Griz Grit: Griz Basketball Will Leave Lasting Impression

By MICK HOLIEN for the Flathead Beacon

For a former print reporter, one of the more challenging aspects of writing a weekly column is that some deadlines are as much as a week in advance of publication.

Several games are often contested during just a week’s time and a lot of things can change, making columns outdated and even inaccurate.

As I ponder those possibilities with Griz basketball in the midst of a four-game week, I surely am mindful that the win streak and string of success either could be ceremoniously extended or come to a screeching halt.

But whatever occurs before Montana is back in Missoula to host Hawaii in a Bracket Buster game will do little to change my impression of this year’s edition of Griz hoops.

Will Cherry (5) was awarded Big Sky Conference player of the week Monday. The junior earned the award for the fourth time in his time at UM. Photo by Forest Chaput de Santionge for The Montana Kiamin.

Granted, only record-setting post Brian Qvale is gone from a team that came a bucket or two short of advancing to the NCAA Championships last season, so one may have anticipated that this team would challenge for a the top spot in the Big Sky Conference.

But facing one of the more challenging non-conference schedule in years, with games against opponents from the Mountain West, WAC, Big West and Pac-12, even with a somewhat veteran group headed by an all-conference point guard in junior Will Cherry, one would have been hard pressed to predict Montana would be knocking on the door of a third consecutive 20-win season.

But with four games to go before an 11th straight league tournament appearance, that’s the scenario. And what awesome possibilities await one of the most exciting UM teams in quite some time.

It might prove true that other teams accomplish more. It is going to be difficult to duplicate the 2005-2006 team that claimed a first-round NCAA win over Nevada before falling to Boston College in Salt Lake City to finish 24-7. But that was a post-oriented group led by Andrew Strait, which played what I might describe as a traditional Grizzly style of hoops under former three-time league MVP Larry Krystowiak.

That is not to diminish Krystowiak’s style that led to rare back-to-back postseason tournament appearances, but this is quite a different group with what I describe as rare-for-Missoula athleticism recruited by Wayne Tinkle and his staff.

But what might be even more important is how they seem to enjoy each other’s company on and off the court and the joy they display after a teammate’s accomplishments.

I think sometimes it is easy to overlook that sports are supposed to be fun and it seems to me this is a group that realizes collegiate competition will be remembered and appreciated as some of the best times of an athlete’s life.

I accept the argument that it is easy to act and feel that way when your team is having success and this group has had its share of winning.

But from top to the end of the bench, where future potential contributors are awaiting their opportunity, everyone has played a vital role and it would not surprise me to see this team exceed my expectations.

And they just couldn’t be more deserving because they epitomize the definition of team.


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Now in his 27th year of broadcasting University of Montana football or basketball games, award winning journalist Mick Holien has a unique and insightful perspective on collegiate athletics.