I think when I first got here, offensively I kinda struggled a little bit, but the defensive end came more naturally to me, so I just knew if I put in the work it would all pay off. And each year, you could see the difference and see the improvement that I made. —Joel Bolomboy
OGDEN — Joel Bolomboy doesn't have a nickname yet, and that's too bad.
Because with all that this Weber State basketball big man has accomplished, the possibilities seem endless.
After all, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound senior forward/center has been a double-double machine this season, producing double-digit points and rebounds in 17 of the Wildcats' 19 games thus far.
So "Mr. Double-Double" or "Double-D" or maybe even "D.D." for short would certainly apply.
And last weekend, Bolomboy — pronounced BALL-um-boy — became the all-time leading rebounder in WSU and Big Sky Conference basketball history, passing a pair of players: former Weber State great Willie Sojourner and Idaho State's Steve Hayes, who played back in the 1970s.
Bolomboy's seven boards in a last-gasp, one-point loss to Idaho State gave him 1,148 for his collegiate career, surpassing the late, legendary Sojourner (1,143), who played only three seasons from 1968-71 — freshmen weren't eligible to play on the varsity team back then — and Hayes, who had 1,147 in his four stellar seasons (1973-77) at ISU.
So speaking of nicknames, how 'bout "Board Boy," or "Bounder" or perhaps "Windex" — 'cause he's always cleaning the glass.
Bolomboy said he knew the rebounding record was well within his grasp coming into last Saturday's game at Pocatello, but he tried not to dwell on it.
"I didn't really think about it too much, but I knew it was coming up," he said. "One of the coaches that was here a couple of years ago, Phil Beckner, gave me this stat sheet and told me to go break it one day, so that's really cool. He gave it to me before he went to go work in the (NBA's) D-League, and I actually still have the sheet in my locker right now. I look at it all the time."
Bolomboy says rebounding is a matter of hard work and determination, having your mind focused on going after the ball — and maintaining the desire and willpower to do it.
"It's a matter of just chasing them, having the right mindset and going after each rebound and knowing where it's going to go sometimes," he said. "Sometimes the ball will just come to you, but for the most part, I have to go chase it, go get it."
But while rebounding is something he's always done well, improving his game on the offensive end of the floor is what he's worked extremely hard to do during his days at Weber State.
And, through diligence and discipline, he's done just that to become a complete player — and one who produces double-doubles like hardly anyone else in college basketball today.
"I think when I first got here, offensively I kinda struggled a little bit," he admitted. "But the defensive end came more naturally to me, so I just knew if I put in the work it would all pay off. And each year, you could see the difference and see the improvement that I made.
"No, it's no pressure at all," he said of going out and getting a double-double virtually every night. "It comes naturally. I just do what I do, what I'm good at — just play defense and chase every rebound — and then the offense just always comes."
WSU head coach Randy Rahe not only admires the amazing progress that Bolomboy has made over his career but feels blessed to have had a young man like him in the Wildcats' program.
"When we first got him, he was just a little over 6-8 and 200 pounds, and he had no idea how to play," Rahe said. "I kept telling my assistants he reminded me of a newborn colt. You know how they're born and they can't quite get their legs and they're not sure where they're going, they're just going somewhere.
"Every year, though, he's gotten better and better and better, and this year it's kinda all come together for him. The skill level's gotten a lot better now and his feel for the game ... now he feels the game better. The first two years, the game was so fast for him. You know how kids are that don't really understand the game. They feel it, but everybody's zipping by them and they don't know where to be.
"And now, he's caught up to the feel of the game and everything has just fallen into place," he said.
Bolomboy currently leads the Big Sky and is second in the nation in rebounding with 13.2 a game, and he also ranks seventh in the Big Sky in scoring with 17.9 points per game for the Wildcats (13-6, 5-1 Big Sky), who host Northern Arizona on Thursday at 7 p.m.
In all likelihood, he has become an even better player than the WSU coaching staff ever envisioned.
"I think so," Rahe said. "I mean, we always knew he could rebound — he did that from Day 1 — but he's become, in the other areas, better than I think we thought he could be. I mean, his 16-foot jump shot has gotten to be really good, and he's actually capable of making a 3 now and then. But more than that, he passes the ball easier and he understands the game better.
"And defensively, when we first got him, defensively he didn't know where to go. And so now he understands that, too. So I would think overall, I would say he might've even exceeded where we thought he would be. We knew he could be real good, but offensively he's really made the biggest strides."
Bolomboy's progress has been steady each year he's been in the WSU program, much like former Wildcat and current NBA star Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers.
"Every spring and summer, we'd give him a couple things," Rahe said. "We'd say 'OK, this is what you've really got to get better at.' For the first year, we just worked on handling the ball and passing the ball. And then post moves, because when he got here he couldn't score with his back to the basket. And so he worked on that all spring and summer.
