Team IMPACT Delivers Special Addition to Griz Basketball Program

Sometimes the best recruits are the most unexpected.

Just 12 years old and a full foot shorter than the rest of Montana’s roster, Wyatt Grove doesn’t fit Travis DeCuire‘s typical prototype. But it didn’t take long after talking with Grove to realize that he had the makeup of a true Grizzly.

“The two things that immediately stood out to me about Wyatt were his leadership and his toughness,” DeCuire said on Thursday, at Grove’s signing-day press conference. “Every great leader is really at their best when they have good followers, and I think we have a group of young men who will follow Wyatt’s lead in terms of the way he challenges himself every day to be successful and win the day.

“With his toughness, he fights through adversity, and that fits perfect with us, because that’s what Griz do. We more than fight; we find a way to battle through adversity and succeed.”

Along with family and his new teammates, Grove, a native of Great Falls, signed his National Letter of Intent on Thursday afternoon from the Adams Center Sky Club, overlooking the court of Dahlberg Arena.

“This is a really, really big day for Grizzly Athletics and our men’s basketball program,” said assistant coach Jay Flores, who was instrumental in Grove’s recruitment. “Any time you can add

Grove’s recruiting process didn’t take long, but it also wasn’t all that different from what other high-level recruits experience.

He got on Montana’s radar in March, through the organization Team IMPACT, which connects kids with serious illness and disability to local college athletic teams in order to form lifelong bonds and life-changing outcomes. From there, Flores, DeCuire and the rest of the basketball staff got on the phone to feel things out.

The phone conversations led to an on-campus visit in April, where Grove celebrated his 12th birthday by meeting his future teammates, eating cake and playing video games inside the Grizzlies’ newly renovated locker room

There was even an in-home visit in May, when DeCuire and Flores were in Great Falls for the GSA Spring Tour, making an extra stop to eat lunch with Grove and his father, Cody.

“We’re pretty good when things are going our way,” DeCuire said of his team, “but right now, we need someone who, when they face challenges, their intent is to win and conquer the challenges. There’s no question in my mind and heart that Wyatt stands for that, and because of that, I feel blessed and honored to add him to this team.”

Grove’s medical attention dates back to 2018, when then just 7 years old. That spring, he began getting really bad headaches. When antibiotics didn’t do the trick, he was sent in for an MRI. That’s when the Grove family received news that there was a cancerous tumor, called anaplastic epedymoma, in the back of his brain.

Grove was life-flighted to Salt Lake City for an eight-hour, emergency surgery at Primary Children’s Hospital, where the tumor was removed. After a week in the hospital, Grove was able to briefly come home, but a week later, he and his mom, Jessica, temporarily moved back to Salt Lake for seven weeks of radiation treatment.

Over the next several years, the Groves returned to Salt Lake regularly for follow-up appointments. For a while, things looked good, even having his visits limited to biannual check-ups. This last December, however, doctors found another tumor in the same spot of his brain.

In January, he had a second surgery to have it removed and he and his mom once again relocated to Salt Lake for part of the winter.

While much of Grove’s childhood has been far from ideal, Thursday was all about celebrating.

He received a standing ovation as he entered the Sky Club. Green bracelets with the hashtag #WyattTheBrave were distributed to those in attendance.

Sitting at the dais alongside his siblings, Tanner and Madison, as well as several of his new coaches and teammates, the group talked about the natural bonds formed, signed a National Letter of Intent and posed for photos with his personalized Griz basketball jersey.

Grove even had the right answers queued up, noting that the basketball game he’s most looking forward to this year is the Montana State game.

The entire afternoon was light-hearted, with the team eager to talk about the wins they’ve had with Grove while playing Fortnite and DeCuire even quipping about Grove’s strong commitment.

“We’ve had some face-to-face dialogue prior to the signing so I wouldn’t expect him in the transfer portal,” DeCuire joked.

Grove’s entire team was seated in the audience for his press conference, while three teammates – seniors Mack Anderson and Lonnell Martin Jr., as well as incoming freshman Jaxon Nap – sat beside him. The trio was named to the leadership team, which included orientations and spearheading hangout events.

“It’s been huge,” Martin said. “As soon as he got on campus, we instantly fell in love with him. We go hard in the gym and this give us a chance to take a step back and bring us a little back down to reality. Wyatt will be a great glue for us.

“We build bonds that are bigger than basketball here, so this will be a bond that lasts a really long time.”

For now, Grove’s role with the team is open ended. He was at a summer workout on Thursday and helped fill water bottles and shag balls. When he and his family are able to make the drive from Great Falls, he’ll be at more practices and games, and of course is eager for more video games and other team activities.

DeCuire doesn’t let just anyone around his program, and that’s not lost on Grove.

“I’m just really grateful I get to have this opportunity, because not a lot of people have this opportunity,” he said.

It’s a great opportunity for a young adolescent who is battling hard conditions, no doubt, but Grove’s addition is a two-way street in terms of value.

“Being a student-athlete involves a lot on the court and in the classroom,” DeCuire said. “For all that we do, though, the life experiences they share with one another stick with them longer and they learn more from them, so this is a huge opportunity. We’re really grateful for it.”