As Jamie Stevens scanned around the crowded conference room, he spotted a lot of familiar faces.
Smiling back at the new Montana State Billings men’s basketball coach were members of his family, former teammates, school administrators, friends he made in the community when he was a player and the Yellowjacket coaches he had just joined.
To his right, a group of young men sat together, stone-faced as the man who will determine their basketball futures spoke to the gathering.
Stevens was quick to acknowledge their attendance.
“I appreciate your guys’ presence here,’’ he said to them. “I went through pretty much the same thing as a player my freshman year.”
Stevens could empathize with the players he met the day before. In 1995, he was in the same situation when Craig Carse replaced Gary Bays as head coach after Stevens first season at MSUB.
“I understand what they’re going through,’’ Stevens said, following the press conference about the current players. “You’re not sure how to feel. You feel a little guilty, because in a way, you got the last guy fired.”
Stevens also provided this bit of information after the coaching change when he was a player: The Yellowjackets were 5-21 his freshman season. The next year, under Carse’s direction, the team won a conference championship and qualified for the NCAA Division II national tournament.
Stevens isn’t promising the same but he does have definitive goals.
“I expect to compete right away,’’ Stevens emphasized of next season. “We have to recruit players who will buy into what we want to do. We’re going to play tough, together and smart.
“I’m not going to do everything right. I’m going to make mistakes. But I promise you, I’m going to work hard every single day.”
Stevens plans to recruit regionally — Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. “Areas where I’m familiar with the players,’’ he said.
The new head coach wants current assistant coach Justin Wetzel to remain on staff. “I would like Justin to stay on,’’ Stevens said of Wetzel, who has coached at the professional, college and high school levels in Montana. “If he is willing to stay, I’d love to have him.”
And Stevens plans to use coaching tenets he learned from Carse and Pryor Orser, who he served as an assistant coach with for six seasons at the Colorado School of Mines. The future Yellowjackets will play a style vaguely familiar to fans who saw Carse’s teams regularly lead the nation in scoring and 3-pointers made.
“Coach Carse, I thought some of his methods were unconventional, but he pushed us to places we had never seen.’’ Stevens recalled of his playing days. “We’ll do a lot of things similar to what coach Carse, just maybe not as free-wheeling in certain areas.
“But we’ll play unselfish, both on offense and defense. And we’ll play at a pace where we get up and down the court. With so many (media) timeouts now, it should be easy to play hard for four minutes at a time. If not, then that’s a problem with our strength and conditioning program.”
With that emphasis on conditioning, he did issue a warning to the current players Thursday afternoon.
“Fellas, get used to Airport Hill,’’ Stevens said to them with a smile.
Note to players: Your new coach is not kidding.
The Yellowjackets ran up and down Airport Hill as part of their pre-season conditioning when Stevens was a player.
“I still have nightmares about that hill,’’ he said with another laugh. “Soon, present and future Yellowjackets will have the same nightmares that I have.”
And if they listen, also the same number of victories.