The next quarter for graduating athletes

Weber State Men’s Guard jumping to reach the ball before an opposing Idaho State player.

The final game of any team’s season at Weber State University marks the end to some college careers. Some student athletes continue on into professional leagues and some hang up their uniforms for the last time.

“When the end comes, I think you see an urgency about having to go out into the real world and you see a renewed focus,” Eric Duft, Wildcat head basketball coach, said. “The future is not exactly set, and they’re going to have to work really hard and figure out some things.”

Graduating this semester, some notable Wildcats will land opportunities to play professional sports. Recently, Weber State’s football team hosted their Pro Day, giving professional scouts an opportunity to analyze running back Josh Davis, wide receiver Ty MacPherson, tight end Justin Malone and safety Desmond Williams.

Last year, defensive lineman Jared Schiess and linebacker Sherwin Lavaka were invited to NFL rookie camps. Standout punt returner Rashid Shaheed brought in two touchdowns in his NFL debut after signing with the New Orleans Saints during 2022’s free agency.

Guards Zahir Porter and Junior Ballard from the men’s basketball team are leaving as well. While not graduating, Wildcat forward Dillon Jones announced on an episode of “Cat Tales – Weber State Athletics Podcast” that he will be declaring for the NBA draft this season. However, if no deal is reached, he will be returning for another season at Weber State.

“When you get to the professional ranks, there’s a lot of guys wanting those spots, and so little things matter,” Duft said. “We tell them all the time little things are going to matter. ‘Are you a good teammate? Are you on time? Are you coachable? Are you willing to adapt to different roles? Are you a guy that’s available? Can you be counted on?’ It’s just a very competitive environment in professional basketball, and those guys have to learn how to separate themselves.”

Former Wildcat guard Koby McEwen recently played for a Canadian professional basketball team, the Hamilton Honey Badgers, winning a CEBL title last season. McEwen, who graduated from Weber State last spring, announced on Feb. 27 that he’d signed with Raptors 905, an NBA G League team based out of Mississauga, Ontario. As of now, McEwen’s played seven games with the team, averaging 4 points.

Guard JJ Overton, who also graduated last year, is currently playing in Europe for the Arantia Larochette. Playing 741 minutes over 22 games, Overton currently averages 27 points per game. Former Wildcat Dontay Bassett recently represented Opava in the FIBA Europe Cup as well.

While a senior’s college career ends after graduation, their ties to the program remain.

“We’ve been fortunate here,” Duft said. “A lot of our guys have gone on to play professionally and so we just kind of naturally stay in touch with them because we’ll have agents calling or teams calling and we’re relaying information, trying to help them figure it out.”

Duft said that not too many weeks go by where a member of the team’s staff isn’t in contact with a graduated player. For athletes who don’t pursue a career in professional sports, Duft says they also keep in touch, saying that Weber State has heard from players who graduated 15 years ago.

“We stay in good contact with all those guys,” Duft said. “We always say, ‘You don’t have to be a professional player.’ We want to make sure though that we’re turning out guys who are going to be good citizens, good husbands, good fathers. Those things are important to us as well.”

After years of experience with former students, Duft said the three key attributes of a successful graduate are competitiveness, accountability and passion.

“The lessons that you’ve learned, it’s time to put those out there,” Duft said. “You’ve got to rely on those principles that you’ve learned here and then you’ve got to go make a way for yourself.”