MISSOULA — When Sayeed Pridgett got a text from his father indicating he was named to the Preseason All-Big Sky Conference team, there were a few thoughts running through his head.
Most importantly, however, was what’s next as the Montana men’s basketball team draws closer to the start of the 2019-20 season.
“It was definitely great to get that honor and now that I’ve got that achievement I’ve got a lot of people aiming at me a lot harder because they want to take my spot,” Pridgett said on Wednesday afternoon. “It’s going to make me play a lot harder and make sure I elevate my game every day.”
The 6-foot-5 Griz senior guard has certainly improved over the last three years — he actually has been the recipient of the Ryan Dick team award three times, which goes to the most improved UM player — and his final season could very well involve another big jump.
Second on the team in points scored last season with 15.1, he also finished with a team-leading 1.3 steals per game and hit 46.3 percent of his shots from behind the arc. He also averaged a touch under 30 minutes a game, grabbing 4.9 rebounds per game and dished out the second-most assists of any Griz player.
A first-team all-Big Sky honoree last year as Montana won its second conference championship in a row, the preseason award was not exactly unexpected. Pridgett ended the season on an impressive hot streak following Jamar Akoh’s untimely injury and was something of a dark horse Big Sky MVP candidate.
“(Pridgett has) a competitive drive that can’t be created. You can’t fake it,” Montana men’s basketball head coach Travis DeCuire said. “You either have it in you or you don’t and he brings it every day. You know whether he’s playing with the best group or the worst group or a young group or a veteran group, he’s the same player and he raises the level of competition every day and that’s the most important thing for this team right now.”
Joining Pridgett on the preseason all-conference squad are Montana State’s Harald Frey, Portland State junior Holland Woods, Weber State senior Jerrick Harding and Eastern Washington’s Mason Peatling and Jacob Davison.
“They’re a very talented group,” Pridgett said. “Just knowing that they’re putting in the same work I probably put in this summer, just knowing those guys, they’re going to be at their best when we play.”
Harding was named the preseason MVP after averaging 21.4 points per game to go along with an impressive steals average of 1.7 per contest. His 1621 points entering his senior season puts him at No. 27 on the all-time Big Sky scoring list.
Frey followed a strong sophomore season with an even more impressive junior campaign, averaging 17.2 points and 5.0 assists and 4.5 rebounds a contest on the way to All-Big Sky second team honors.
The Norway native ranked second in the conference with a 2.6 assist-to-turnover ration and an 84.6 percent rate from the free throw line. Frey was especially sharp in Big Sky play and averaged 19.7 points against conference opponents.
He also hit 55-of-150 attempts from behind the arc.
Woods and Peatling joined Frey on the second-team conference list, averaging 15.0 points and 15.5 points, respectively. It was Woods' second-straight preseason honor and he also tacked on 5.3 assists and 1.6 steals during an impressive 2018-19 season.
"Mason is coming off his first spring and summer that he has been able to work out and get better," Eastern Washington head coach Shantay Legans said in a release. "We saw what he meant to our team when he came back from his injury last season, and we expect him to be even more dominant in the league now that he's had a full year to prepare."
Before suffering a season-ending injury in February, Davison was averaging 18.5 points a night. He made the Big Sky third-team last year. Both Peatling and Davison missed 12 games last year.
Peatling was also selected to the Big Sky All-Tournament team last season, which came after he averaged 20.3 points on blistering 62.9 percent shooting through the three games. He averaged a near double-double with 9.3 rebounds per game.
It was the second-straight year the Eagles made the conference tournament finale. Both times Eastern Washington fell to the Griz.
“The player of the year in the league every year is a borderline NBA player, if they didn’t make a team, they were a fringe guy,” DeCuire said. “So that says a lot about the guys that are being mentioned.”