year's Big Sky regular-season MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, had meant to the WSU program over the last four years after he closed out his collegiate career with the ’Cats.

"As I told him in the locker room, I don't have the words. I mean, I just don't," Rahe said, "for what he's meant to our program and meant to our university. I remember the first day he walked into our campus and he's 6-8, 200 pounds. And he's kind of a kid. Four years later, he's walking out of here and he's a man.

"He's going to be successful at whatever he ends up doing. He's going to be very, very successful, because he's a great person. He's a hard worker. He's got tremendous character.

"One thing we hope when we bring kids into our program, and I think that should be one of our main missions, is when they leave our program, they need to be ready to be successful in whatever they do," Rahe said. "They need to be successful in life. They need to be good parents, good husbands. We hope that we can help them become that. Well, this is one guy I'll never worry about. I know what he's going to end up being great. So he's meant a tremendous amount to our program in so many ways and to our university and the city of Ogden. He's first-class and he's a poster child for what we want in our program."

Though the Wildcats will sorely miss Bolomboy's huge contributions to the program, the good news is that the Wildcats will have four returning starters coming back next season, led by 6-2 guard Jeremy Senglin, their leading scorer this year who averaged 18.2 points per game and was named the Big Sky Tournament MVP.

"We just have to take it in and think about it," Senglin said of Friday's season-ending loss, "and we'll be back next year.

"It was a great season. We had a lot of fun. We're going to look back on it with good memories."

Starting point guard McKay Cannon, who averaged 5.4 points and nearly three assists a game as a freshman this year, will also return after turning in a strong showing — 10 points, five assists and four steals — in his NCAA debut.

"McKay did a great job tonight," Rahe said. "Tough little guy. Man, he's tough."

Starting center Zach Braxton, a big 6-9 kid who was also a freshman this year, and 6-4 starting swingman Ryan Richardson will also return after they both averaged 6.9 ppg.

"It was a great experience," Braxton said of going to the Big Dance. "We wish it would have went a different way. We came here and we said we were going to fight, and we fought as hard as we could. It just went (Xavier's) way. We're excited to come back (to the NCAA Tournament) in the future."

Also returning will be Kyndahl Hill, a 6-7 forward, who was WSU's third-leading scorer with 8.3 ppg and was named the Big Sky's top reserve this season. And 6-4 swingman Dusty Baker, 6-3 guard Cody John and 6-4 guard Richaud Gittens — who all averaged between 5.5 and 4.2 ppg in reserve roles — will all be back as well.

Coach Rahe is hoping this year's NCAA experience will pay big dividends for his program down the road as they seek to earn their first win in the Big Dance since 1999.

"It's a great experience, it really is," he said. "I think when Joel, Jeremy, Richaud and Kyndahl, they went two years ago, and I think it really helped them for this. I thought they played pretty calm. I think the more you experience it, the better chance you have to be successful the next time you come back.

"It's a great experience. You've got to go through it one time and the next time you come back, you just feel more comfortable. I think guys will perform better once they do come back with a year under their belt.

"We've got everybody back except for obviously Joel. He's a big piece," Rahe said. "But I just told these guys, remember what this feels like because we're going to get back here and we're going to find a way to win a game. That's what we're going to end up doing. I really believe that."

EMAIL: rhollis@desnews.com