"And then the next thing was OK, we've got to extend our game and maybe drive the ball more and all that kinda stuff. So every summer we've given him two or three things, and then he's such a hard worker; he lives in the gym. I can't say he's Damian, but he ain't far off as far as the time that he's put in. He didn't go home all spring and summer.
"He comes from a great family, a beautiful family, his mom's great, his dad's great," the Wildcats' coach continued. "He's got great, twin sisters who are tall and athletic like him, but they don't have a lot (financially). So when he goes home, he doesn't have a car where he can get to places and work out. So he told me, 'Coach, I don't want to go home. I want to stay up here all spring and summer,' and I said 'Great!'"
"So he pretty much stayed here the whole time and just worked and worked and worked. He just spent time in the gym. He's a gym rat, he really is. And he's always been motivated to be as good as he can be. He's never been one of those kids that's satisfied. He always wants more and more and more, and so he's earned the right to be successful right now because he's put in the work."
In fact, Bolomboy has worked so hard to improve his skills that now his name is climbing on projected NBA draft boards.
"I try not to pay any attention to it, but sometimes you can't help it because you just have got friends and family members that are just so happy for you that they send you a text and say, 'Hey, I saw this and I saw that,'" Bolomboy said.
"The goal is just to play in the NBA."
And if not the NBA, then another league?
"Maybe not," he laughed. "I think the NBA is where I'll end up."
Rahe agrees that Bolomboy definitely has a strong shot to play at the next level.
"I'm not an expert — I don't look at those things (NBA draft boards) and I hope he's not, either — but we've had a lot of people who have come watch him play and practice a bunch," he said. "I sure hope he gets a chance. He's got a good future wherever it might be. He could play for a long time and do really well.
"But I think he can play at the next level, I really do, because he's one of those kids that's incredibly coachable, almost to a fault where he's a pleaser. He's not one of those spoiled guys, entitled guys who think they're great, know they're great. He knows he's a good player, but he's thirsty to get better.
Bolomboy, who's majoring in Technical Sales, has an interesting background. His mother, Tania, is from Russia, and his father, Joseph, is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They met while attending college together in Moscow — the one in Russia, not in Idaho. And though they're both tall — his dad is 6-foot-4 and his mom is 5-10 — neither of them played basketball.
Joel was born in Ukraine, but he and his family moved to Texas when he was a young boy.
Though he was recruited by big-name programs like Clemson, Auburn, Florida State, New Mexico and several schools in Texas, Weber State was the first school to offer him a scholarship.
And he committed to the 'Cats early, stayed with them and, four years later, is glad he did.
"I'm really pleased with the way my career is turning out and just the teammates and teams I've been a part of, just the relationships I've built over the years with coaches and players," he said. "It's been a long ride."
Rahe is mighty glad Bolomboy stuck with Weber State, too.
"He does not have an ego, and that's the beauty of it," his coach said. "He's such an innocent, kind of naive kid and it's so refreshing in this day and age to have a kid that just wants to work and he plays for his teammates. He cares more about his team than he does what's going on with him, and it's really refreshing. ... His mind is very clear; he's just focusing on competing and playing for his teammates.
"He listens and wants more — 'What can I do? What can I do, coach? What can I do to get better?' — He's just been an absolute joy to coach. We love him, absolutely love him like a son. He's a beautiful person and we've just absolutely loved having him. It's been really fun to see the growth in him as a player and as a person. Not only that but his body — he came in here at 200 (pounds). Now he's 235 with 3 percent body fat. You can see how hard he's worked in every area.
"He's done it in a lot of different ways for us," Rahe said. "He's not a vocal guy, he's a very quiet kid, but he plays so hard every day, always gives a great effort and, because of that, the young guys see that. He never has a bad day. He always comes to work, so he leads by example."
Indeed, Bolomboy has done it the old-fashioned way — with a ton of hard work.
"It really is quite an accomplishment. It's amazing, and he's earned it — he really has earned it," Rahe said. "It's like I always said with Damian (Lillard): Anything good that happens to that kid, they've earned the right. It's not like they've just fallen into it. We're really proud of him."
Yep, whether you call him Mr. Double-Double, Double-D, D.D., Board Boy, Bounder, Windex or just simply Joel. Bolomboy has earned his place among WSU's all-time basketball greats.
"When you combine athleticism with toughness and the effort and the will to want to go rebound, then you've got a pretty special rebounder," Rahe said. "And he's got all of it — he wants it, he's athletic, he's got the toughness. When you look up the word 'rebounder' in the dictionary, you've got to have all those things and he's got all those things.
"He's been pretty dang good at it. And the thing is he's a much better person than he is a player, not even close. I just love him to death."
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