HELENA — Carroll College and Montana Tech’s men’s basketball coaches Kurt Paulson and Adam Hiatt are no strangers to one another.
The two met plenty of times on the basketball court during their time in college.
But that was more than a decade ago.
Now, they square off again, but this time in a different capacity.
The two have retired their sneakers and traded their jerseys for suits and ties as they lead their respective teams tonight in the final Frontier Conference game of the calendar year.
“We have known each other for a long time now and he is a great player,” Paulson said of Hiatt. “He was a really tough point guard and his work ethic shows in his team. He has them playing really well.”
The rivalry started during the first meeting between Carroll and Westminster College in Salt Lake City on a cold January night in 2003.
Paulson was a redshirt freshman for the Saints, while Hiatt transferred to Westminster from Ricks College in Idaho.
“That was the rivalry of the Frontier Conference back then,” Hiatt said. “Westminster was the outlier and didn’t have a traditional rival since there was no school next to us, but these were the best teams in the conference. There was always big games and it became a rivalry. With both schools having the same colors, we always thought our purple was better.”
The two met four times over the course of their playing careers. Though Hiatt’s Griffins won all four meetings, he had nothing but admiration for his opponent.
“Kurt was scrappy,” Hiatt said. “Whenever he came off the bench for them, he played with a ton of grit and fight. As a player, I respected that.”
The two point guards’ mutual respect turned into a friendship, and as their playing careers turned into coaching careers, the two continued to speak fairly regularly, although they might avoid the topic of their upcoming game.
The Saints sit atop the Frontier Conference standings, but Montana Tech is just one game behind them.
While Carroll averages 93.5 points per contest and returns senior shooting guard Ife Kalejaiye from a calf injury, the Orediggers will look to slow the tempo.
Tech has held opponents to 38 percent shooting this season and just 31 percent from behind the 3-point arc.
“They are defensively sound,” Paulson said.
As for the rivalry, Carroll has won the last five out of the last six meetings, but with two coaches who know each other so well, both sides know the game could be as close as it gets.
“They are always tough to play,” Kalejaiye said. “We just need to play our game and we should be fine.”