MISSOULA – Imagine playing a sport your entire life, turning it into a job, using it as a way to attend not one but two Division I colleges but yet feeling like its “foreign” to you.
Well, that’s exactly how Donaven Dorsey felt.
Montana’s redshirt senior described the beginning to this year’s campaign like that as he worked to get back in basketball shape. Since transferring to UM from the University of Washington, Dorsey went 21/2 years without playing in an official game. He sat out one year because of transfer rules then missed last season due to an injury that ended up being a benign tumor on his femur.
Getting used to competitive basketball again was a challenge to say the least.
“I would say probably the first 10 games, to be honest, were really eye-opening,” said Dorsey, whose team will play host to Idaho on Thursday night. “The game was just really fast to me. It just felt foreign for the first time in my life.”
Dorsey has looked more comfortable of late. The Lacey, Washington, native might have put in his best effort as a Grizzly on Saturday against rival Montana State. With Montana junior Sayeed Pridgett and redshirt senior Jamar Akoh facing early foul trouble, Dorsey came off of the bench and picked up the scoring for those two in exciting fashion.
After hitting a 3-pointer right out of the gate, he followed up with a layup off an assist from Pridgett before throwing down a one-handed dunk on MSU’s Keljin Blevins. After converting the three-point play, Dorsey had eight quick points in three minutes.
“I just kind of went out there and let the game come to me,” Dorsey said. “After my first couple of points, Ahmaad (Rorie) was on the bench and they called a timeout and I came to the bench and Ahmaad was like, ‘Keep going. Keep attacking and stay aggressive.’ So I was like alright, I’ll just do that.”
As far as the dunk, Dorsey added with a big smile, “It was a pretty good moment. The guys have been teasing me a lot about missing dunks or getting fouled on dunks and not finishing them. It was a good moment.”
Dorsey looked over to the bench and flexed after he completed that dunk, a moment that punctuated his ever-progressing comeback. The Grizzlies won the game, 83-78.
Dorsey has appeared in 18 of UM’s 21 games. He’s averaging 4.8 points per game and shooting at a 48.3 percent clip from the field and is 37.5 percent from deep.
“A lot of it is just my teammates instilling confidence in me every day and just telling me, ‘We all know your abilities, we know what you can do so go out and play your game,’” Dorsey said. “It’s just a lot of that and just progressing and getting healthier every day helps the process a lot.”
Dorsey has given UM a consistent deep threat from the bench. He’s hit from 3-point range in seven out of the past eight games. His 10-point outing against MSU was his highest since he scored a UM career-high 14 against Miami (Ohio) back on Nov. 17.
“The more games he plays, the better he’s going to be,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. “He’s a weapon offensively. His ability to attack the rim is something that really doesn’t show up on the scouting report but I think a lot of that had to do with being out and injured. And now he’s getting closer to full strength. He’s becoming more aggressive.
“He’ll be a lot better each week and we look forward to that.”
Rematch with Idaho
With the conference season now halfway done, the Grizzlies will begin seeing opponents for a second time this year. This week Montana is once again back in Dahlberg Arena as it hosts Idaho (4-17, 1-9) and Eastern Washington (8-13, 6-4).
The Grizzlies defeated the Vandals 69-51 back on Jan. 19 in a grind-out of a game and DeCuire doesn’t expect anything different in this second go-around on Thursday.
"They'll be physical and they'll take away what we want," DeCuire said. "They're hard to guard because they run offense so different than everyone else in our conference. They force you to run. Sometimes our guys, after a game against them, they feel like they've been in a track meet even though it wasn't as up and down as much as some other games."
Montana has now won five straight after dropping back-to-back games against Portland State and Eastern Washington. DeCuire said his team's intensity has been its biggest improvement, and those losses served as a wake-up call to spark this latest streak for the Griz.
“We’re having fun,” DeCuire said. “I think there’s always room for improvement and that’s the hard part with a group like this. We constantly communicate about areas of improvement whether its film, walk-through talks and discussions. You have to be careful with that because you want to enjoy what you’re doing as well. But I think we're getting healthier and that's the biggest thing for us right now."
Montana State defeated Northern Colorado 69-66 on Monday, Montana now has sole possession of first place in the conference standings. Tip-off against Idaho is slated for 7 p.m.