GREAT FALLS — Growing up in northcentral Montana, Jaden Stanley-Williams always dreamed of playing basketball on a big stage. Now, the dream is here.
Stanley-Williams is in his second year at Morehead State (23-7), a program set to make its first NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament appearance in 10 years on Friday after winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. With strict COVID protocols and limited fans, it’s not the usual March Madness feel, but that doesn’t make it any less of a thrill.
"I'm just soaking it in, because it's such an amazing experience. Every day, I'm just grateful that I'm here," Stanley-Williams said. "Last night, we got to practice in the arena that we're gonna be holding March Madness in, and just being in that environment and being able to just shoot, get shots up, you know, you can clap and hear the echo in the arenas. It's unbelievable."
The 6-foot-7 junior comes off the bench for the Eagles and is averaging just 4.8 minutes per game this year, but the fact that he’s here at all is a testament to his work. Stanley-Williams, who is Chippewa-Cree, grew up on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and spent two years at Great Falls High School. In an effort to improve his game, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia to live with his dad and finish high school at Discovery High School in Lawrenceville.
The move paid off for Stanley-Williams, who after one year of community college in Tennessee, made the jump to NCAA Divison I, and now he’s in the Big Dance.
"Just having my aunties and uncles, and my grandma calling me and letting me know how proud I'm making them, it was just motivation every day that lets me know that they're watching me and they’re just proud of me," he said.
Morehead State last made the tournament in 2011. As a No. 13 seed, the Eagles upset No. 4 Louisville in the first round before bowing out to Richmond in the round of 32. This year as the No. 14 seed in the Midwest Region, the Eagles take on No. 3 West Virginia.
Stanley-Williams said the formula for another MSU upset isn't overwhelmingly complicated.
"Just stick to ourselves and just be the tough, gritty guys that we are," he said. "I think we're going to be good because we got a good defensive front. Our offense comes along. I definitely feel like there's nothing special that we need to do to beat West Virginia. We just got to be ourselves and go out there and have fun."
Morehead State's game against West Virginia starts at 7:50 p.m. (MT) on Friday.