Dominating. Instinctual. Relentless.
That’s how those around Weber State’s Joel Bolomboy describe the 6-foot-9 power forward’s rebounding prowess.
Bolomboy is a rising senior on pace to finish as the school’s most prolific rebounder. He’s grabbed 897 career boards — good for third in Weber State history. Last year as a junior, he averaged 10.2 per game. The year before that he averaged 11.
But there was a time in Bolomboy’s basketball career, well before he ever laced up for Weber State, that one of Division I basketball’s most productive rebounders was timid, reluctant and even a bit passive on the court.
Perhaps no one is more familiar with Bolomboy’s transformation as a player than his former AAU basketball coach, Patrick Willis.
Willis first met Bolomboy in January 2011, when Bolomboy was a junior at Keller Central High School and Willis a coach with Texas Select, a DFW-based AAU program.
Willis had seen Bolomboy play and wanted the rangy big man to join his team in the spring. Willis noticed a rare combination of size and strength that couldn’t be taught, the kind that could be used to physically dominate opponents. Bolomboy’s on-court demeanor, however, was a different story.
“He wasn’t an aggressive player,” Willis said. “He didn’t like to play inside. He was a big old nice kid, and I had to change that part.”
It took some coaxing and one especially intense phone call, but Bolomboy eventually agreed to join Willis’ team.
Right away, Willis started working to make his big man meaner. Willis was in Bolomboy’s ear constantly, imploring him to be more aggressive. The layups he was flipping in near the basket needed to be dunks, and every rebound inside needed to end up in his clutches.
“He would always tell me I should get every rebound, and that there’s no reason why I shouldn’t dunk every ball within a three-foot radius around the rim,” Bolomboy said. “That’s how I developed dunking the basketball and getting every rebound that comes off the rim.”
Bolomboy was one of only two players on Willis’ team that year capable of operating in the post. Texas Select badly needed someone to clean up its guards’ defensive mistakes, grab rebounds and finish inside with authority.
Over the course of that spring and summer, Bolomboy became that player. By the time the summer wound down, the lone D-I basketball scholarship offer that Bolomboy held before the AAU season ballooned to more than a dozen. Schools such as Florida State, Clemson and his eventual choice, Weber State, all wanted him.
Bolomboy carried that newfound attacking mindset into his senior season at Keller Central. His scoring average climbed to 17.8 points per game and he grabbed nearly 4.5 more rebounds per game (12.9) than he had as a junior.
The Chargers finished the year 27-8, and Bolomboy — the freak athlete who Willis said “wouldn’t dunk” just a year prior — earned first-team all-state honors.
“Joel didn’t blossom until his senior year,” said Keller Central’s then-assistant coach Gerald Sledge, who has since moved up to head coach. “He had some things that he had to overcome — being kind of shy.
“He was always athletic and strong for his wiry frame. But it was just getting past being shy. That’s one thing that helped him going forward and gain confidence.”
That confidence, combined with a work ethic that Weber State coaches praise, has allowed him to become a dominant big man at the D-I level.
Bolomboy already owns Weber State’s program-record for career blocks with 138.
He’s also finished third and 12th nationally in rebounds per game the last two seasons, with his best performance perhaps a 16-rebound game against No. 1-seeded Arizona in the NCAA Tournament round of 64 in March 2014.
Weber State lost that game, but Bolomboy did turn a few heads by outrebounding future NBA player Aaron Gordon — who he was matched up against for most of the game — by a two-to-one margin.
“He can rebound the ball with anybody in the country,” Weber State associate coach Eric Duft said.
One of Bolomboy’s goals for his final college season is to lead Weber State back to the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats, who fell to Montana in the first round of their conference tournament last season, will likely need to win the Big Sky Conference Tournament to do so.
After that, Bolomboy has his sights set on playing professionally. He hopes to be selected in next year’s NBA draft, but for now he’s focused on the present as well as the past that got him to this point.
“It’s been really cool to see how much I’ve developed and see how much stronger I’ve got, how much more mature I’ve got,” Bolomboy said.
6 p.m. Thursday, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.