8 things we learned from the Grizzlies' swing through Billings

2014-05-01T21:45:00Z 2014-05-05T22:46:34Z 8 things we learned from the Grizzlies' swing through BillingsGreg Rachac The Billings Gazette

The Montana Grizzlies' annual Spring Tour through eastern Montana brought them to the monthly meeting of the Midland Roundtable at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center on Thursday. UM athletic director Kent Haslam, along with football coach Mick Delaney, men's basketball coach Wayne Tinkle and women's basketball coach Robin Selvig all addressed the crowd.

There were several revelations, eight of which I've highlighted below from my interviews with each guy. Take a look: 

8. Groundbreaking for the student-athlete academic center will begin in August.

Originally scheduled (tentatively) for May or June, Haslam said groundbreaking on UM’s long-awaited student-athlete academic center will happen in August.

“We want it completed by the fall of 2015,” Haslam said. “The goal is to make it functional and a long-lasting facility to be used for years; wide open spaces where student-athletes can stop by and do their studying.

“The schedule for a student-athlete now has become so tight that providing those places where they can go and study and we can run our tutoring programs and run some study hall is so important. But the floor plan is wide open with some small breakout rooms and small meeting rooms.”

7. The yet-to-be built locker room-weight room combo will be constructed outside the southwest corner of Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

“That’s a much larger project,” Haslam said. “We have finished a master plan that really started from the top. We hired a master planner, and the first thing she did was look at how big the football stadium could get, and where would it go, and then work back to make sure as we add these auxiliary services that we’re not getting in the way of future expansion. That was Phase 1.

“We’ve identified the location for construction on the southwest corner outside of the football stadium (adjacent to the physical plant and the pool). The weight room would be subterranean and the locker room would be above that. There is no timetable for groundbreaking -- that will be driven by donors. It can happen very quickly if you get a couple large donors, and we’ve had some good conversations. This is a top priority for the president.”

6. Men’s basketball recruit Bryden Boehning of Glendive might be more Division I-ready than it seems on the surface.

"Unfortunately we didn't get very much out of our big men" last season, Tinkle told the crowd. That's how he prefaced speaking about Glendive's Boehning, an intriguing yet raw big guy heading to UM.

Tinkle said Boehning will graduate from Dawson County High School on May 25 … and that he’ll be in on campus in Missoula on May 27 to gear up for summer workouts. Tinkle wants the 6-foot-10 Boehning in the weight room.

“I think with his size and the way he competes, I think he’ll be ready earlier than someone might think,” Tinkle said. “He’s skilled, he can shoot, he can pass … the big thing is how quickly he can adjust to the strength and the athleticism at our level, and that will determine how much of an impact he’ll have early on.”

5. Dick Imer and Yohance Humphery will be the latest Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame inductees.

It’s yet to be announced, but Haslam told the gathering that the newest induction into the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame is Dick Imer. Haslam pre-empted any official announcement because Imer, a former Griz running back who still lives near Hardin, was in attendance at the Roundtable. Haslam later told me that the other inductee is Yohance Humphery.

Imer played running back for the Grizzlies from 1953-54. He rushed for 1,692 career yards, and still holds the school record for yards per carry in a single season (8.2 in 1953). Delaney spoke about Imer’s impact on his life in sports and coaching long ago.

“Dick is a special guy in my life, like I said today,” Delaney said. “Dick played at the University of Montana with my high school coach Huz Jensen in ’53, ’54, that era. And then Dick went to Hardin to coach, and in 1958 or ’59 Jim Sweeney left (Butte Central) and Huz Jensen came in to coach me. Dick was one of my mentors from way, way back. You take people in this profession that you hope are always doing what they’re doing for the right reason. Nobody exemplifies that better than Dick Imer. He was always in it for the kids, never in it for himself. How many lives he’s touched, both kids and coaches, is unmeasurable.”

Humphery is a no-brainer pick for the HOF. He is the school’s all-time leading rusher with 4,070 yards, he scored 43 career touchdowns, and he carried UM’s offense during the 2001 national championship season.

4. After 36 seasons and 821 victories, Selvig is not close to considering retirement.

This is a question I’m not sure has been posed too often to Selvig. He is an institution in this state, after all. But I was curious: How many more years does Selvig have in him? Can he get to the 1,000-win plateau with the Lady Griz? It plausible, because it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere anytime soon.

“I don’t really think about (retirement),” said Selvig, who will turn 62 in August. “First of all, I don’t know what else I’d do. As long as I’m blessed with good people and good kids, it’s what I’ll do. It’s not something I don’t want to think about, and I don’t think about it. Maybe the day will come where I’ll wake up one morning and say, ‘I don’t want to do it anymore.’ But that hasn’t happened.”

