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Originally published Tuesday, December 26, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Weaver rides dairyland pipeline to WSU

If ever Washington State basketball is going to climb out of its bottomless sinkhole, the Cougars are going to owe a lot to the cheeseheads...

Seattle Times staff reporter

If ever Washington State basketball is going to climb out of its bottomless sinkhole, the Cougars are going to owe a lot to the cheeseheads.

The man who began the resurrection, Dick Bennett, is as Wisconsin as a dairy farm, coaching in high schools there, coaching at Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Wisconsin-Green Bay and finally at the flagship school itself, Wisconsin.

Then he handed off the WSU job to his son Tony, who played high-school and college ball in Wisconsin and was an assistant at the big school there before joining his dad in Pullman.

WSU fans, however, might not know the extent to which their program is rooted in Wisconsin. The best Cougar, 6-foot-6 Kyle Weaver, is from Beloit, near the Illinois line.

More than that, Kyle is the son of LaMont Weaver, and that name wakes the echoes of that state's athletic history.

"Legendary," says Tony Bennett.

LaMont Weaver was a high- school junior guard in 1969 at Beloit Memorial, wearing No. 25, just like Kyle would wear at the same school, just as he wears for the Cougars. In the state championship finals, Neenah High had just scored to go up two, with two seconds left in regulation, and Memorial was inbounding at the far end, so it was as good as done.

Except Memorial passed it in to the charging Weaver, cutting diagonally at the far hashmark.

"I took a couple of dribbles to get over to that angle," said the left-handed Weaver, "and threw it in."

Banked, from 55 feet. That tied the score — this was years before the three-pointer — and as Weaver recounts it, he hit two free throws with a couple of seconds left to win it in double overtime for Memorial, 80-79.

It's the most famous shot in state history, ensuring that LaMont Weaver would never have to buy another drink in his hometown. In 1999, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ranked it 19th on its century's list of sports moments in the state, ahead of Warren Spahn's 300th victory, Alan Ameche's 1954 Heisman Trophy and 1958 and 1982 World Series appearances by the Braves and Brewers.

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"I still have a tape of the game," LaMont said the other day. "Oh, the kids, they would look at it and laugh. I had an Afro at that time, these really short shorts — old-school stuff. It was just always something we could have a good laugh about."

Weaver went on to coach in the late 1970s at Wisconsin-River Falls, where one of his adversaries was Dick Bennett, coaching at Stevens Point.

"He'd manage the clock, work it down for a good shot," said LaMont Weaver, now academic-standards coordinator at Wisconsin-Whitewater. "That was his style then. It hasn't changed much."

It provided a ready reference point when in the spring of 2003, the Weavers began hearing from Tony Bennett, the new assistant coach at Washington State, about a possible scholarship. Kyle said he had an offer from Bradley and some interest from Ball State, "but I wasn't really a big-time recruit. I didn't get a whole lot of looks. I was even thinking about going to a prep school.

"Knowing Dick and Tony back home and having the connection there, it was the best situation for me."

Said Tony Bennett, who was three months from birth when LaMont Weaver hit his famous shot, "Kyle was the first guy I visited when we got the job. People knew he had a lot of talent, but they weren't quite sure. I believed I saw something special in him. I felt if he got stronger and became more assertive, he can be an effective player at this level."

To Weaver, Pullman must have seemed like somewhere near Moscow — Russia.

"Like I tell him, 'It's only a flight away,' " LaMont Weaver said. " 'Don't let the distance throw you off.'

"I knew he'd learn defense out there; that's the one part of his game that he lacks. Not only that, he's with good people. I knew that from coaching against them. He's going to get an education. Sometimes as a parent, you have to look at the big picture, when the kid is just thinking basketball."

LaMont and his wife Jean have to like what they see, long-distance. Thursday night at KeyArena in a 64-54 win over San Diego State, their son shrugged off a lackluster first half, scored all 16 of his points after intermission, had his first career double-double (11 rebounds), and flourished when switched to guard the Aztecs' best perimeter scorer, Brandon Heath. He had seven benign second-half points after 13 in the first.

"He did a great job on Heath," WSU assistant Ron Sanchez said about Weaver. "He came out and gave him a hard time."

He did a similar number on Gonzaga's Derek Raivio on Dec. 5, shutting him down in the second half as WSU upset the Zags.

Weaver is a willowy, long player who can defend guards, and at the other end, see the floor, pass, get to the basket and shoot adequately. He tied for WSU's rebounding lead last year and was an easy leader in assists.

He is by nature a personable guy, sometimes prone to lapses of nonaggression on the floor, and is certain to hear about it.

"I told him his dad gave me permission," Bennett said. " 'I'm going to keep my foot on your chest, because you have a chance to be really good.' He needs someone to push him."

Now WSU enters the daunting phase of its schedule, about to find out in Pac-10 play whether its 11-1 start is a sign of high times or merely a hedge against defeats to come.

"This was a good choice for me," Weaver said. "Coming here and playing big games like UCLA — the No. 1 team in the nation — it's kind of what you dream, about playing and being in that atmosphere."

Increasingly, Weaver — WSU's latest gift from Wisconsin — is contributing to that atmosphere.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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