ANACONDA — Come fall, Anaconda High School’s Braxton Hill will be looking to make a name for himself on the football field when he dons maroon and silver as a Montana Grizzly.
In the meantime, the multi-sport senior has a very realistic shot at obtaining Copperhead basketball immortality.
Currently holding the third spot on Anaconda’s star-studded list of all-time scorers with 1,664 points, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound point guard will get another crack at closing the gap on Thursday evening when the Copperheads (7-4) host the Deer Lodge Wardens (4-7).
Hill, 134 points behind Anaconda's top scorer Ali Hurley and 50 points from matching second-place Ed Kalafat's mark, is burning through Anaconda’s record books at a brisk pace. He's averaged nearly 20 points per game through his four-year varsity career.
But, truth be told, he doesn’t really feel like he’s actively pursuing any records. He’s simply along for the high-scoring ride.
“I’m just focused on playing basketball with the team and trying to get some wins,” Hill said on Tuesday from the trophy-lined lobby of Memorial Gym. "It's something to look forward to, all the records. But the main goal is going out and getting the win."
Injuries have hounded the Copperheads this season, placing even more pressure on Hill, who himself is playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
The injury limits mobility in his left arm, but opposing defenses are still struggling to contain him. Hill is rehabbing three times a week and has surgery scheduled for the end of March.
After the dust from basketball season has settled.
Though breaking or setting records aren't his priority, Hill is aware of the clout cast by the prominent company surrounding him on Anaconda's scoring list.
“It’s really cool being up there,” Hill said.
Pore over a list of the highest scoring players in Anaconda’s deep basketball history, and you’ll see an ensemble of some of the state's all-time greats.
At the summit, with 1,698 points, stands Hurley and the record she forged in 2008, breaking Kalafat's record that had stood for nearly 60 years.
A member of an Anaconda dynasty who went on to have a standout basketball career at the University of Montana, her path to becoming the most prolific scorer in Copperheads’ history — by a pretty wide margin — saw her overtake records set by Rob (her uncle), Bob (her grandfather) and Scott (her father).
The recollection of overtaking Kalafat's record to become the Copperheads' all-time scorer is still fresh in her mind.
“The night that I broke Ed Kalafat’s record happened to be senior night, and my last time wearing a Copperhead jersey in the Snake Pit,” Hurley recalled. “It was a night that I will never forget.”
Best friends and former teammates at Montana with Braxton's sister Torry — currently in sixth-place with 1,496 points — Hurley has known Hill since he was a child. She's now watched him move within striking distance of her record.
She's rooting for him.
"I could not be more proud of Braxton," Hurley said. "It's been fun watching his career from afar. I hope to be in attendance when he passes my scoring record."
In second place is Kalafat, a former University of Minnesota star and two-year NBA player for the Minneapolis Lakers, with 1,664 points.
Kalafat set his record in 1950, an era before the development of the 3-point shot and a time of relative prosperity for Anaconda, when the smelter was booming and the Copperheads played in a conference called the Big 32, which pitted them against teams like Butte, Missoula and Billings.
“It was the greatest time of my life — I was glad for the opportunity,” Kalafat said over the phone from his home in St. Paul while reminiscing about a career-high 52-point barrage he once unloaded on the then-arch rival Bulldogs.
Though Butte's current Class AA status and Anaconda's Class B status preclude the two from competing against each other anymore, their bygone rivalry (1905-2014) was the longest in state history.
And how does Kalafat feel about Hill being not much more than a stone's throw from surpassing his record?
“I think records are made to be broken,” Kalafat said. “I wish the kid a lot of luck. I think it's great.”
Hill spoke while standing next to a case filled with memorabilia of the late Wayne Estes, currently in seventh place with 1,440 points. The larger-than-life figure's feats at Anaconda and Utah State University paired with his uncompromisingly tragic death still loom over Anaconda.
Hill overtook Estes’ record on Dec. 19 with a 31-point performance during a 64-53 win over Three Forks. Though he wasn't aware that he had passed Estes until the game was over, the revelation was significant.
“It meant a lot," Hill said. "Knowing (Wayne's) name growing up and knowing his brother (Ron) and nephew (Rochi) it’s really cool being up there with Wayne. He was always an idol and someone I looked up to."
Ron, Anaconda's freshman boys coach, and his family were in attendance when Hill eclipsed Estes' mark. They were thrilled to see him reach the milestone.
"It was a neat feeling because of who Braxton is and how hard he works," Ron said. "We expected it and he got it and we were really happy for him. He deserves it."
Estes' signature move was his hook shot which he could seemingly sink from anywhere on the court. Hill's game relies on establishing an unyielding inside presence.
But Ron has noted two common denominators that link the two: Relentless effort and good-natured temperaments.
"Their similarity is their work ethic," Ron said. "They both work really hard. And they’re both great individuals. They care a lot about people."
Bill Hill, Braxton’s coach and father, said if and when Braxton breaks another record, he’ll likely be the last to know.
The same was true when his daughter Torry, who graduated from Anaconda and went on to have a 1,000-point career with the Montana Lady Griz, climbed into the Copperheads’ Top 10.
“I really haven’t thought about the records much,” Bill said. “My goal was never about records, even with Torry. It was always about the team.”
The Anaconda boys' basketball team, coming off a 54-51 loss to Malta in last season's State B Championship game, hasn't claimed a title since Kalafat helped lead the way to a 49-47 win over Billings in 1948.
Hill is committed to helping his team vindicate its narrow defeat to the Mustangs. That is, above points and records, the driving objective.
But ascending to the top of Anaconda's all-time scoring list along the way would certainly make the journey that much more meaningful.
"It would be awesome," Hill said of that possibility. "The number one goal this season is to win state but that would be pretty cool. I'm excited to maybe get there."