How many William & Mary players have gone on to the NBA? One or two? Most people, especially current students, would probably assume that no W&M player has ever made it so far. These people would be wrong. With the 90th pick of the 1983 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs selected Brant Weidner, a 6’9” forward out of the College of William & Mary.
With the selection, Weidner became the SECOND W&M star to ever play in the NBA–the other being Andy Duncan, who was drafted by the New York Knicks way back in 1947. Hundreds of Tribe players have come through Williamsburg, and some have even had their numbers retired, but only two have made it to the highest basketball league in the world.
Nowadays, as Marcus Thornton sets his sights on joining this elite group of W&M players, we at the Blog thought it would be a great idea to interview Brant Weidner, William & Mary’s most recent alum to play in the NBA! Weidner’s story shows the remarkable path he took to the National Basketball Association and proves that it is indeed possible for a player from William & Mary to make it to the professional ranks.
Time at William & Mary
Why did you choose to attend the College of William & Mary?
“I was recruited by a number of places coming out of high school and had narrowed my choice to three schools – West Point, Princeton and William and Mary. It was a difficult choice and I thought hard about going to each school at one point or another. I was focused on finding a school that combined excellent academics with solid Division I athletics and a good campus environment. The coaching staff at W&M at that time (led by Bruce Parkhill) were young and energetic and the program offered a schedule that was very competitive. The academics were first rate, the campus is beautiful and it felt like a good fit. I haven’t regretted the choice and have kept in close touch with the school over the years.”
As W&M is known for producing scholar athletes: what did you major in at William & Mary, and why?
“I majored in Government and minored in Geology. I got involved in Geology during my freshman year principally to address the section requirement which included math which I was trying to avoid! I ended up liking the courses and the professors and ended up taking a lot more Geology. I knew that, at some point, I would go to graduate school (likely law school) and the Government curriculum seemed like good preparation for that.”
At any time, did you ever think that you would make it to the NBA? At what point did you know you had a shot?
“I didn’t really think about post-college playing opportunities during my early years at W&M and, frankly, wasn’t playing at a level during my first couple of years that would have made that a realistic proposition. Having said that, we were consistently playing against top-flight competition by scheduling a number of ACC schools every year as well as other strong East Coast programs and this allowed me to develop. I also worked hard during the summers playing a lot at various camps (at UVA and a camp in Pennsylvania run by Wally Walker, an NBA player from UVA). Late in my junior year and through my senior year, I began to play better and during my senior year, we had success as a team and I began to think about the possibility of playing after college in some fashion. Europe was an option at that point although it wasn’t until the end of my senior year when I began to get invited to various post-season camps that I began to think about the NBA. At that time, there were 10 rounds in the draft so the possibility of at least getting drafted was better than it is now with just 2 rounds.”
Could you detail the 1982-1983 season, your Senior year at W&M, in which the Tribe dominated the ECAC South (the early version of the CAA) in route to a 20-9, 9-0 record and an NIT bid? What did this season mean for you and your NBA hopes?
“My senior year was a lot of fun. We had a good group from top to bottom and played well together. We also played a strong schedule and had some good success. We were undefeated in the ECAC South conference that year which was a good achievement given the level of teams in the conference at that time. Many of the games we lost that season were by 1 or 2 points so we were very close to even having a better year than we did. The biggest disappointment was losing in the ECAC South Championship game to James Madison by I think 1 or 2 after having beaten them twice during the year. Winning this game would have sent us to the NCAA which is a hurdle that the program still seeks to get over although they have come very close to that recently and I expect will do so soon under Tony Shaver’s guidance. I think our team’s success that season gave us a level of exposure that must have helped my prospects of playing after college as it likely helped pave the way to invitations to post-season exposure camps that helped improve my draft position. The first post-season event I went to was the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament [the same one that Marcus Thornton attended this year], which was a several day affair that culminated in some games which were open to the public as well as the various scouts that attended. I played well enough at this tournament to be invited to the NBA’s pre-draft camp in Chicago which involved a group of about 60 seniors who were prospects for the draft but after the first round. I think I did well enough at both of these camps to improve my draft position from where it might otherwise have been.”
