ROCKY BOY AGENCY — The memory is etched into the minds of Kordell Small, Kendall Windy Boy and Ben Iron Eyes as if 2010 were yesterday.
The fire truck with the entire Rocky Boy boys basketball team riding high and proud. The police vehicles escorting the conquering heroes, lights flashing across the piney hillsides. Seemingly every citizen of the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation lining the winding streets connecting the agency’s activity centers in the foothills of the Bears Paw Mountains.
As 9- and 10-year-olds, they knew right then that they, too, wanted to bring a Class B boys state basketball championship back to Chippewa-Cree country.
They wanted to sit atop that fire truck.
“It was the best feeling ever,” said Northern Stars senior co-captain Kordell Small, the team’s point guard and floor leader. “I said, ‘I want to have that’. It looked cool to have a feeling like that and carry it on. It’s been a dream.”
Added senior forward and fellow co-captain Ben Iron Eyes: “It was pretty cool to have the whole community there as one.”
Rocky Boy certainly is poised to make a serious run at a repeat of what the team accomplished in its first season in Class B eight years ago after losing in back-to-back Class C titles games. The Northern Stars (12-2) have been as high as third and currently are sixth in the 406mtsports.com rankings, their losses coming to No. 4 Shelby in mid-January and Class C No. 1 Arlee to open the season.
They have dual motivations for getting to Missoula next month: Having a parade of their own through Rocky Boy Agency and picturing their “brother” Dakoda-Crow Bucking Horse Gray Boy proudly watching over them.
Dakoda-Crow, also known as “Never Slips”, was 16 when he died in a car accident last June.
“We’re basically playing for our brother above,” said junior Kendall Windy Boy, a 6-foot-7 center and the anchor of Rocky Boy’s imposing interior.
“Brothers” is an apt description for a team that doesn’t have a superstar but has three best friends in Small, Iron Eyes and Windy Boy who can star on a given night. Any of the trio is likely to lead the team in scoring, and all three have had games well over 20 points; it’s notable that Windy Boy fouled out and didn't score in the 73-66 loss Jan. 19 to No. 4 Shelby — a team the Northern Stars trounced 69-49 on the road Dec. 15.
“They’re always together — not just these three, but the whole team,” Northern Stars coach Adam Demontiney said. “They’re either up to Kordell’s playing video games, at the gym or the Wellness Center on Sundays, getting after it probably every day.”
The Northern Stars have been committed to their goal of returning to state since falling in the divisional semifinals last year, two years after last qualifying for Class B's big dance.
Fresh on their minds also is the 2016 Class C state title won by their Chippewa-Cree brethren just down the road 10 miles at Box Elder.
“We want to get there,” Small said. “We ain’t gonna stop working hard. We ain’t gonna stop grinding. We lost one game — I guess we got upset — but we don’t care. We put that in the past and moved on.”
What they haven’t put in the past is the memory of longtime coach Tim Henry’s last team winning it all in 2010.
“I remember when the final buzzer went off,” Windy Boy said. “I remember our community was happy.
“That’s how I want it to be this year.”