BOZEMAN, Mont. — Montana State men’s basketball dominated last season, winning the Big Sky conference regular season title, then followed that up by winning the tournament to earn their first trip to the NCAA tourney in 26 years.
Head coach Danny Sprinkle is in the process of building Montana State into something special, but he’ll tell you someone else laid the foundation.
“Well, obviously, I wouldn't be standing here without coach Durham,” said Danny Sprinkle. “He took a chance on a skinny kid from Helena, Montana, and without that I wouldn't be coaching here. I would have never had the experience of playing here, getting my degree here and meeting all the people here. I don’t know if there's more I can say about that -- my legacy wouldn’t have a legacy without him.”
Sprinkle took his own turn as Bobcat player back in the ’90s and played under now-head coach of MSU Billings Mick Durham, who led the program from 1982 to 2006.
Durham watched one of Sprinkle’s Helena High School basketball games and walked away impressed.
“I saw his first game when he was a junior, and I walked out of the gym that night and thought ‘Man, we’ve got to get this guy,” said Durham. “Usually you are fighting the Grizzlies, and they slept on him. I mean they were not on top of it, and so really they didn’t recruit him.”
Montana would never make their move, and Sprinkle’s freshman year at MSU came in the 1995-96 season. It would be a season looked back on much like Montana State’s most recent.
Sprinkle finished with Freshman of the Year honors in the conference, and the Cats claimed the Big Sky regular season and tournament titles, earning a trip to the NCAA’s big dance.
“That group that we had with him that went to the NCAAs was a special group,” said Durham. “You know, seniors that just took him under their wing, and he just got better and better as the year went on.”
Now a little over 26 years later, the pair’s relationship continues, but on opposite sides of the court -- Sprinkle the head coach of Montana State and Durham now the head coach of MSU Billings.
At the end of the game, a final score didn’t matter, however rekindling the relationship did.
“He is this program, to me,” said Sprinkle. “For 29 years he was a part of this program, and nobody has watched as much film, prepared for games, coached or recruited as many players as he has. I know how much this place means to him, so it was awesome having him back.”
“I’m really proud of him,” said Durham. “Just having a chance to come back and coach against him, I don’t think I ever in my wildest dreams thought I’d do something like this.”
Sprinkle hopes to keep the success coming at Montana State, as the conference provided his team with preseason honors that indicated his team is favored to win the Big Sky once again.