BILLINGS — Brent Montague remembers a few things about Masai Ujiri.
“He dressed well,” said Montague of his teammate from the 1995-96 Montana State Billings men’s basketball team.
Along with his sartorial choices, Montague recalled a couple of other things about Ujiri the student-athlete.
“He was a slasher-type player,” Montague continued of Ujiri’s basketball presence. “He played that type of position. And he was a good on-ball defender.”
Ujiri still dresses well, now just for a different audience. And he lets others do the driving to the basket and defending opponents.
The former Yellowjacket is the president of basketball operations for Toronto Raptors, which recently defeated the Golden State Warriors for the team’s first NBA championship.
And in assembling the NBA titlists, Ujiri became one of the most sought-after executives in professional basketball. Ujiri recently announced that he would be staying with Toronto.
“It’s a surprise any time you know somebody and you see them on television,” said Montague. “And we knew Masai. There will always be that connection.”
Ujiri’s ascent of the basketball mountain included a brief stop in Billings, Montana.
Ujiri, a 6-foot-5, 170-pound guard on the MSUB roster, was part of new head coach Craig Carse’s first recruiting class. Ujiri, England-born and Nigeria-raised, had played his high school basketball in Seattle and spent two seasons with Bismarck State in North Dakota.
With official records only going back to 2001, MSUB does not have any statistical numbers of Ujiri.
But a check of The Billings Gazette archives showed he appeared in 10 games, averaging slightly less than three points a game. He had a career-high eight points in a loss to South Dakota.
He returned to England for personal reasons at the end of the first semester.
Attempts to reach Ujiri through the Raptors were unsuccessful.
The Yellowjackets would go on to finish 20-8 that season and reach the NCAA Division II West Region tournament. On Jan. 3, 1996, the Yellowjackets posted one of their biggest wins in program history, a 79-74 victory over Oregon State.
Following his short stay at MSUB, Ujiri returned to England and played professionally. He became an unpaid scout for the Orlando Magic and began his climb up to the NBA ladder. Ujiri also worked for Toronto and Denver, where he was selected the NBA general manager of the year in 2013. He also has been involved with the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Program in Africa.
“He took advantage of his situations and worked hard,” said Montague, a member of the MSUB athletic hall of fame and head coach of the Billings Skyview girls basketball program. “He put his time in, and obviously is doing great in the NBA.
“Good for him.”
Ujiri has been in charge at Toronto since 2013.
Ujiri isn’t the only regional connection to the new NBA champions.
Chris Boucher, who appeared in two playoff games with Toronto during its title run, spent one memorable season with Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming.
The 6-10, 200-pound Boucher was a first-team NJCAA All-American for the Trappers during the 2014-15 season, averaging 22.5 points and 11.8 rebounds a game his sophomore year. The native of St. Lucia played one season for NWC after starting his career at New Mexico Junior College.
Boucher would go on to play for two seasons at the University of Oregon, where he finished with 189 blocked shots — the second-most in program history.