The NBA Draft was vastly different back then, as you were eventually drafted in the 4th round, 90th overall. Nowadays, there are only two rounds. Could you explain the draft process of the time period, and your experience of the 1983 NBA Draft?
“I wouldn’t have been drafted had I been coming out of college today and was fortunate to have been drafted where I was. There also wasn’t all the hoopla associated with the draft in 1983 as there is today. I spent draft day painting at some apartments my father owned in Allentown PA and listened to the draft on the radio but only really heard about who the 76ers had drafted as it was a Philadelphia station. I found out I had been drafted when I got home and my mother told me she had taken a call from the Spurs earlier that day. I went to the Spurs rookie camp and played pretty well but not well enough to make the team. I was advised to go to Europe to play which I did – signing with a team in Holland. I ended up with the Spurs later that year when Artis Gilmore got injured and the Spurs signed me to two 10 day contracts and then for the remainder of the year.”
Coming out of the ECAC South, what would you say was the biggest adjustment you had to make on the court during your time in the NBA?
“We had played a lot of very strong players during my college years given our schedule in conference and otherwise– we played Ralph Sampson at UVA, Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins at UNC and others but the biggest adjustment to getting onto an NBA court was realizing how big, how good, how strong and how quick everybody was.”
What were some things you learned at W&M, both on and off the court, that served you well in the NBA?
“I think the level of competition we played game in and game out helped prepare me to play at a higher level.”
I see that immediately following your departure from the NBA, you went on to receive a Law degree at DePaul University. Could you explain how you made that decision and explain your adjustment to life without basketball?
“I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play in the NBA although my time there was brief. I was quite literally the last guy on the bench but I was very happy to be there and recognize that I got the chance to do what a lot of players don’t. After the 1983-1984 season, I was waived by the Spurs. I considered going back to Europe and feel very confident that I could have had a long career there. But, at the same time, I thought (as encouraged by my parents) that it might ultimately be better to continue with graduate school instead. I had applied to law school during my senior year and then tried to defer admission at various places when I determined I would be able to play after college. DePaul was the one school which was willing to defer my admission so I had that in my pocket after the 1983-1984 year. So, I opted to go to law school instead of going back to Europe. In the grand scheme of things, I often think that it might have been good to play for a few more years in Europe but that was the decision I made at the time and I did well in law school and was able to get a job at one of the top law firms in Chicago. When I got to Chicago and during law school and thereafter, I continued to play in various city leagues and also played for a number of years with a team called Marathon Oil which played a pre-season college exhibition schedule so basketball continued to be a part of my life for probably 15 or so years. I stopped playing for good after I started having trouble with my left knee and had a surgery which resulted in the doctor telling me that it would be best for me to avoid the pounding of the basketball court.”
How have you managed to stay connected to William & Mary now that you live farther away from Williamsburg?
“We have kept in close contact with W&M and have maintained friendships with teammates that live there as well as other teammates and classmates across the country. I met my wife Catherine at W&M and we have been proud that our two daughters have attended school there. The oldest Marisa was in the Class of 2014 and our second daughter Amanda is in the Class of 2016. While they have been there, we have been back to Williamsburg many times. We’re always pleased to visit and the school continues to get better and better.”
One last question (this one’s for you, Marcus), what would be the biggest piece of advice you would give to a William & Mary player trying to make it to the NBA?
“I think my advice would be just to tell any player to work hard and to go for it. And continue to pursue that dream for as long as you can. The time to do something like this is fleeting and won’t come around again. If you can make it, it is something you can be proud of for the rest of your life. From what I’ve seen of Marcus, he seems like an exceptional player but also is a good kid who has things in perspective and has the benefit of having had a great education to fall back on when his playing days are over. I am looking forward to following his career and wish him the best of luck. I am also looking forward to following the Tribe next season.”
We here at the William & Mary Sports Blog want to offer a huge THANK YOU to Brant Weidner for this incredibly insightful interview. As Marcus Thornton inches closer and closer to the NBA Draft, Weidner’s story offers light at the end of the tunnel. It can be done. LET’S GO TRIBE!!!