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Carroll College men's basketball thrives from connection to California

Posted at 12:40 PM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 09:21:28-05

HELENA -- When looking up and down the Carroll College men’s basketball roster, there are a handful of players from Montana, some players with international backgrounds, and a handful more with ties to southern California.

Carroll College head coach Kurt Paulson said the ties to California began with previous Carroll coach Carson Cunningham and Cathedral High School in Los Angeles, and ever since then, Paulson has been working to build that connection.

“It's kind of a numbers game. You can get some kids that are really talented, that get overlooked for whatever reason," said Paulson. "If we can get them to Carroll, a place that they're welcomed and they can have success, then why not come?”

Last year, Fighting Saints fans got the chance to watch Dennis Flowers III and Ifeanyi Okeke have breakout seasons, helping lead the Saints to a 24-9 record. Flowers is from Woodland Hills, Calif. and played at St. Francis High School in La Cañada Flintridge. Okeke is from Rancho Cucamonga and played for Damien High School in La Verne.

This year, the Saints added one more player in Guilherme Pedra. Pedra was originally born in São Paulo, Brazil, and then moved to California to finish high school at Cathedral High. The Saints also added a new assistant coach in Ronn See. See is originally from Palm Springs, Calif., then played basketball at the University of La Verne.

As many who moved to Montana from the L.A. area can attest, some aspects of Montana can be a bit different.

"Doing some basic research on Helena, I knew it was going to be different. It's going to be a lot smaller," said Pedra.

“California is very fast-paced, always on the go. Parties, club life, whatever, there's a lot going on. Here is a little, it's a lot, it's a lot dialed back," said Flowers III.

“Definitely the weather, it's by far without a doubt (different). It snowed quite a bit last year, it's not as bad this year, which is kind of odd. But last year, definitely the snow. (I) slipped a lot," said Okeke.

“For sure, the weather," agreed See. "That's the first thing that's a little different. But other than that, being from (southern California), you have so many more options to do stuff and go eat at so many different places."

While Montana is certainly different, some of the changes aren't all bad.

"I've never seen snowfall before I got here, and the first time I've seen it fall was that day," said Pedra, recounting an October snowstorm. "Every time I see it fall, I'm still amazed."

For all of the Californians, Montana has become a new home that they’ve grown to enjoy. One of the main reasons they enjoy it so much? The people.

“It's also pretty nice. I go to a local spot, Murray's, once or twice a week and I've come to know her pretty well," said See. "That stuff doesn't really happen in California too often.“

“It's more of a close-knit community, because Helena isn't very big. But everyone, when they know you from basketball, they know you from Carroll, it's kind of like you've known each other for a while,” said Flowers III.

“People aren't the nicest in Cali. I mean, you know, people are really just to themselves, they kind of just mind their business. (In Helena) people will just randomly, you know, 'Hey, how are you doing?' You know? Start a conversation as I'm walking into Van's (Thriftway) or just being out anywhere," said Okeke.

“People here, they look out for you, I would say. Big cities, it's just like everyone's by yourself, you're on your own square. Here in Helena, you can see people around, even if you don't know them. Like when you're driving anywhere, then say, 'Hi,' or whatever, they say, 'Hi,' back, even if you don't know who they are. It's just great. It's just a lot of love, I would say," said Pedra.

While Montana may not have originally been on their radars, these Californians have found a new home in Helena.