BOZEMAN – Wednesday evening, Keithan Gregg trotted out of his hotel room in Bozeman, ready to return to the court at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse on the campus of Montana State. Despite temperatures in the low 20s, Gregg, an assistant with the Portland State women’s basketball team, is wearing shorts.
A former standout student-athlete at Cut Bank High School, below freezing temperatures are nothing new to Gregg, although he hasn’t called Montana home since 2014. After enjoying a fine career at then-University of Great Falls on the men’s basketball squad, Gregg became an assistant for the Argos until he was named head coach at Ashland High School in Oregon in 2014.
Gregg guided the Arrows to the Oregon 5A state tournament, just two years after a one-win season, and led the Ashland High girls tennis squad to a state title. Moving to Ashland proved to be beneficial to Gregg in creating connections, as well. He met then-Southern Oregon women’s coach Lynn Kennedy, who brought Gregg aboard when he was named head coach at Portland State.
It’s been an admitted carousel ride through the coaching world, but landing with the Vikings was the perfect fit.
“It’s been great for me. The ladies we have on our team are phenomenal. The transition (from boys basketball) was smooth,” he said. “Basketball is basketball, and if you enjoy getting up and playing fast pace and playing defense, getting after it, there wasn’t much of a transition at all. Good basketball is good basketball. I like to think that these girls play really good basketball.”
The former Cut Bank standout, whose name remains littered throughout the Montana High School Association record books – career 3-pointers, consecutive free throws, career assists and steals – was a pure scorer during his prep and collegiate days. Offense came naturally to the smooth-shooting, quick-thinking guard, but his focus these days lies on the other end of the floor.
“Right now, it’s working defense. That’s kind of where I’ve found my niche a little bit here at Portland State,” said Gregg. “I love the X’s and the O’s. That’s my thing, it always has been and probably always will be, but I really focus in on defense. I come into the office early. It’s finding what teams like to do against our style of defense and trying to take that away, trying to find a crease or something we can use against our opponents day in and day out. That’s kind of my job, to see what we can exploit and what we can go after when looking at other teams.”
Under Gregg’s tutelage, Portland State has given up 73.5 points per game this season, with some of those contests against big-time Division I programs. The Vikings are one of the top programs in the Big Sky Conference at limiting opponent’s field goal percentage, while also ranking near the league leaders in blocks and steals.
This season marked Gregg’s third with PSU, but is his first as a full-time assistant, after spending time as scouting coordinator and director of operations for both the men’s and women’s programs. That experience has proven indispensable to his coaching resume, which still has plenty of space for the future.
“For me, it’s whatever the best situation is that presents itself,” said Gregg. “I’m a Montana guy through and through. I love Montana. But being at Portland State, there’s something special going and I’d love to ride it out as long as I can. I think the end game for me would be a head coaching position, but that’s not what I’m looking for right now. The sky is the limit for us at Portland State.
“I love the situation we’re going into. We have a great coaching staff. The girls, like I said, are great. We’re building a brand-new, state-of-the-art arena. We already have the new weight room. Things are on the up and up at Portland State and it’s a good situation to be in. I don’t see myself going anywhere right now.”
Still, Gregg can will never forget his Montana roots. He knows the Treasure State’s loyalty to Montana or Montana State, but says he “has a third option these days,” one he prefers. Family and friends made the trek to Bozeman and Missoula this weekend to catch Gregg on the bench, ditching their blue and gold or maroon and silver for PSU green.
In fact, Gregg is so dialed into the Portland State world these days, he says without hesitation, he has no rooting interest in Montana’s biggest sports draw: Cat-Griz weekend at the end of football season in November.
“I may or may not watch the game. But as of right now, it’s all about the green and black and white,” he said. “It’s always an interest. I’m always getting a text or call from my dad letting me know who’s winning. He’s watching it, he’s doing his thing, but for now, I pay attention to the score but I’m not rooting one way or the other, that’s for sure.”
Portland State has his coaching focus, but Montana has his playing legacy. As a junior in high school in 2003, Gregg nailed the game-winning shot in overtime to clinch Cut Bank’s first Class B state basketball championship in 10 years. He was also considered one of Montana’s greatest tennis players, capturing four individual state championships – one of only three boys to accomplish the feat.
“I am too old for most people to remember, but the UGF days were great. But growing up on the Hi-Line, you know, one of the most favorite memories of mine is being able to experience a packed house in Shelby’s gymnasium,” he recalled. “We played Harlem in a divisional championship in front of a packed house in Shelby. We were able to sneak by them and go down and play Manhattan where both teams were undefeated in the state championship the next week. We squeaked one out in overtime. Those are the kinds of things you never forget. And it’s the friends that you played with, they’re life-long friends. It’s one of those things where those teammates and friends you had then are the same best friends you have now. Those things on the Hi-Line kind of bonded us forever, so I’m forever grateful for growing up on Highway 2 and the Hi-Line.”
“Every now and then I do (hit the tennis courts),” Gregg continued. “A couple of my former teammates are in the Portland area, so every now and then when the knees are feeling OK I can get out and play. … Every now and again I get out to play tennis, but the knees don’t hold up as well as they used to, so it’s mostly hitting the hardwood.”
Maybe those knees shouldn’t be exposed to the harsh Montana temperatures after all.