MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies were the first team to show belief in young California high school player D.J. Carter-Hollinger as a Division I talent — and the 16-year-old didn’t forget that.
Carter-Hollinger committed on Sunday, becoming the second known commit in Montana’s class of 2019. He’s a 6-foot-5, 200-pound small forward who is entering his senior season at Foothills Christian High School in El Cajon, California.
“Montana was a heavy favorite in my recruitment process because they were the first school to actually offer me and express their interest to my parents last spring,” Carter-Hollinger told 406mtsports.com. “(Associate head) coach (Chris) Cobb stayed in contact with me on a regular basis by either mailing me information about the school and basketball program, or phone calls (and) texts.
“This past spring, (head) coach (Travis) DeCuire reached out to me and my parents and expressed his genuine interest in me becoming part of the Montana family. What caught my attention was the fact that he knew my style of play, and how he could use me within the program.”
A versatile wing, Carter-Hollinger averaged 20.3 points as a high school junior. He can score driving to the basket, off the dribble and with a 3-point shot he’s still making more consistent, Foothills Christian coach Brad Leaf told 406mtsports.com.
Carter-Hollinger can navigate traffic down low, grabbing 10.2 rebounds per game and protecting the basket with 1.3 blocks. He flashed some skill as a facilitator, dishing out 1.3 assists. Leaf said he expects the rebounding to transfer over to the college level the easiest.
“He’ll get rebounds. No doubt. No question about it,” Leaf said. “In the Big Sky, he will get rebounds. He’ll put it back in for 2 points, or if it’s on the defensive end, he can lead the break or get it to the point guard, whatever coach wants him to do. And he can defend his butt off.”
Leaf added: “He’s a magnet to the ball. The kid can rebound offensively and defensively. Wherever it is, he just gets to the ball. He just has a knack to be where that ball is offensively or defensively. It’s just something you can’t teach.”
Carter-Hollinger also played AAU basketball for the Oakland Soldiers. It’s the same AAU team on which current Griz Timmy Falls and former Griz Will Cherry and Mario Dunn played.
Cobb and assistant coach Jay Flores were Carter-Hollinger’s primary recruiters, he said. His only other offer at the time of his commitment was UC Riverside, which could be because he should be entering his junior season and have another year to garner offers.
“I think Montana got a steal and they know it,” Leaf said. “He’s what they want. You want to win the Big Sky, you can’t have low-major basketball players to win the Big Sky. You have to have mid-major players that are actually in the low-major divisions.”
The San Diego native visited Montana from Friday through Sunday, when he committed. He met current Griz players, played open gym with them and met with the academic staff.
He also went to the Griz football season opener against Northern Iowa on Saturday.
“The football game was a great experience and really let me see how enthusiastic the community is about the University,” Carter-Hollinger said. “… I would say bonding with the team and my interactions with coaches DeCuire, Cobb, (Rachi) Wortham and Flores made my decision to commit this weekend pretty easy. Missoula felt like home away from home and my parents were comfortable with my decision.”
Carter-Hollinger said he plans on signing his National Letter of Intent during the early period in November. That will be about an entire month before he turns 17 years old on Dec. 11 since his parents started him in school a year early.
“I plan on having a great academic and athletic career at the University of Montana,” he said. “I definitely see myself adding to the already great tradition at the school and I am fully committed to doing my best to help make sure that we win the Big Sky and make some noise in the NCAA tournament.”
Before coming to Montana, Carter-Hollinger is hoping his high school team can make a run for a state championship. Foothills Christian lost in the San Diego Section championship game of the Open Division, considered the top classification in the state. The team still qualified for the state tournament and lost in the round of 16.
"Our program has been at a pretty high level for a while, so he's carrying the torch this year," Lead said. "In 2015-16, it was my son T.J. Leaf, who went to UCLA (and is with the Indiana Pacers now). In 2016-17, it was Jaylen Hands, who went to UCLA. And in 2017-18, it was Taeshon Cherry, who went to Arizona State. Now, D.J.'s going to be the guy who carries the team this year and is going to keep us at a very high level."
Carter-Hollinger joins Josh Vazquez in Montana’s class of 2019. Vazquez is a 6-foot-3 point guard from Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, California, near Los Angeles.
Montana will have at least four scholarships available in the class of 2019 because seniors Ahmaad Rorie, Mike Oguine, Bobby Moorehead and Jamar Akoh will exhaust their eligibility at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season.