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OGDEN — Approximately 3,000 Weber State fans filled the Dee Events Center Saturday for the inaugural Weber State Basketball Alumni Classic, an event that served as a sign of the program's strength, according to athletic director Jerry Bovee.
The event was the brainchild of current NBA All-Star Damian Lillard, who coached one of the alumni teams after winning the 3-point shooting competition.
"To see the folks in Ogden wrap around this event is really important for us," Bovee said. "There could be people here who were great fans in the '70s, '80s, '90s and for whatever reason we've lost them.
"This event brings those folks back out, lets them get back into the Dee Events Center and have a great night reminiscing. Then hopefully, if we've lost them along the way, they recapture that spirit."
Aside from the entertainment value for Weber faithful, Bovee said so many former players willing to return is a great indicator for his school.
"A sign of a strong program is one where the former players stay close to it, engage in it and help that culture of success grow," Bovee said.
Many Wildcats were eager to catch up with former teammates and also meet the many more they have heard about but never seen play.
"It's fun to meet the younger players," said current Salem Hills High School coach Jimmy DeGraffenried, who was the Big Sky Player of the Year at Weber State in 1996.
"I know the names, but about half of the players I've never met," DeGraffenried continued. "So it's cool to get together, because everyone here has made a big impact for the program."
To see the folks in Ogden wrap around this event is really important for us. There could be people here who were great fans in the '70s, '80s, '90s and for whatever reason we've lost them. This event brings those folks back out, lets them get back into the Dee Events Center and have a great night reminiscing. Then hopefully, if we've lost them along the way, they recapture that spirit.
–Weber State athletic director Jerry Bovee
Jermaine Boyette, the 2003 Big Sky Player of the Year, recently finished his professional career that took him to several continents. He made the trip to Ogden from his hometown of Hammond, Indiana, where he is now coaching the Hammond High Wildcats.
"I'm always thankful to come back here and see the fans and other players," Boyette said. "It's amazing to see the other guys and build a family here at Weber State."
Kyle Tresnak joined Davion Berry and Jordan Richardson as the most recent alumni to come back, all of whom finished playing in 2014.
"Weber has a great tradition, and being able to play with these other guys here who made big names for themselves here, it's an honor to be a part of it," Tresnak said.
Earlier Saturday, former eight-year NBA pro Eddie Gill joined the current Weber State basketball team in a workout before the events of the alumni classic. Bovee said the Wildcats' Class of 2000 made a big impact on the current team.
"Eddie was here earlier today working out with our current team and interacting with them," Bovee said. "That was big for them to realize there are others who have come before and have done very well. Eddie played in the NBA for a while.
"The current players listened and realized they were on that path, too," Bovee continued. "There was great interaction there, and again, that's a positive sign of a positive culture and a successful program."
Gill is now a financial adviser living in Indianapolis and also runs a youth basketball training program called All-Out Training.
"I made every effort I could to get here," Gill said. "It's great for the program, the university and the alumni to get back together. Weber State is a family, it's been great to me and it's absolutely an honor to be invited back."
Bovee said the mark was definitely made on the current Weber basketball team, realizing their place in the program that holds the 23rd-best winning percentage in college basketball.
"The current team realizes now Weber State is bigger than what they may have thought, that it's just not them right now," Bovee said. "It's a long list of former players who built this program into one of the most successful programs in the country.
"They see they have to live up to what the former players did. Being able to see this gives the current team a deeper perspective of what's expected of them now. They hold the reins now to build the program and pass it along to the next generation." Brett Hein covers minor league baseball and prep sports for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah, and is a senior editor of BYU site VanquishTheFoe.com. Find him on Twitter at @bhein3 and follow Weber State coverage at @WeberHQ.