Randy Rahe felt the panic wash over him as Joel Bolomboy collapsed to the floor.
Just seven minutes into Weber State’s game at Northern Arizona on Saturday, Bolomboy was shooting what appeared to be routine free throws as his Wildcats battled to stay atop the Big Sky Conference. The 6-foot-10 next-level athlete went to the floor while being boxed out. When he tried to stand up, his left knee hit a wet spot on the court. He slipped and hyper extended the limb.
“Initial reaction was I was just sick to my stomach when it happened,” said Rahe, Weber State’s 10th-year head coach. “I was fearing so much and was hoping it wasn’t anything serious for his sake. It affects our team but I’m more worried about him personally for his future. He is going to have a very bright future. We went Saturday night and all day Sunday until he got the MRI results, we were worried and hoping he would be ok. When we did get the MRI back and they said there was nothing structurally wrong with his knee, I was really relieved.”
Bolomboy has continued to gain hype throughout his senior season. The physical specimen has an NBA body and the work ethic to go with it. Following the injury, he did not return to action. He had an MRI on Sunday and the results showed that he has no ligament damage. He suffered a bone bruise, an injury that will sideline him at least for this weekend’s home stand and perhaps indefinitely.
Weber State hosts upstart Montana State on Thursday before welcoming Montana to the Dee Special Events Center for a showdown of the top two teams in the Big Sky.
“It’s a tough one, no doubt about it,” said Rahe, who earlier this year won his 125th Big Sky game, surpassing former Montana State head coach Mick Durham for the all-time Big Sky mark. “Joel’s a pretty good player and means a lot to our team and affects the game in so many ways. But overall, the guys’ spirits are good. They are ready to go play and fight like crazy and see what happens.”
Following the injury, Bolomboy limped to the locker room. He returned with a sizeable bag of ice on his knee. As WSU battled a young, hungry NAU squad at 7,200 feet elevation, Bolomboy asked Rahe if he could get back in the game.
“I think it scared him a little bit,” Rahe said. “Once that wore off, he wanted to go back in the game. Of course, I wouldn’t let him. But that’s the kind of kid Joel is. He wanted to help his team. He is more worried about his team than he was about himself, which speaks to the type of kid he is.”
Junior forward Kyndahl Hill stepped up to notch 19 points and eight rebounds in 33 minutes with Bolomboy on the bench. Star guard Jeremy Senglin scored 22 points in 39 minutes as Weber emerged from Walkup Skydome with a 77-74 win to move to 12-2 in conference and secure its sixth 20-win season under Rahe.
“Once you establish a program like Weber, they are not a one-pony show,” said MSU second-year head coach Brian Fish said. “One through 12, the other scholarship guys are very good. It will give other guys an opportunity to step up. Bolomboy is very impressive on film and will be hard to replace but I think they will do it as a group.”
Rahe said he has no timetable for Bolomboy’s return. He said he could be back as soon as the final weekend of the regular season, a two-game stretch that holds road trips to Idaho and defending Big Sky tournament champion Eastern Washington. Bolomboy could also return in time for the Big Sky Tournament in Reno the second week of March. Or his senior season could be finished. Bone bruises can take anywhere from two weeks to eight months to heal.
Bolomboy’s production will likely be impossible to replace. The strapping center leads the Big Sky Conference and ranks second in Division I with 13 rebounds per game. His average took a hit with four rebounds against NAU. He was averaging 13.5 boards per game before Saturday, including 13.9 per game against Big Sky competition. Bolomboy also averages 17.7 points per outing on 58.7 percent shooting. He is a 74.5 percent free throw shooter in league play.
“He’s a beast on the boards,” Fish said. “I’m not sure I’ve seen a rebounder like that for a long time. The best comparison that I would give to our fans is Larry Nance Jr. but I’m not sure he’s not a way better rebounder than Nance. He goes and pops the ball. He’s really impressive. He’s a 10-year pro when he leaves.”
Nance Jr., a 6-foot-8 power forward out of Wyoming, was the No. 27 overall selection in last year’s NBA Draft. He is averaging 5.7 points and 4.9 rebounds over 43 games for the Los Angeles Lakers. Fish’s Bobcats faced Nance twice last season.
Earlier this season, Bolomboy passed Weber legend Willie Sojourner and former Idaho State standout Steve Hayes on the Big Sky career rebounding list. Bolomboy now has 1,248 rebounds, 101 more than Hayes’ league record. Most NBA Draft sites rank Bolomboy as a late first or early second-round draft pick. Weber’s Damian Lillard was the No. 6 overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Rahe’s squads have claimed four Big Sky regular-season titles and finished second two other times. Only once (last season) did Weber finish lower than third. But Weber has lost to the Grizzlies in the Big Sky Tournament three of the last four seasons, including falling in the championship game in Lillard’s final two seasons. Now the Wildcats will have to face the Griz likely without their star.
“If there’s a good part to this, which there’s not a lot of good parts to it but he went down early in the game so our guys had to figure it out,” Rahe said. “We were making some adjustments on the fly, moving guys to different spots. Now we have to find a way to win without him.”
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