BILLINGS — Kola Bad Bear originally hadn't planned to play a fifth season of college basketball. In the end, it all came down to family.
Bad Bear, a Billings Senior High School alum who helped Montana State to two Big Sky Conference titles and an NCAA tournament appearance, has committed to play at Division II Montana State Billings for the 2023-24 season.
Bad Bear, who announced that she was entering the transfer portal in April, confirmed the commitment to MTN Sports on Thursday. She has one season of eligibility remaining. Bad Bear said she expects to officially sign with MSUB within the next two weeks.
"I was just kind of thinking that it would be nice to be able to play in my hometown with all my family there, all my friends," Bad Bear said during a conversation from Bozeman. "I have both my sisters there, my two little brothers, my mom, my dad, my grandpa. And my boyfriend's whole family lives around if not in Billings. A lot of my aunts and uncles, cousins, live very close.
"I could finish out a lot of things that I never really got to my senior year of high school."
Bad Bear wasn't able to play her senior year of high school due to an ACL injury she suffered during the volleyball season that fall. But that didn't stop her from becoming an impact player at Montana State.
The 6-foot-2 Bad Bear is coming off an All-Big Sky second-team performance in 2022-23, a season in which she averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game while shooting .462 from the floor. She helped MSU and coach Tricia Binford to a 20-11 overall record and a share of the league's regular-season crown.
In the 2021-22 season, Bad Bear averaged 10.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, shot .455 from the field and was a third-team all-conference pick. She had a career-high 17 rebounds in a game against MSU Billings in Bozeman on Dec. 9 — a game the Bobcats survived 82-81 in double overtime.
Bad Bear helped the Bobcats go 22-13 overall that year and win the Big Sky tournament title, leading to a matchup with perennial power Stanford in the first round of the NCAA tournament. MSU lost, 78-37.
For her career at Montana State, Bad Bear appeared in 114 games with 78 starts. She averaged 7.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 44% from the floor. Last week, Bad Bear was named the recipient of the women's Montana AAU Little Sullivan Award, a top amateur athletic honor.
Off the court, Bad Bear, a member of the Crow Tribe, lent her voice and was active in raising awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) and Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) causes.
Bad Bear graduated from MSU this spring, having majored in community health with a minor in human development. She said she plans to take classes at MSUB that will allow her to apply for occupational therapy school after the season.
Of transitioning to the Division II level, Bad Bear said: "I don't see much of a difference. I think any D-II school can beat a D-I. I think any NAIA school can beat a D-I. It's just a matter of how many students go to the university. I think the talent across the board can be overlooked in the smaller divisions.
"But I'm excited to mix it up. (The Yellowjackets) have a really great program and with what they have returning I think there's a chance to make a run at a national title and that's something I really want to be a part of."
Bad Bear is joining an MSU Billings program that went 25-8 overall and 14-4 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in 2022-23 and advanced to the D-II West Regional, including a 69-66 victory over Cal State Los Angeles. It was their 15th regional appearance and their fourth in the past 10 seasons.
MSUB coach Kevin Woodin, who won his 300th game last Dec. 8 with a victory over Rocky Mountain College, was named GNAC coach of the year for the third time.
"He builds around Montana girls and it's exciting to kind of see an elite group of Montana girls get together as a team to play in front of their hometown and home-state fans," she said.
"I definitely bring experience. I've played a lot of different roles here at MSU. I think I'm definitely someone who is willing to do whatever it takes, whether that's defense, a hype-man for a teammate, or as someone who has to score the ball."
MSU Billings has four starters returning to next year's team — guards Aspen Giese (Fort Benton) and Kortney Nelson (Scobey), and forwards Shayla Montague (Billings West) and Dyauni Boyce (Roy-Winifred).