HELENA — Carroll College women’s basketball senior Taylor Salonen grew up listening to her father’s stories of playing basketball for Great Falls High School.
She heard the one about winning three consecutive district championships and another time when the Bison finished as the state runner-up.
But it seemed like every story revolved around a common character.
“We didn’t win them all, but coach (Gary) Turcott made us the best prepared team heading into a game,” Brad Salonen said. “His scouting reports were just spot on.”
It wasn’t until Taylor was looking at colleges that she fully realized who her father was talking about.
Turcott coached her dad and uncle when they were her age, and now he would be coaching her.
“When Carroll was recruiting me, (Turcott) was really involved,” Taylor said. “You usually don’t see assistant coaches get involved like that.”
Turcott spent the next three years helping with Taylor’s game as an assistant coach under Rachelle Sayers before he announced his retirement this past Thursday.
He spent the last 49 years coaching high school and college basketball. It was a career that spanned two generations of the Salonen family.
“He used to tell me all the time, ‘I began my career coaching a Salonen and I’ll probably end my career coaching a Salonen,’” Brad said.
Brad’s older brother, Brian, also played one year under Turcott before graduating from Great Falls and heading to the University of Montana to play football.
“Gary was a younger coach, but always pushed the fundamentals,” Brian said. “I understand the game more because of that.”
Turcott was given his first coaching opportunity when he was hired in 1979. He had no varsity coaching experience and had only coached at the sophomore level.
“I was in way over my head, but I did the best that I could,” Turcott said. “It was a struggle. I didn’t do as well as I would have liked.”
Turcott eventually found success over his 11 seasons with the Bison, but no matter what happened on the court or in practice, his demeanor always stayed positive and upbeat.
“He never got in our face and you could tell it rubbed off on his assistants,” Brad said. “They never acted that way either.”
After the Salonen brothers graduated, Turcott eventually returned to his alma mater, Carroll, where he coached the Saints for 19 years.
Eventually, he saw the Salonen name pop up once again when Brad’s daughter Taylor was playing for Glacier High School in Kalispell.
“He always kept telling me that I had what it takes,” Taylor said. “He gave me the confidence, for sure.”
Salonen watched as her production improved from scoring just 24 total points her freshman year to 164 total points. She was chosen the Frontier Conference’s Sixth Player of the Year as a sophomore.
“It’s been a great experience to see her grow and contribute to the program,” Turcott said.
While Taylor said she was disappointed that Turcott will not be coaching during her senior season, she will never forget all he has done for her.
And her family, who watches from the stands, feels the same way.
“The relationship coaches build with players is so important, and he has done that with my entire family,” Taylor said. “A relationship like that builds a successful team.”