Buchanan, Niles lose a gem with passing of Bill Weaver

Buchanan girls basketball coach Bill Weaver in this 2002 photo. Weaver died Monday at the age of 67.
Buchanan girls basketball coach Bill Weaver in this 2002 photo. Weaver died Monday at the age of 67.

Humble. Unselfish. Tenacious.

Those were all qualities that Bill Weaver had when he was an All-State basketball player at Niles from 1971 to 1974.

And as the girls basketball coach at Buchanan from 1988-2009, Weaver was able to instill those qualities in his teams.

Weaver passed away Monday at age 67 following an illness, leaving those who remember him in the state of shock.

"My prayers are with his wife Pam and his family," former Lakeshore girls basketball coach Jim Maier said

"It's devastating to lose someone who has meant so much," said All-Stater Letitia (Bowen) McGuff.

Weaver was a gifted shooter and still holds most of the offensive records at Niles, including single-game points (46 against South Bend Clay in 1974), single season points (554 in 1973-74) and career points (1,324 from 1971-74), single-season field goals scored (234 in 1972-73), career field goals scored (542), single-season free throws made (134 in 1973-74), career free throws made (250) and single-season free throw percentage (84 percent in 1973-74).

Bill Weaver in his Niles High School playing days.
Bill Weaver in his Niles High School playing days.

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Weaver averaged 22.2 points per game and earned first team All-State honors on the Detroit Free Press Class A team in 1973-74 while helping Niles post a 22-3 record and reach the Class A regional finals. Only two other Niles teams have won more than that squad. Weaver went on to be a regular at Eastern Michigan University for three seasons.

Weaver took over a Buchanan girls basketball program in 1988 that had posted just three winning seasons in the previous 10 years with a 76-134 record during that stretch. In 21 years Weaver directed the Bucks to a 340-132 record with nine Lakeland Conference titles, seven district championships, two regional crowns and two Final Four appearances.

Led by McGuff, the Bucks won the Class C state title in just his third year in 1990, beating a heavily-favored Detroit Country Day team in the final. That victory came during a 29-year stretch in which Country Day reached the state title game 17 times, winning 13. It was one of only four losses in state championship games and was the high point of Weaver's career. Benton Harbor in 2009 is the only area team to claim a state championship since.

The title team was spearheaded by fundamentals, tenacious defense, powerful rebounding and great team play.

"Coach Weaver really cared about people," said McGuff, who averaged 27.1 points for the title team and went on to be a standout at Notre Dame and later an assistant coach for the Irish. "His love for the game came through in everything he did with us. He was priceless. I have so many memories from 1990. It wasn't just winning the state title. It was everything leading up to it. I even remember how important the second game that year (a 51-46 loss to Niles) was. I kept apologizing for my play that night. And he told me, 'We're going to be all right.' And we were. He gave us room to believe in ourselves. There was a stretch in the middle of the state tournament when I couldn't make a shot. I felt like I was in a haze. But my teammates came through. It just shows the power of a team and the power of a coach to make sure we did what we needed to do to win."

And why was Weaver so successful as a coach?

Buchanan coach Bill Weaver during a Class C quarterfinal game in November of 2001.
Buchanan coach Bill Weaver during a Class C quarterfinal game in November of 2001.

"He was detail oriented," McGuff said. "And he was devoted to us. I think of a man who gave me the space to become the woman I've become."

"His teams were always prepared," Maier said. "He was a great coach and an even greater person. Regardless of the outcome of the game, he was always the same guy. We had a warm friendship that goes beyond coaching. We weren't afraid to call each other if there was a team one of us was playing that that other had played to get a scouting report. His attention to detail was the big thing. His overall preparation was really good. I knew when we played them that we were in for a battle."

The year after winning the state title, Weaver might have done one of his best coaching jobs. Despite graduating most of the state championship team, including McGuff, Weaver coached Buchanan in 1991 to a 19-4 record and another district title. The Bucks lost a triple-overtime heartbreaker to Bronson that year in the regional.

Weaver never accepted accolades for himself. It was always for the team.

"Everything we did was the result of the girls' play," he said upon retiring in 2009. "I will always be our players' biggest fan. The girls were amazing to coach day in and day out, year after year. The effort and attitude was unquestionably what gave me the most enjoyment. The girls had a really smooth way of handling mistakes and down times during a game or season. They had my highest respect."

Weaver leaves behind his wife of 44 years, Pam, and an older brother Jim, of Dowagiac, and two nieces, Lisa Gipson, of Niles, and Lori Palajac, of California.

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Bill Weaver, ex-Buchanan girls basketball coach, dies at 67