BILLINGS — Ever since she was in kindergarten, Kola Bad Bear has wanted to play college basketball.
She knew she could do it. And as she grew up, she enjoyed watching Baylor superstar Brittney Griner, just fueling that desire more.
So, as Bad Bear's star has truly began to shine bright this year, she added a little extra excitement to what has been a tremendous season for the junior Bronc.
Bad Bear announced her decision to play college basketball for Montana State on Saturday over Twitter saying, "Yah girl is going to be a Cat #COMMITTED," adding blue and gold hearts for emphasis. She will be a part of the Cats' class of 2019 commits.
"I'm honestly so relieved. I feel like a big weight has been released off of my shoulders," Bad Bear said after Senior's 45-22 win over Great Falls on Saturday. "I just feel like now I can focus on my basketball and my schoolwork and have fun.
"It hasn't really hit me yet. I was really excited when I told them I was going to be a Cat. I got really excited with my family and coaches out there. It was really nice to know."
According to Montana Sports Memories, a Class AA statistical site, Bad Bear was leading to the AA in scoring heading into Friday's game against Great Falls CMR with 18.3 points per game. Against CMR she scored 21 points. Heading into the weekend Bad Bear was also averaging 8.2 rebounds and almost two blocks per game.
Against Great Falls, Bad Bear finished with 12 points as the Broncs locked up their 10th straight win and improved to 12-1 on the year.
"I kind of knew where I wanted to go the past month. I was just waiting around to see if I'd change my mind because I'm really indecisive," she added with a laugh.
Early commitments in Montana are rare, but Bad Bear's comes from a player who has been heavily recruited since she was a freshman. Bad Bear had offers from Montana, Portland State, Northern Colorado, Eastern Washington, the University of Denver, Rocky Mountain College and Montana State Billings. Bad Bear has been a starter for the Broncs since her freshman year.
"It's been my first experience with (early commitments) and so we've learned a lot from that process," Senior coach Zach Robbins said. "In terms of what Kola's brought, it's been fantastic. From a coach's selfish point of view I love the fact that she's at MSU. Now I can go watch her games and I'm excited for her.
"It's exciting anytime you see any of your girls go and play at any level. It's good stuff."
Robbins' first year as Senior's head girls coach was Kola's freshman year. He saw her talent stand out early and wasn't surprised by the attention she attracted from college coaches.
"We knew that she was only going to get better and that we had players who would mesh well together," Robbins said. "We've got shooters Ellie Ostermiller and Samantha Bonenberger and then we have great guard play with Courtney (Bad Bear) and Mariah (Linse) and then we have a great post in Kola and a great bench. It's been excellent all-around and it's nice to see these girls mesh so well together."
"They stood out to me by the fact that they would reach out and were the most consistent on how my games went," Bad Bear said about the Cats. "They kept up with me in volleyball season and they just were so persistent. They were there constantly and it wasn't just about basketball. It was about how school was, how my family is doing, and things like that."
Bad Bear said the Bobcats offered her last basketball season, a gesture she said helped boost her confidence about what she could accomplish in basketball.
"It really made me step into more of a leadership role," Bad Bear said. "I had to mature."
Kola's older sister, Courtney, a senior, committed to Montana Tech back in December to play volleyball. Their oldest sister, Naomi, is currently on Rocky's volleyball team.
"(Courtney) was just excited and we were talking about how we're only an hour away now and we can always visit each other," Kola said. "We've always been so close and now that we're close together still we can hang out."
For now, the focus is on the season at hand. And after 10 straight wins, the Broncs, sitting at No. 4 in the 406mtsports.com rankings, are looking to be a formidable force in Class AA as state and divisionals approaches.
"I feel like we've come together as a team and we know each other's roles and we trust in each other," Bad Bear said. "We're not so timid or nervous before a game. We have more confidence as a group."