Growing up playing basketball in Kentucky, Tay Weaver was sure to have heard stories about the legend of Travis Ford.
Sure enough, the name came up when the Louisville native decided to transfer from Eastern Kentucky and the connection, albeit slight, helped lead him to St. Louis University.
“I wanted to go somewhere I could get used to quick,” he said. “Coach Ford being from Kentucky had a lot to do with that. A lot of people speak highly of him and he’s respected in Kentucky. My grandmother knew about him. They’re around the same age, so she’s a fan.”
So, Weaver left his home state to play his final season for the Billikens, who were in the market in the offseason for perimeter shooters. Landing the 5-foot-10 graduate transfer gives them the roster’s lone senior on scholarship, a guard who averaged 10.2 points last season and a shooter who made 36% of his 3-pointers as a sophomore and junior.
Weaver plays on two surgically repaired knees but said he plans to do away with the brace he wore at Eastern Kentucky.
If there is any question about him, it is how his game will translate from the Ohio Valley Conference to the Atlantic 10. One good sign: last season against Tennessee, Kansas State and Xavier, he averaged 12 points and made 12 of 30 3-pointers.
But Ford said he is finding that Weaver is capable of doing more than he expected or even saw on tape.
“It’s been a bright surprise for us,” Ford said. “We recruited him thinking we needed experience, and he’s got that. We needed a 3-point shooter. But from the first day he stepped on the court he’s been much more than that.
“He can really handle the ball. He’s really fast with the ball. He sees things passing-wise and he, Yuri (Collins) and Jordan (Goodwin) are passing at an elite level right now. A lot of coaches say after practice in staff meetings, ‘We’re going to have a hard time keeping Tay off the court.’”
Weaver is in a backcourt mix with a lot of candidates vying for minutes. Other than Goodwin, he brings more Division I playing time to the team than any of the guards.
He opted to leave EKU after the team failed to qualify for the OVC tournament, having lost by one point at home in the final game of the regular season. The coach was fired and the new coach tried to retain Weaver, but he resisted.
The process was drawn out and that worked out well for the Billikens. When Mike Lewis II announced that he was leaving the program almost immediately after transferring from Nevada, a spot was available for someone of Weaver’s skill set.
“I can shoot it, so when St. Louis called they were telling me the thing that stood out was my 3-point shooting,” Weaver said. “That’s what I do best, and (Ford) told me that’s what they need this year. He talked about how my 3-pointers could help them get even better to compete for a conference championship.”
Weaver spent a lot of time shooting 3-pointers the last two years. Of the 442 shots he attempted, 353 – or 80% – came behind the arc. As a result of his focus on long-distance shooting, he has attempted only 49 free throws in 67 career games.
If he can connect at the clip on 3-pointers that he did at EKU, making 121 of 337, he should be a boost for the offense. The Billikens have been among the poorest 3-point shooting teams not only in the conference, but in the country in recent seasons.
Weaver was drawn by the chance to win. The Colonels had four losing seasons and a record of 51-73 during his four seasons. His first season in 2015-16 was cut short by his second ACL tear, the first having come as a junior in high school. He missed the 2016-17 season and missed the first seven games of his junior campaign before recovering and becoming an integral part of the program.
Weaver doesn’t feel he has been limited by his height, which will make him the shortest player on the floor most of the time he is playing. In fact, he would like to venture into the lane a little more this season.
“In high school I was one dribble and pull up,” he said. “I got confidence behind the arc once I saw I could shoot it. (Being 5-foot-10) hasn’t been a problem to where it’s frustrated me through the years. I guess this may be a little different from the OVC, but I don’t see it being a problem but maybe something I have to adjust to.”