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While winning as Dallas Mavericks GM, Montana State alum Nico Harrison still engaged with Bobcats

Nico Harrison
Posted at 3:45 PM, Jun 05, 2024

MISSOULA — Former Montana State standout Nico Harrison is on top of the basketball world.

In his third season as the Dallas Mavericks’ general manager and head of basketball operations, Harrison has built a championship contender, surgically piecing together a roster of stars and complementary role players.

But 30 years ago he seemed destined for a different path.

“I thought all along he wanted to be a doctor,” said former Montana State men’s basketball coach Mick Durham, who coached Harrison from 1992 to 1996, including a redshirt year. “He was in the sciences and he was taking hard classes, I know that, and he was putting the time in.”

Harrison, an Oregon native, came to the Bobcats in 1992 after one year at Army. He sat out the 1992-93 season due to transfer rules before entering MSU’s starting lineup in 1993.

Over the next three seasons, Harrison scored 1,059 career points, thrice earned all-Big Sky Conference honors and helped Montana State win the 1996 conference championship. He was an academic all-American as a senior.

“He was a very smart basketball player,” said Durham, who coached at Montana State from 1990 to 2006 and was inducted into the school's hall of fame in 2006. “I think he saw the game, and I think that’s what’s helped him in the role he’s in now, is to have a pretty good feel, pretty poised, a lot of self confidence.

“I just think all these experiences — the four years in college, his time working at Nike, being around the NBA guys — really led himself to being successful as a general manager, which is obviously a big leadership position.”

Nico Harrison
Nico Harrison was a three-time all-Big Sky Conference player for Montana State. He scored more than 1,000 career points from 1993 to 1996.

According to Montana State, Harrison, after graduating with a biology degree, put off medical school to play professional basketball in Belgium. When he returned to the United States, he started working at Nike in 2002, ultimately working alongside NBA players and developing a close relationship with Kobe Bryant.

It was during Harrison’s Nike tenure that current Montana State director of athletics Leon Costello first met the former Bobcat. Costello hired Harrison’s former teammate, Danny Sprinkle, as Montana State’s men’s basketball coach in 2019.

The Bobcats won back-to-back Big Sky championships under Sprinkle in 2022 and 2023 and won a third straight under coach Matt Logie last season. Sprinkle has risen quickly up the coaching ranks and is now the head coach at the University of Washington after one season at Utah State.

“Nico has been somebody that I’ve been able to call and get advice from and shoot some ideas off of, and he’s somebody that’s had a huge role in where our basketball program is,” Costello said. “It’s pretty cool to see somebody in that kind of position that’s still engaged and still that active with people back here on campus.”

Both Durham and Costello said Harrison, a 2015 Montana State Hall of Fame inductee, has remained close with his alma mater and former teammates, including fellow hall-of-fame members Quadre Lollis, Scott Hatler, Hate Holmstadt and Sprinkle.

“I’ve been around college athletics a long time, and I can’t remember a time when I’ve seen a closer group of teammates this far removed from playing,” Costello said. “They have their own text thread that they talk to each other daily on, so I think it’s that connection with, one, the importance of Montana State and what it meant to him, but that connection with his teammates and his coaches and, really, Montana State setting him up for his future.”

In 2021, Harrison became the first Montana State men’s basketball alum to work in an NBA front office when the Mavs named him their general manager and head of basketball operations. On Tuesday, he signed a multiyear extension to stay in Dallas.

During his first season, the Mavs reached the Western Conference Finals. They missed the playoffs in Harrison’s second year, but he swung a mid-season trade to acquire star Kyrie Irving that helped set the tone for the 2023-24 season. The play of Irving and Luka Doncic, along with other shrewd moves Harrison orchestrated, propelled Dallas to playoff wins this spring over the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Mavericks play the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday. The series begins with two games in Boston before shifting to Dallas for Game 3 on Wednesday, June 12.

“My son (Casey, who played at Montana State from 2004 to 2008) and his wife are going down for Game 3 in Dallas, so Nico’s going to help them out,” Durham said. “Nico told Casey that he had like 200 requests for tickets when Casey texted him Sunday, but he’s a Bobcat guy.

“He’ll take care of the Bobcat guys. I’ll guarantee you he’ll take care of the Bobcat guys.”