BILLINGS — Mick Durham coached Montana State Billings to a bounce-back season in which it won 20 games for the first time in 17 years and earned a bid to the NCAA Division II West Regional for the first time since 2012.
It came to an end last week in San Diego with a 63-57 defeat to Cal State San Bernardino, so Durham is now doing what he usually does at the end of a season — relaxing, decompressing and, in this instance, thinking about what comes next.
This past season was the 41st year of coaching for the 66-year-old Durham, his 30th as a head coach.
"It’s a grind. The winning definitely helped," Durham told MTN Sports. "I’m kind of catching my breath here. The thing right now is you’re coming down from the season being over. It happens to everybody. It’s an abrupt end; you always think you can go further. You’ve been going-going-going since Labor Day, and you're just trying to unwind."
Part of that process includes a trip to Greensboro, N.C., this week to watch Montana State, his alma mater and the place he served as men's basketball coach for 16 years, play in the NCAA tournament beginning Friday night in a first-round game against Kansas State.
Durham hopped on the Bobcats' charter bound for Greensboro on Wednesday. Yes, he still has those kinds of connections. MSU coach Danny Sprinkle was one of his best players in the late 1990s, after all.
"Sneaking off to Greensboro will be kind of a fun diversion to take a little break and watch some good basketball," Durham said, who attended MSU's trip to the NCAA tourney last season in San Diego, also.
"It’s special for me having one of my ex-players doing this at my alma mater. It’s pretty cool. Myself being a Bobcat, being there so long ... I played there and coached there. And to have that connection with the head coach is really neat for me. A chance to go to the NCAA tournament the past two years is really cool to see the alma mater on the big stage.”
The 2022-23 season was a renaissance for Durham and the Yellowjackets, who had their best finish as a member of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, finishing second in the regular-season standings with a 14-4 record in the league. Durham was named conference coach of the year. It all eventually led to an at-large berth to regionals for the seventh-seeded Jackets, where they gave No. 2 seed San Bernardino a run.
MSUB's regional berth was the 10th in school history. The team boasted two all-region players in guard Carrington Wiggins and forward B.J. Shabazz, the latter of which formerly played for Sprinkle at MSU before transferring.
"It was good. I don’t know if I saw it coming," Durham said. "Looking at our schedule at the beginning of the season we had 10 of the first 12 on the road, and we just kind of got off to a good start, gained some confidence, got some early road wins, picked up our first two conference road wins in Alaska in December, took care of business at home and next thing you know we’re 8-0 in league.
"The GNAC is hard to win just in general. But we really came together. We battled. I feel like we left a couple things on the table late. We ran into two pretty hot teams the last two games, Nazarene in the GNAC and then San Bernardino. We ran into some pretty hot teams that stymied us a little it. I told the guys that when it’s all said and done we’re going to feel really good about getting back to 20 wins and having just a good season under our belt."
Now Durham gets a chance to watch the the Bobcats play in the Big Dance, where he hopes to see a Big Sky team win in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006 and just the fourth time in the modern era (since the tournament expanded in 1985). The Bobcats are the No. 14 seed. Kansas State is a No. 3 seed.
"It’s such a cool ride for schools at the level of a Montana State," Durham said. "I love seeing the smaller schools compete against the big schools. Even if they don’t win. Just staying close. Those first couple days of the tournament are really fun. To get a 14 seed against a 3, your percentage goes up. Hopefully we can hang around.”