Boise State Basketball

Boise State’s big men are quiet contributors. ‘They’ve sacrificed a lot.’

Boise State forward Zach Haney looms over San Diego State’s Jordan Schakel on Jan. 5, 2019, at Taco Bell Arena in Boise.
Boise State forward Zach Haney looms over San Diego State’s Jordan Schakel on Jan. 5, 2019, at Taco Bell Arena in Boise. doswald@idahostatesman.com

For the majority of their college careers, Zach Haney and David Wacker have played a complementary role on Boise State men’s basketball teams that have included the likes of Derrick Marks, James Webb III, Anthony Drmic, Nick Duncan and Chandler Hutchison.

Buckets were more of a bonus from the big men than a necessity.

As the Broncos’ lack of a standout scorer became more problematic this season, the two redshirt senior posts often took the brunt of fans’ ire.

But is that fair?

Sure, Haney (8.1 points, 4.2 rebounds per game) and Wacker (2.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg) have not produced the same eye-catching numbers of other Boise State bigs such as Ryan Watkins, who averaged 13.6 points and 11.9 rebounds per game as a senior in 2013-14, but that is largely because that is not the role they have been asked to play.

“When you look at both of those big guys, I think they both are disappointed in their scoring efforts throughout the year,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “… But the thing about it is the season’s not over yet. Those two want to finish off their campaign the right way.

“When you look at the big picture of their five years here, sure this year they probably needed to score a lot more because of the kind of team we had, but in the past they were great complementary players to the guys that we had. They were unselfish. They did their job every night and they rebounded at a high, high level night in and night out.”

Haney and Wacker will play for the final time in front of Taco Bell Arena fans at 5 p.m. Saturday (AT&T SportsNet/ROOT) against Air Force (13-16, 8-9 MW) in the Mountain West regular-season finale for both teams.

A victory would end a six-game losing streak for the Broncos (11-19, 6-11) and provide some much needed momentum going into the Mountain West Tournament, which starts Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

“We’ve lost some pretty close games that we feel like we could have won. … We’re definitely trying to get things right before we go down to the tournament,” Haney said. “We haven’t had the best season, or the season probably everybody wanted us to have, including ourselves, but if we go down there and make a run in the tournament or win the tournament, they won’t be talking about the season.

“They’ll be talking about, ‘Oh, that’s the team that won the Mountain West Tournament.’ ”

Point production is the most obvious statistic in basketball, and the one that ultimately determines the difference between a win and a loss. But points don’t completely define an individual’s value to a team.

Defensive rebounding percentage — the percent of available rebounds a team gets during a game — is a statistic emphasized more by coaches than fans. It’s also a stat highly valued by Rice and his staff, and an area where Haney and Wacker excel.

Boise State ranks 17th in the nation with a defensive rebounding percentage of 78.1 percent. Fellow Mountain West Conference foe Utah State leads the country in that statistic at 82 percent.

“One of the things (Haney and Wacker) do a great job of is usually the five and the four on the other team are two of their best offensive rebounders, and those guys do their job every time,” Rice said. “Maybe they’re not scoring as much as you’d like them to, but one of the things they do is nullify the other guy from getting a ton of rebounds, and that’s sometimes easier said than done.”

During his later years as an assistant at Gonzaga, Rice was in charge of coaching the Zags’ big men along with teaching rebounding. The position and the task became close to his heart, and that has carried over to his time at Boise State.

“I was coaching the guards my first few years (at Gonzaga) and then we switched. I don’t remember why Mark (Few) switched us, but I loved it,” Rice said. “I loved coaching the bigs, because guards always seem like they’ve played basketball longer. They know what they’re doing more, and bigs, there’s a lot of room for growth in what they’re doing. Sometimes they’ve never really been coached about their position, so I think you can make the most impact with those kind of guys.”

Wacker joined Boise State in 2014-15 after being named the Texas 5A Player of the Year out of Judson High School in Converse, Texas, where his dad coached. Twice during his career he has been hampered by injuries. He redshirted in 2015-16 after sustaining a foot injury, and was limited last season as he recovered from a stress fracture in his left foot and offseason shoulder surgery.

Haney, a Houston native, also joined the Broncos in 2014-15, but he redshirted his first season. He has since played in 122 games for the Broncos with 55 starts.

This season, Haney and Wacker largely have split playing time, averaging 19.1 and 17.2 minutes per game, respectively. Haney has averaged 5.8 shot attempts per game, and Wacker just 1.6. That’s hardly enough to assume the role of the Broncos’ leading scorer.

“I don’t think I’ve even taken more than five or six shots in a game my whole career. Not ever having that volume, of course I’m not going to score 10 or 20 a game. That’s not been part of my role,” Wacker said. “I think embracing that and realizing that if we can really set great screens and be really good facilitators, then we can sure mean a lot to the overall team production, helping other players get shots.

“That’s something that I’ve always prided myself on, and I think Zach does a great job, too, about doing the little things that might not show up in the stat sheet but really can help our team be effective.”

Haney has led the Broncos in blocked shots the past two seasons, and he’s on pace to potentially do so again this year with 15, one behind junior Justinian Jessup. He has 62 career blocks going into Saturday’s game, which is seven off tying for ninth in program history with Jeff Kelley (1983-87) and Watkins (2010-14), who each have 69.

Wacker will finish his career having played in at least 122 games and totaling more than 300 points and 300 rebounds while shooting 56.3 percent from the floor.

But those stats aren’t what Rice will remember most.

“These two guys, they’re the greatest. They’ll be Broncos forever, and they’re guys who I hope to have a lifelong relationship with. I love those guys,” Rice said. “They bleed blue. They’d give anything for this program, and they’ve sacrificed a lot over five years. They’ve been great representatives of our program.”

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Rachel Roberts has been covering sports for the Idaho Statesman since 2005. She attended Northwest Nazarene University and is Boise born and raised.

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