Coach Tinkle and the Montana Basketball Renaissance

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Mon-Ida Sports Blog. Its author is a UM grad who loves writing about all things local sports. It has been published on Make it Missoula with his permission.

By GRIZFAN-24 for Mon-Ida Sports Blog

I am not much for hyperbole, but I believe we are in the middle of a basketall rennaissance at the UM. There are few times in a lifetime of watching and coaching sport, that you get to see something so much bigger than just a game. Last night was such a case, and I will go all in and say this: Wayne Tinkle deserves all the credit.

My first experience with Wayne Tinkle was as a youth basketball player attending day camps headed by then Coach Stew Morrill. I was a tall (then) kid, who had more of a desire to play from the perimeter than bang down low. Throughout the week, as my group was assigned to him, he started calling me Bill Lambier.

Fast forward about fifteen years, he had just returned to Missoula after finishing his career of playing in Europe and I was playing a round of golf at Larchmont. I was walking to the tee box on 10, and Tinks was in the trees on 15. He looked at me, stopped for a second and said “how ya doing Bill.” I was decidedly confused at the moment. Took me a second to remember why he would know me as Bill, and I smiled and continued on with a small conversation with a big big man.

UM Basketball Coach Wayne Tinkle coaching from the sidelines in the championship game of the Big Sky Conference Basketball Tournament. Photo by Patrick Record.

Ever since what baffles me the most today, that he would know who one kid was amongst 1,000 day campers and remember it 15 years later. Albeit, I sort of stood out like a sore thumb (a tall pasty white kid) and hadn’t changed much in 15 years. I generally despise mixing with college coaches because most of them are loathe to spend the time having menial conversations with high school guys.

Wayne Tinkle is a rare breed at the college level, in that he’ll spend time. But maybe most importantly he’ll spend the time and not act like he has 7,000 more important things to do. You never get the sense being around Wayne that he is annoyed by social settings that puts him in contact with fans. Wayne Tinkle remembered me, I think in large part because he makes conscious decisions to get to know people. That may seem a bit trite, but I can’t help but think that the biggest reason he succeeds is because he is able to make honest connections with people.

He can recruit because players feel connected with him and the staff. He brought in Bill Evans, who by all accords and knowledge is maybe one of the five classiest guys in all of college basketball to work with him. His two other assistants from reputation have the same similar set of people skills. Those kids respond to the staff because they care. Those kids know, that in a sport that at times gives you more failure than success, they have a staff that has their backs.

Coach Tinkle gives Will Cherry a boost during the first game of the BSC tournament against Eastern Washington. Photo by Patrick Record.

After a near decade of coaches who didn’t care or those who had ego’s much larger than the program or the players themselves, Tinkle was the ideal hire. I know much of this by annectdotal evidence within the program, but Tinkle is a tireless worker and that translates to the kids on the floor.

There was a comment last night on the ESPN broadcast, where Miles Simon relayed a comment about when Jono challenged Will Cherry. “Do you want to become a better shooter? If you do, I’ll get you better.” Then Simon went on to say that he challenged Cherry to make 500 shots a day.

Unlike football where coaches have a ton of ability to shape players, basketball has become unfortunately a sport where individuals play a team game. Coaches take talented players, who sometimes don’t mix, and roll out a basketball. Few coaches spend the time to make players better and in a way that allows them to succeed on a team level and not an individual level. I have watched a ton of AAU basketball and fewer and fewer coaches spend any time with attention to detail.

That seems to me as I was watching the game last night, where Tinkle and his staff succeed. They took Will Cherry who wasn’t getting looks from larger colleges because he was one dimensional offensively and turned him into maybe the most complete player in the Big Sky aside from Damian Lillard.

They know how to put kids into positions to allow them to succeed. As much criticism goes out to Derek Selvig, I am not sure he would have succeeded in many other programs. He evolved as a player, and they put him into a position to provide quality minutes and do those things that he is good at. They didn’t force a square peg into a round hole.

Coach Tinkle and his team celebrate after winning the 2012 Big Sky Conference Basketball Tournament. Photo by Patrick Record.

There are countless examples of how it seems Tinkle is building a culture. While the win a few years back against Nevada was huge, I am not sure the win last night wasn’t a bigger statement about where this program is headed. Rahe said it in the post game in multiple inferences about how this Grizzly basketball team is pretty close to complete.

I will be the first one to tell you that I have no illusions of granduer here. I don’t see us making sweet sixteens or becoming anything like Gonzaga, but I do believe the pride is back in UM basketball. A pride that existed when I was going to day camps in the 80’s, that had long been dormant in Missoula, Wayne has brought back.

I wanted to be in Missoula so much last night. Wayne has toiled a long time in Missoula, in a community dominated by the ego centric football crowd, and has struggled to bring people in. Wayne and his staff’s efforts need to be recognized by more than the hearty few that have backed the program over the last few years.

I hope the success is lasting, because Wayne deserves it more than anyone else. He put in the time, he did the work and most importantly he did it the right way. Last night was bigger, because Wayne Tinkle made it bigger.

From a guy who has always loved Grizzly basketball, and loved it before football, I thank you Coach Tinkle for bringing (or returning) Grizzly basketball to where it should be.