Throw out the word "exhibition."
For those involved, the annual Midland Roundtable Montana-Wyoming All-Star series are more than that. Teams want to win, but they also want to bond and get to know former foes. Those going on to college are hoping to get an early glimpse of that atmosphere and some will be playing competitive basketball for the last time.
Montana's Riana Rogers is getting an early look at her future home. The Bozeman product will be playing women's basketball at Rocky Mountain College next year. The Montana teams are stationed on the RMC campus and practice there. On Saturday night, both games will be played there. Rogers was proud to be selected to play on the Montana team, which is led by RMC women's coach Wes Keller.
"I thought it was a huge honor and was very excited to be picked," she said. "I'm very honored and humbled."
"It's definitely nice being in the place I'll be next year and getting used to the gym more and more and the dorms," she said. "And I'm getting used to my future head coach and my future element. I love the school a lot, the campus and the gym. I like the campus and environment. It's very pretty. I really like the buildings. They are very cool. The buildings look like they should be from the early 1900s."
This is the 21st year of the girls series and Montana leads 27-13 after splitting with the Cowboy State last June. The Treasure State has won 14 of the last 18.
"It's the elite all-star game in the state," said Keller, who is entering his third year with a 3-1 record as head girls coach in the series. "You try and get the best of the best. It's always fun to see kids who were rivals during the season come together and become better friends and compete with each other instead of against each other. That's a neat thing."
New Sheridan College women's basketball coach Ryan Davis will be serving his first time as head coach in the series as he guides the Wyoming girls. Previously an assistant for the Sheridan men and women for a season apiece, Davis has been an assistant for both the Wyoming boys and girls teams once before. He said his team is ready to compete.
"Some of these kids it will be their last competitive basketball game they'll play," he said. "Some are throwing in track, some are playing, some will be in soccer. Whatever it is, they are excited to compete one last time. And the others are excited to get ready for next season.
"The biggest thing is they are getting stories from players in the past on what the Montana-Wyoming all-star game is and they are figuring out how big of a deal it is. They are excited."
Nate Costin lives on a ranch 10 miles outside of Saco and played for the State B champion Malta boys basketball team. He'll be attending Miles Community College in Miles City where he'll be studying agriculture.
"I'm very excited to go to Miles," he said. "I really like coach (Chase) Tait and the town. They have a nice basketball program and I'll fit in there."
But before Costin enjoys the rest of his summer and goes to Miles City for school in the fall, he wants to help Montana secure its 11th and 12th consecutive wins. The Treasure State is undefeated under Montana Western men's basketball coach Steve Keller, who will once again guide Montana. Overall, the Treasure State leads the series 55-27 after 10 consecutive wins under Keller. It is the 42nd year for the boys games.
"Coach Keller made us aware of that," Costin said of the winning streak.
Keller said this year's boys team is not "overly tall," but has a "good mix" of size and strength and players who can shoot the ball.
"We talk about it," Keller said of the winning streak. "We talk about winning 10 in a row and you want to keep that going. Wyoming has their best team and two 6-10 guys. It won't be an easy task."
Sheridan College men's basketball coach Matt Hammer has been a head coach for three years and was an assistant for one in the series. He said his team lost 6-foot-10 Hunter Thompson of Pine Bluffs to a stress fracture in his foot. The forward has signed with Wyoming. Thompson was not replaced on the roster as the team learned of the injury Wednesday. The Cowboy State still has 6-11 center Kelby Kramer of Rock Springs on its roster and 6-8 Cody Baumstarck of Worland. Kramer has signed with Montana to play basketball, while Baumstarck will play at Sheridan.
"I really like this group," Hammer said. "We have practiced a couple times now. We had a scrimmage Wednesday night. I really like the troop that we have. Just about all the kids are going to play college basketball. ... I really like the group. It is a group where we can play different lineups."
Hammer said his team doesn't focus on past team's performances.
"Every team is different," he said. "I felt two years ago we had a really good group of guys and it just so happened to be the same year (Tres) Tinkle was playing and he's a stud at the major level. We talk more about making it an enjoyable experience by playing well together and enjoying your teammates and your experience doing this. For most of these guys, this is their last experiences as a high school basketball player. We want it to be an enjoyable one. We have been satisfied with how hard they are working and, more importantly, how hard they are working together."
While it is an all-star game, Rogers said she expects to represent Montana and Rocky well and wants the victory.
"I definitely want to win," she said. "I am always very competitive. There is never a game I'm just playing to play. I definitely want to win. You are representing Montana and want to represent it well and beat Wyoming."
NOTES: Tinkle is now playing for Oregon State. ... Twins will be featured prominently in the series. Billings West's Braydon Deming and Bryson Deming are twin brothers, while Wyoming's Cosette Stellern and Sierra Stellern of Cheyenne East are twin sisters. ... According to Hammer, Cameron Carter of Casper Kelly Walsh will play men's basketball and golf at Central Wyoming. ... Wes Keller said his dad Steve reminds him that the Montana boys are undefeated with Steve at the helm. "It's all in good fun," Wes said. ... The Treasure State boys feature four players who will play football in college in Troy Andersen (Montana State), Jaxen Hashley (Montana State) and the Deming twins, who will both play at Montana. "They are four football guys who could play college basketball if they wanted to," said Steve Keller.