MISSOULA — The 2019-20 season hasn't even begun for the Montana Grizzlies men's basketball team but they're already looking to the future.
Recently, a pair of Australian athletes told 406mtsports.com that they have given their verbal commitments to the Grizzlies for the Class of 2020: 6-foot-8 forward Josh Bannan and 6-5 guard Hunter Clarke.
The roommates visited Montana back in April together and immediately fell in love with Missoula. For Clarke, it reminded him of home in a way.
"I always thought it was a more relatable staff and player environment," Clarke said. "I could see myself being there. The school is amazing and the community feels a lot different than a place like L.A. There was more of a wholesome feel. You go into a restaurant and everyone says hello and I kind of liked that. It was more relatable to Australia."
While both are venturing into new territory, Clarke has plenty of connections already with UM. His older brother, Anderson Clarke, is a grad assistant for the Grizzlies.
And after meeting the team, the rest of the coaching staff and seeing the school and what it had to offer, both were ready to commit.
Clarke was born in Canberra, the capital city of Australia. Early on, he moved to Adelaide in South Australia — the same town former Griz Ben Carter hails from — before moving to the Bay Area in California in sixth grade. He lived there through his freshman year of high school and was eventually offered a scholarship at the NBA Global Academy at Basketball Australia's Centre of Excellence at the Australian Institute of Sport so he moved back to Canberra where he's been ever since.
With a different upbringing than a typical high school atmosphere like in America, Clarke feels better prepared because he competes against men and trains extensively throughout the week. The Centre of Excellence, which Bannan and Clarke compete for right now, competes in the NBL1, a semi-professional league in Australia where some of the teams feature players from the NBA's G-League. Their season began in late March and will run into late July, early August.
Clarke's father, Marty, who used to be an associate head coach at St. Mary's in Moraga, California, is the technical director at the NBA Global Academy. Clarke said he also used to suit up against current Griz Timmy Falls.
Clarke remembers getting a letter from Montana back in eighth or ninth grade and has been well aware of the Griz thanks to being a big college basketball fan. But in August of last year, associate head coach Chris Cobb visited Australia for a tournament the NBA put on and that is where the conversations really took off for both athletes. Montana was the first school to officially offer Clarke.
"I'm looking forward to playing hard and being reliable (with the Griz)," Clarke said. "Just looking forward to playing college basketball."
While Clarke has been at the Centre of Excellence since 10th grade, Bannan joined last summer. The duo also competed on the Australian U17 team as well where they finished in sixth last summer in the U17 World Cup.
"It felt like a good environment where I felt like I could do well for the team and can benefit me as an individual as well," Bannan said. "The opportunity to play basketball at a very high level and to get the schooling I want at the same time made it pretty appealing."
While Clarke was more aware of the Grizzlies thanks to his family connections and having lived in the States, learning about UM was a new experience for Bannan. Bannan said he was able to watch a couple of Griz games last season, including the NCAA Tournament matchup against Michigan. He picked UM over UC Riverside and UC San Diego.
"At that point, I really knew I wanted to go to college in America. That's always been a goal and aspiration of mine," Bannan said. "When (Cobb reached out) that was when it started becoming reality.
"Hunter and I are really good friends and Anderson being there as well will be helpful when I first come over."
Clarke said he normally plays at the two but can play point if need be. Bannan, with his size, usually plays at the small and power forward positions. Bannan added that he's capable of stretching the floor, handling the ball well and he's able to shoot it.
Bannan originally hails from Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria and played junior club basketball with the Blackburn Vikings before joining the Australian Institute of Sport.
"I thought it would be quite difficult (to make that transition) but I had a lot of support from my family and my parents were really good about it," he said. "I love basketball and I knew it would help me as a basketball player which has made it easier working towards what I want to achieve."
Clarke and Bannan join Missoula Hellgate rising senior Rollie Worster as Montana's Class of 2020 commits. Montana will have four available scholarships for the Class of 2020 as rising seniors Sayeed Pridgett and Kendal Manuel and grad transfers Jahshire Hardnett and Jared Samuelson will have exhausted their eligibility.