3. Tinkle believes a Big Sky Conference team can make a run in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Say what? The Big Sky Conference hasn’t won an NCAA tourney game since 2006 when the Grizzlies beat Nevada. Before that it hadn’t won since 1999. In all, the league is 11-49 in NCAA tournament games, a .183 winning percentage. But with the success of other mid-majors in recent years -- i.e. Mercer, Wichita State (by definition a mid-major), Florida Gulf Coast, Virginia Commonwealth, Davidson, Butler, George Mason, etc. -- it’s an appropriate question.

“It’s certainly something we talk about,” Tinkle said. “Our last two NCAA appearances weren’t great. But our first one was. New Mexico was ranked eighth (in 2010), we were up at halftime and had a chance. We lost by five, and I think our stud (Anthony Johnson) was 1 for 13. I don’t think it’s far off. The big thing in my mind is that more Big Sky schools need to play more NCAA (tournament)-caliber teams in the preseason. And I know some schools have to play four guarantee games, but I think we need to get to where we’re scheduling teams like that. And whoever it is that gets to the NCAA tournament you have that in the back of your mind and it’s not as big of a surprise that you’re playing that caliber of a team.

“Everybody wants to talk about seeding, and I know that the 11 seeds get a lot of wins in the NCAA tournament, the 12 seeds also. But to me it’s matchups. I think we were a 13 when we played New Mexico, but we were (also a 13) when we drew Syracuse, which was a joke. Syracuse wasn’t a 4 seed. They ended up going to the Final Four. They were ranked No. 1 in the country the first two months of the season. I think a lot of things need to align, like when we beat Nevada. Nevada was a very good team, but they were a former Big Sky school, there was some familiarity there, so I think things can line up a little bit. But we sell it to our recruits and we sell it to our players. It’s just a matter of time before a Big Sky school does make an NCAA tournament run, and we hope it will be us.”

2. A Tres-Tinkle-to-Montana scenario isn’t as far-fetched as some might think.

Wayne Tinkle’s son, Hellgate star Tres Tinkle, is about to hit the summer AAU circuit and is sure to draw more attention from college coaches and scouts as he gets ready for his senior year in 2014-15. The 6-foot-6 Tinkle is this state’s most prized boys basketball recruit since Great Falls CMR’s Josh Huestis in 2010.

Tinkle will probably have the chance to go big in Division I. As my colleague Slim Kimmel tells me, 247sports.com recently elevated Tinkle to 4-star status, joining ESPN as the lone recruiting sites to put him in 4-star territory. But what are the prospects of him staying home to play for his father at Montana?

“He’s getting a lot of interest and his name is starting to spread," Wayne Tinkle said. "A lot of people assume he’s going to play for his dad, and that’s kept some people away, but then there are a lot of people that want to throw their name in the hat and fight for it. I told my wife that when it was our daughters (Joslyn and Elle) being recruited I could have a lot more open mind.

“But when it’s my son and thinking about another guy coaching him and taking him away from me, it’s a little different. We’re going to go through the process. He has said that he would love to play for me, but he also really wants to take a look at the other options he has. He’s keeping his head on his shoulders and staying grounded. He knows he’s got to get better and he’s really focused on doing that for the time being.”

1. UM president Royce Engstrom was already exploring the possibility of approaching the NCAA about a reduction in the penalties to the football program before Griz boosters proposed doing so in December.

Montana boosters, some associated with the Grizzly Quarterback Club, submitted a whitepaper last winter titled, “A call to action by families, friends and supporters of the Montana Grizzlies football program.” It describes the penalties to the football program — particularly the loss of 12 scholarships — as “drastic” and “far-reaching,” and urges UM officials to reconsider the sanctions and approach the NCAA about a reduction.

Turns out, according to Haslam, that had already been weighing on Engstrom’s mind.

“It’s important to understand that there is no formal appeal process for a summary disposition case,” Haslam said. “The NCAA is an organization in which university presidents are heavily involved. He can take and do whatever he would like to do. We haven’t been through one year yet of our sanctions. We still need to finish up our mandatory compliance review, which is coming quickly.

“I don’t want to speak for the president, but he took very seriously the proposal. Some great points were brought forward, some points that he had already thought about before it was presented. It’s something that I know he’s considering, and it’s going to have to come through his office.”

Will the Grizzlies eventually make a move to get the penalties reduced? We’ll see …

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The Cat-Griz Insider blog is the one-stop spot on the Web for all the news and opinions pertaining to Montana Grizzly and Montana State Bobcat athletics. Comments are open!

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Greg Rachac

Sportswriter for The Billings Gazette covering Montana and Montana State athletics in addition to various high school sports.

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Online sports editor for The Billings Gazette.

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