- Ed Graney
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Montana a family affair
APFormer Montana coach Larry Krystkowiak redshirted Hasquet, a decision that greatly aided the player's development.
You always hear about this little boy:
He lives in all parts of the country. He is everywhere. He dribbles a ball and shoots baskets on cracked pavement or at neighborhood parks or inside empty gymnasiums. He dreams of one day wearing the jersey of Duke or UCLA or North Carolina or the like, of playing college basketball for a program synonymous with top-25 rankings and Final Four appearances and being as much part of Dick Vitale's vocabulary as the word "baby."
You rarely hear about this little boy:
He is born and raised in a place Lewis and Clark described as "scenes of visionary enchantment," a place of vast prairies and stunning mountain ranges and lush rivers and even a ghost town or two, a place whose magnificent beauty inspires best-selling books and Hollywood movies.
He is nurtured on the hoop traditions of a mid-major program set in a relaxing college town, the team his great-great-grandfather competed against and the one his grandfather, mother and aunt played for over the years. He momentarily entertains the idea of leaving home to play in college. But he doesn't. He stays.
"I just love it up here," said Montana junior forward Jordan Hasquet. "As a kid, I heard all the old stories. We'd scrape together tickets for games. A lot of the players lived near me. I would just be running around at all the games. It's pretty cool now to be part of that [legacy]."
Montana, located in picturesque Missoula, is one of those programs that annually owns the promise of being noticed one week each March. The Grizzlies are almost always good enough to contend for the automatic NCAA Tournament berth awarded the Big Sky Conference, where they'll do things like knock off a No. 5 seed in Nevada in 2006 and thus introduce the nation to weird little facts like comedian Dana Carvey being from Missoula and the state being home to the world's shortest river. (It's the Roe and it stretches a whopping 200 feet.)
March is also a time college fans not familiar with the Big Sky (meaning most everyone) learn about players like Hasquet. He is a 6-foot-9 junior forward who should challenge for conference player of the year honors this season. His roots in the program extend deeper than those of your basic red oak, although he almost wasn't offered a scholarship at Montana because of the fear that his game was too soft.
He has since proved every bit the player inside and out, averaging 15.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in conference games last season. He's also hit 62 career 3-pointers.
It's a nice story for a kid whose great-great-grandfather (the not-so-legendary Heman Bird) played against the Grizzlies 100 years ago while traveling with a team from Red Wing, Minn. It's a treasured time for a player whose mother (Doris) ranks seventh all time in career scoring (1,248 points) for the Montana women's team and whose aunt (Linda) is 14th in career rebounding (626).
Hasquet is the son of a former high school coach (Pete) who played one season of junior varsity ball at Montana when he wasn't watching his future bride compete. His father's good friend is former Grizzlies star player and head coach Larry Krystkowiak (now coach of the Milwaukee Bucks), who spent summers during a nine-year NBA playing career living in the Hasquet's basement.
Talk about ties that bind a program.
"Of course, we wanted Jordan to be where he was most happy, but didn't want him too far away from Montana," said Doris. "A lot of people really appreciate the fact he stayed home. You know, we're not the biggest state. I guess Montana kids develop chips on their shoulders and maybe don't think they're always given a fair shake. It makes them pretty tough.
"For us, it's pretty special to have all these players on the team listed from other places and Jordan as the hometown kid. I think it might have been scary for him at first -- there is some pressure that goes with it -- but also something he has really tried to enjoy, being able to play in front of all his family and friends."
Wayne Tinkle, also a former Montana player, is in his second season as head coach. He was an assistant coach on Pat Kennedy's staff when Hasquet was in high school. Tinkle had to sell Kennedy on the idea of signing Hasquet, the state's best prep player. In high school, Hasquet was allergic to the concept of shooting much of anything inside 15 feet, but Kennedy eventually bought the idea the kid could discover an aggressive nature. Things really took off when Krystkowiak replaced the departed Kennedy and had Hasquet redshirt his freshman season to gain strength.
"Jordan made a commitment and went nuts in the weight room," said Tinkle. "He's anything but soft now. I've known Jordan since he was a little kid and followed his progress all the way up the different stages. Any time you have the best player in your state stay home and succeed, a kid who has such pride in the tradition and roots in the program, it all spills over to the rest of your team. And when he is your hardest worker -- day in and day out -- it can't help but make you better."
Lolo Peak is a hiking trail just outside Missoula, a steep climb that rewards you with spectacular views into the valley below. At four miles, you come to Carlton Ridge, elevation 8,252 feet. Hiking the trail is one of Hasquet's favorite hobbies in a place where the outdoors are to be respected and cherished. It's a place that reminds Hasquet (who took a recruiting trip to Santa Clara and also considered Montana State) why he chose to stay home and play.
"It's not Duke," he said. "But I'm still living my dream."
Six of nine conference head coaches are entering their first or second seasons at their respective schools. The old man in the fraternity is Northern Arizona's Mike Adras, who is entering his ninth season leading the Lumberjacks.
Did you know?
The Big Sky finished third among Division I leagues in scoring average (74.82) last season.
Rodney Stuckey is gone from Eastern Washington. A first-round pick (No. 15 overall) of the Detroit Pistons, Stuckey led the Big Sky in scoring (24.6 ppg) and free-throw shooting (84.6 percent) and was second in assists (5.52) and steals (2.45) last season. His presence allowed the conference the kind of national regular-season publicity it rarely receives. Is there a current Big Sky player good enough to earn that kind of notice in the coming season?
