GREAT FALLS — Some 40 years ago, a young and relatively anonymous coach named Kelvin Sampson came to Butte and transformed a long struggling college men's basketball team into a powerhouse, culminating in consecutive regular-season and tournament titles.
The modern iteration of the Montana Tech Orediggers has followed a similar trajectory.
After a two-decade stretch of struggle — including a one-conference-win season in head coach Adam Hiatt's first year guiding the program — Tech has established itself as the current premier program in the Frontier Conference.
The Orediggers' 103-95 victory over Providence in Tuesday's conference tournament championship game signaled a remarkable turnaround for a team that had seen little success this century.
With that win, Tech secured back-to-back regular season and tournament crowns for the first time since the now head coach of the No. 1 Houston Cougars guided his teams to the same accomplishment in the 1980s.
"Montana Tech was a storied program at one time when Kelvin Sampson was here," said Hiatt on Tuesday from Four Seasons Arena. "And then it just fell on hard times for a couple decades. We felt confident that we could restore it to the heights that we are right now."
With a home game secured for the opening round of the national tournament, Tech continued to reap the rewards of its success on Wednesday as the Frontier Conference named Hiatt as its Coach of the Year, junior Caleb Bellach as the Player of the Year and junior college transfer Asa Williams as its Newcomer of the Year.
Michael Ure was selected as an honorable mention while Hayden Diekhans and Bridger Larson were named to the Frontier’s All-Defensive Team.
Williams, who scored a game-high 23 points in the tournament title game as the Orediggers fended off the Argos, said that the key to this year's achievements has been centered around unity, especially for a squad that didn't field a single senior this season.
"Keep fighting. Stay together. Don’t bend break or fold," Williams said. "For me mainly just keeping these guys up. We stay together. One thing we preach everyday is 'team together.' So we stay together and I know we’ll make it through any situation."
Tech has hit a lot of milestones this season and now the Orediggers will turn their attention to hosting first and second-round national tournament games next week. If Tech — which will the No. 1 seed in its four-team pod and will learn on Thursday which three teams will be coming to Butte — can win a pair of games next week, they'll be off to the final site in Kansas City.
"It's the national tournament, anybody can beat anybody," Hiatt said. "We are immensely excited to have the first two rounds in Butte, Montana, on Kelvin Sampson Court. It's gonna be electric. We're gonna hope for a great crowd, great support."