BILLINGS — With tournament time staring up in high school and just around the corner in college basketball, today seems an appropriate time to look back in Montana basketball history.
It was 90 years ago that Montana State was named national basketball champions. That club was so incredible they were considered the greatest team of the first half of the 20th century.
The Golden Bobcats, as they were called, set a national record by averaging 63 points a game. Keep in mind that was back when they had a jump ball after every made basket.
On that 1929 national championship team were three-time all American John "Cat" Thomson, John "Brick" Breeden and Max Worthington. The fieldhouse and arena are named for the latter two stars.
But the Golden Bobcats are just one of the great teams from the Montana hardwood. Who can forget:
• In 1944, “Jumpin” Joe Kelly of Butte Central set a state tournament record by scoring 92 points in four games. Butte Central finished third that year.
• In 1969, attendance records were set that will never be broken. On both Friday and Saturday night of the Big 32 state tournament, crowds of 10,700 packed Brick Breeden Fieldhouse at Montana State. The total attendance on the weekend 41,000. In that final year of the Big 32, Alan Campbell led Laurel to a 57-54 win over Brent Wilson and Kalispell.
• Let’s go back 40 years, when the northeastern corner of our state owned high school basketball. Scobey won in Class B and in the Class C title game was Flaxville over Peerless 66-50. Scoring 24 for Flaxville in the title game was Kevin Hatfield. And who could forget the famed Pucket twins, Joe and Jon, on that Peerless squad. Sad, but today both of those high schools no longer exist.
• How about 30 years ago, when Elvis was the greatest show in Montana high school hoops. The year 1989 was the second of three years that Elvis Old Bull would lead Lodge Grass to the State B crown. It was also the second time in three years that Elvis would be named the tournament MVP. By the way, Elvis scored 36 in the 1989 title game win over Cut Bank.
• Twenty years ago the Richey girls were good ... really good. In that 1999 state Class C championship they beat Reed Point 64-34. In that game, DeLayne Johnston scored 22 and Robyne Milne had 21. During that season Richey went 27-0.
• Finally, 10 years ago one of the largest crowds to ever witness a girls high school basketball game took place. A standing-room-only crowd of 7,000 was on hand for the 2009 State AA title game at the Butte Civic Center between Missoula Big Sky and Butte. The boys title game was played first ... trust me, there were more fans for the next game when the girls played.
Butte was led by Lexie Nelson and Big Sky ... well, how about Joslyn Tinkle? Joslyn’s little sister Elle shut down Lexie, who scored just 13, and nobody could stop Joslyn. For the weekend, Tinkle scored 78 points and had 43 rebounds.
Maybe, just maybe, 20 years from now I will be telling you the story of what took place at a 2019 state basketball tournament.