Montana junior forward Jordan Hasquet is the lone returning player from the first-team all-conference selections last season. Of the five members on the second team, three players (Montana forward Andrew Strait, Portland State guard Dupree Lucas and Weber State guard Juan Pablo Silveira) are back.
* NCAA Tournament
The Eagles couldn't qualify for the conference tournament last season with the league's best player, and now begin life without star Rodney Stuckey and with new head coach Kirk Earlywine. A former Big Sky assistant at Weber State, Earlywine has just one year of head coaching experience (Pfeiffer University in 1995-96). … Also gone is center Paul Butorac, who led the conference in shooting (64 percent) last season. ... Senior forward Kellen Williams averaged 8.4 points and nearly six rebounds last season, while senior guard Marcus Hinton and sophomore center Brandon Moore also return.
Joe O'Brien arrived as head coach last season after winning three national titles at the junior college level and promptly led the Bengals back to a spot in the conference tournament. … O'Brien must replace guards David Schroeder and Akbar Abdul-Ahad (who combined to average nearly 30 points) but has a promising new big man in 6-10 juco transfer Lucas Steijn. The 230-pound Steijn redshirted a season at Indiana before departing for Logan Junior College (Illinois), where he led the team to a No. 6 national ranking as a sophomore. … Outside help should come from sophomore guard Austin Kilpatrick, who shot 44.4 percent on 3s last season.
The league's best player not named Rodney Stuckey over the past few years has been Andrew Strait, now a senior forward who averaged 15 points and 6.4 rebounds last season and has more career points (1,219) than any current Big Sky player. He and junior forward Jordan Hasquet afford second-year coach Wayne Tinkle the league's best frontcourt duo. … Cameron Rundles was Big Sky Freshman of the Year last season. The combo guard averaged 8.3 points and shot 47.4 percent on 3s during league games.
Solid best describes the Bobcats under first-year head coach Brad Huse in 2006-07. They were 8-8 in league and earned a conference tournament berth many didn't forecast. … Senior guard Carlos Taylor returns after averaging 12.4 points and 2.6 assists. … Also back are senior guards Mecklen Davis and Casey Durham, along with promising sophomore Branden Johnson. The 6-9 forward, who averaged nearly seven points and three rebounds, has a chance to become one of the league's better frontcourt players.
It will take some work for NAU to advance to a third straight conference tournament final. Gone are all-league forward Ruben Boykin Jr. (16.4 ppg, Big Sky-best 8.9 rpg) and guard Steve Sir, who led the nation in 3-pointers per game (4.1) and shot nearly 50 percent from distance. … All-conference guard Tyrone Bazy has also departed. … The conference leader in assists (junior point guard Josh Wilson) is back, along with senior center Kyle Landry (6.5 ppg), who has battled ankle injuries during his career. Those needing to step up and contribute include senior forward Ryan McCurdy and senior guard Nathan Geiser.
The Bears struggled as most expected during their initial season of Big Sky play, finishing 4-24 overall and winning just two conference games. There is hope things could be better in coach Tad Boyle's second season, given the number of players back and the fact that five of the team's conference losses came by five points or fewer. … Those returning include center Kirk Archibeque (13.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg), forward Jefferson Mason and guards Sean Taibi and Will Figures. Taibi averaged a team-best 14.6 points last season while making 82 3-pointers.
The Vikings are good enough on paper to win a conference title for third-year coach Ken Bone, who returns the league's newcomer of the year in senior guard Dupree Lucas (15.1 ppg with efforts of 32 and 33 points in conference) from a side that fell to eventual league tournament champion Weber State by three points in the semifinals. … Other strong options include 6-11 senior center Scott Morrison (11.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.2 bpg) and senior guard Deonte Huff, who averaged 10.7 points and 5.6 rebounds after transferring from junior college.
The early prognosis: another really long year for the Hornets. Last season's leading scorer, guard Haron Hargrave (13.8 ppg), and third-leading scorer, Alex Bausley (12.7 ppg), are gone while forward Davon Roberts transferred to play his senior year at Azusa Pacific. ... Shooting guard Loren Leath (12.8 ppg) returns, as does combo guard Roderick Adams. ... Health and eligibility issues might not be completely answered for coach Jerome Jenkins until practice begins. ... The staff saw all three assistants from last season depart for other schools.
Randy Rahe certainly earned his paycheck in his first season as head coach, taking a team that tied for last in 2005-06 to the NCAA Tournament a year later. … Many will pick the Wildcats (who return seven of their top nine scorers) to again represent the Big Sky in March Madness, despite their losing league MVP David Patten. One reason for the high expectations is junior guard Juan Pablo Silveira (11.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg), who spent part of his summer competing for the Uruguay national team. … Senior guard Dezmon Harris averaged nearly 18 points and three assists over the team's final three games last season, and senior forward Arturas Valeika is one of the league's better inside threats.
Early 2007-08 Bracketology
-- Joe Lunardi
The Patriot League was the second league in our ShootAround, a conference-by-conference look at hoops around the country.
In case you missed the big men in the Pac-10, click here.
In the Patriot League, Holy Cross and Bucknell have dominated recent history. Both teams won't be as good this season and previous years, but that doesn't necessarily mean other Patriot League teams can catch them.
Ed Graney is a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.