Randy Hollis: Wildcats will spend 'An Evening with Legends'

Published: Saturday, March 2 2013 9:00 p.m. MST

Phil Johnson meets with the media before the Utah Sports Hall of Fame 2011 induction banquet in Salt Lake City , Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

OGDEN —

Dick Motta, one of the winningest coaches in NBA history, will be there.

So will Phil Johnson, who's best known for those 23 seasons he spent as Jerry Sloan's sideline sidekick with the Utah Jazz.

But keep in mind that before Motta or Johnson ever coached an NBA game, they cut their teeth in the coaching ranks at a Northern Utah college which was once considered a small-time school but, over the last five decades, has since built a big-time winning tradition.

Yes, that would be Weber State.

And next weekend, those two coaching icons will be joined by numerous other Wildcat coaches and players of the past when the Weber State University athletic department celebrates its 50th anniversary of Division I men's basketball.

On Friday evening at the Dee Events Center, WSU will host "An Evening with Legends," giving Weber State fans an opportunity to rub shoulders with many former Wildcat greats.

Motta and Johnson are scheduled to attend the event and share some of their favorite stories and memories from their days with the Wildcats, along with former Weber State coaches Gene Visscher, Neil McCarthy and Ron Abegglen, as well as current 'Cats coach Randy Rahe.

Former Weber State stars such as Bruce Collins, David Johnson, Jimmy Degraffenried, David Patten and Stan Mayhew have already signed up to attend, and hopefully many more names will be added to that list between now and Friday.

Tickets for "An Evening with Legends" are priced at $100, which includes a WSU basketball 50th anniversary book and DVD, and are available at the Weber State ticket office or by calling 801-626-8500 or 626-6576.

As a guy who grew up watching Weber State basketball, graduated from the school and, as a member of the media, got to know many of those Wildcat coaches and players over the years, this 50th anniversary celebration stands as a tremendous opportunity to renew acquaintances with those stars of the past. And, hopefully, make some new ones.

By the time I got to Weber State in 1970, Motta was gone for those "greener pastures" of the NBA. His Wildcat teams had won three straight Big Sky Conference championships before he turned the reins over to Johnson for the lure of the pro game, where Motta wound up with 935 career coaching wins, an NBA Coach of the Year Award with the Chicago Bulls (1971) and an NBA championship with the Washington Bullets (1978).

Not bad for a guy who never played high school, college or pro basketball.

His first NBA stop was in Chicago, where he coached a fiercely competitive guard named Jerry Sloan, who later incorporated many of the things he learned from Motta into a Hall of Fame career as coach of the Jazz.

Motta would likely be in the Basketball Hall of Fame by now himself if not for his willingness to take over fledgling franchises in Dallas and Sacramento, which hurt his won-loss record considerably and contributed greatly to his 1,017 losses over a 25-year NBA coaching career.

Johnson took the Weber State baton from Motta and produced three more Big Sky titles, including a glistening 27-3 season in 1968-69, before he, too, left to join Motta in the NBA. Johnson also earned an NBA Coach of the Year award in 1975.

Visscher, who played his college ball at Weber State, won two more league titles with the Wildcats in his three-plus seasons at the helm before being replaced by McCarthy, who won more than 200 games in 10-plus seasons at Weber State (205-98) before winning another 200-plus games at New Mexico State.

Abegglen guided the Wildcats to their two greatest NCAA Tournament triumphs in school history — knocking off third-seeded Michigan State in 1995 and then doing the same thing to perennial national power North Carolina in 1999.

Rahe took over the Wildcat coaching reins in 2006 and has already piled up 142 victories in his six-plus seasons on the job.

Weber State owned the 23rd-best winning percentage in NCAA Division I men's basketball entering this season. In 2012, the Wildcats were named by ESPN.com as the 39th best collegate basketball program in the country over the past 50 years, with a Big Sky-best 19 conference championships and 14 NCAA appearances.

The school will unveil its 50th Anniversary Team on Monday. A book chronicling the history of WSU basketball over the past 50 years will also be available to order at Friday's event, with those coaches and players in attendance being honored at halftime of next Saturday's Weber State regular-season finale.

email: rhollis@deseretnews.com

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