Anthony McGowan was an All-Big Sky Conference second-teamer last season. Weber State Coach Denny Huston says McGowan's much improved

this year.But what has Huston, McGowan and fellow senior Aaron Bell really talking as they await the 1990-91 season opener Saturday night at home against Prairie View A&M is the Wildcat bench.

"We won't lose a beat," says McGowan. "When the bench comes in, it's still the same caliber of player."

"We've got a lot of guys coming off the bench who can play," agrees Bell, one of Weber's four returning starters from a 14-15 team. "And they can play the uptempo game, too."

To Huston, the most-significant trait of his Wildcats as he enters his third year at Weber is "our depth."

He credits assistant coaches Jim Mossel and Kevin McLeod "for getting the players that fit what we wanted to do."

Weber's recruiting philosophy was, "We have to have better athletes." Often, says Huston, better athletes aren't great perimeter shooters, which was another crying need, but with redshirt sophomore Al Hamilton and Payson freshman Jimmy DeGraffenreid, the Wildcats filled both bills. Both are athletes who can shoot long-range.

Hamilton was the 'Cats' top scorer in both weekend exhibition games, and DeGraffenreid, who had 16 points in 16 minutes Friday, was paid a mighty compliment by Belgium-Gent, Weber's opponent in Saturday's exhibition-tourney championship game. Gent structured its defense so DeGraffenreid couldn't get the ball, said Huston.

The successful recruiting of a blue chipper from Utah has Huston hopeful of a trend. "It's something Weber hasn't been able to do - land a good instate player," he says.

In last season's 3A prep tourney at Weber, DeGraffenreid set a record with 143 points in four games. Mossel spent a lot of time courting DeGraffenreid's family, and when the family realized during the tourney that the drive from Santaquin to Weber wasn't so bad, Jimmy was Weber's.

Hamilton was recruited two seasons ago and redshirted last season. He wasn't allowed by the NCAA to practice, so he spent a year out of basketball. He came back at full speed. "I'm amazed," says Huston, who figures Hamilton was able to do it because he has a good feel for the game, knows where he is at all times and can read defenses well.

Other newcomers include American Fork's David Baldwin, the only junior-college transfer, who walked into a starting job at forward opposite Bell from College of Eastern Utah. He's Weber's strongest player, Huston says.

Also new and fighting for time are Robbie Johnson, backup point guard to starter and veteran Jason Joe; redshirt freshman Elroy Miller, a defensive guard; redshirt sophomore Olaf Schindler, a forward from Langen, Germany, and veteran of international style; and redshirt freshman forward Kurt Schwan.

McGowan and Bell lead the vets. Both say their contribution is leadership.

"Bell's our sparkplug, our take-charge guy," agrees Huston. He talks it up and forces play by his intensity.

McGowan started every game last year at center, but Huston's happy with the leaps he's taken this year. "He can catch a ball in a crowd now, he's a much better rebounder, and he can concentrate for much longer periods of time," Huston says. That will keep him in the game more by cutting fouls and mistakes. It's "just experience," Huston says, but he's impressed.

Joe's strength is getting the ball upcourt quickly, says Huston, who favors half-court offense. Tony Nicholas is the other starter, a good standing jump shooter, says Huston. Seniors Mike Pomeroy and Chris Metke are experienced backups at center.

Jerry McIntosh, a starter last year, and Ryan Kaps will redshirt the season.

Bell and McGowan foresee a Weber championship. Huston cites Idaho and Montana as head of the pack with three or four teams including the 'Cats' looking for the next few spots.