In the classic movie "Rounders," Matt Damon says, "Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker every year? What are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas?"
The same can be said for coaches of mid-majors that are constantly taking their teams to the NCAA Tournament. They’ll tell you that luck plays a major factor in their teams' success, but also that you have you have to be good to be lucky.
Weber State head coach Randy Rahe has a similar aura to that of Damon’s "Rounders" character: he’s clean cut and unassuming, and the guys he is sitting with at the table likely mistake him for somebody who is ripe for the taking, only to realize at the end of the hand that he’s been sitting on a full house with pocket aces.
The Weber State coach is keeping his cards close to his chest and was reluctant to show too much excitement for his talented squad in advance of the season.
"When you have experience back, which we do, it doesn’t guarantee anything," he said. "Our league is going to be really good next year."
Rahe has taken Weber State to the NCAA Tournament twice in the past three years and returns a roster that could be considered a full house. Aside from losing the Big Sky Player of the Year and second-round NBA draft pick Joel Bolomby, the Wildcats return almost everyone from a team that went 26-9 last year, winning their conference and earning an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Bolomby wasn’t even the Wildcats' top scorer last year; that distinction belongs to Jeremy Senglin. The 6-2 guard returns for his senior season after averaging 17.9 points per game earning a spot on the all-conference first team.
"He’s our leader," Rahe said of Senglin. "He’s kind of our alpha guy -- highly competitive, hard working and a very good teammate"
Rahe added that Senglin could ultimately be the Big Sky player of the year.
Rahe also expects major contributions from fellow seniors Kyndahl Hill and Richaud Gittens. The 6-4 Gittens was one of three players to play in all 35 of the Wildcats' games and has been a model of consistency, showing the ability to knock down the occasional three.
The 6-7 forward Hill averaged 8.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last year, but Rahe expects him to emerge both as a contributor and team leader.
Hill and Gittens both came off the bench last season for the Wildcats but will likely be starters this year.
Rahe did speak candidly about potential suitors for his services at other schools based on his recent run of success at Weber State, but he opted to stay put and just re-signed for another eight years, following the season.
"There’s been three or four opportunities in the last few years and the money was more than I’m making here," he said. "But a wise old coach once told me never to make a decision based on money. I love where I’m at and I love the kids I get to coach here."
So while his suitors had to turn elsewhere, Rahe turned his attention to the upcoming season.
"We can challenge again for conference and tournament championships," he said. "Our next step is we want to get to a point where we can win a game [in the NCAA Tournament] and move forward in it. That’s what we’re shooting for."
Based on an impressive roster of returning talent and some exciting newcomers, come March, Weber State may be in a position to do just that.