By ERIC TABER for GoGriz.com
Montana Basketball history will be made on Wednesday this week at the Ranch Club in Missoula when many of the legends of Griz hoops coaching return to the Garden City for the inaugural Grizzly Roundball Roast.
Front and center on the evening will be the Grizzly basketball coaching tree that has seen most of its former mentors in recent history depart UM for greener pastures.
Coming back to Missoula are now retired former Montana head coaches Mike Montgomery (’78-‘86) who went on to Stanford and Cal, Stew Morrill (’86-’91) coached at Colorado State and Utah State, Blaine Taylor (’91-‘98) who coached at Old Dominion, and Don Holst (’98-’02) went on to assist Morrill at Utah State.
Montana’s two most recent branches in the coaching tree, Larry Krystkowiak and Wayne Tinkle, are also making their way back to Big Sky country from bigger programs. But they are taking the time while still on the job, coaching in arguably the strongest conference in the country (the Pac-12) during one of the busiest times of the year for college coaches.
Krystkowiak, the Grizzlies all time leading scorer, returned to his alma mater to coach from ’04-’06. Coach K is now in Salt Lake City leading the Utah Utes, who made a Sweet 16 run in the NCAA tourney last season.
With the season tip off just over a month away, Krystkowiak is a busy man. But the allure of Grizzly Basketball is bringing him home to help raise funds for his former program.
“It’s pretty cool I think, what Travis is trying to put together, in bringing some of the coaches back. It’s a heck of a little coaching tree that I’m proud to be a part of.
“It goes back to (Jud) Heathcote and (Jim) Brandenburg, some really good coaches, and I think what ended up happening was that really good coaches ended up teaching some players, not only how to play, but maybe how to coach.
“There are a few of us that have branched off and been fortunate enough to keep coaching. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Oregon State head coach and UM alum Wayne Tinkle (Griz head coach ’06-’14) spent this past weekend hosting recruits in Corvallis, Ore., and preparing his team for another season of turning heads in the Pac-12 following a successful first year in 2014-15.
This week he’ll be in Missoula to support the Griz and says he is looking forward to paying tribute to the program that gave him his start.
“There’s an added responsibility,” says Tinkle, on being a member of the Montana coaching tree. “Even though a few of us have moved on to different programs, we want to pay homage to Montana, because you know that’s where you got your start, and you want to carry the torch, so to speak.
“It is a very creative idea, and we’re looking forward to it being a great time,” he said of the roast. “We have so many great memories from Missoula and the University of Montana, that we’re pleased that they would think of us to be a part of it.”
Also making the trip to the roast from Salt Lake, where he serves as an assistant to Coach Krystkowiak at Utah, is Andy Hill, an assistant for both Krystkowiak and Coach Tinkle on the Grizzly bench from 2004-11.
No matter these former coaches’ feelings about the Grizzly coaching tree, the fact remains that the event is billed as a roast of current Griz coach Travis DeCuire.
“It was a way to attract the coaches back for the event, for me to sit in the chair and take the beating,” admits DeCuire. “But something tells me they’ll turn on each other a little bit, so the laughs will be mutual.”
Other than their love of Montana, these coaches can agree on another sentiment: That the ribbing at the Roundball Roast will be in good nature, and for a good cause.
“We’ll have some fun with it,” says Tinkle. It’s kind of unique. Usually when you roast somebody it’s for somebody who’s retiring and you have a lot of material. I don’t know that I have a lot of material on Trav, but I’m sure there’ll be some zingers going back and forth between some of the older guys too.
“It’ll be fun. I’m looking forward to it. I know there’ll be some hazing going on, but it’ll all be for a good cause and a good time.”
The Roundball Roast is set for 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 23 at the Ranch Club in Missoula. Tickets to the marquee event are sold out.