BILLINGS – Exactly 10 years ago today, un-seeded Rocky Mountain College opened the 2009 NAIA Men’s Basketball Championships with a one-point overtime win over No. 13 Freed-Hardeman. No one could have predicted what would happen next.
“Coach references that team a lot, and kinda almost compares us to them sometimes,” said senior guard Isaac Martel. “They were never a top-ranked team or anything like that, so that’s something we look up to almost.”
Rocky’s run to the national title will live forever as one of the Magic City’s great sports moments, a story those involved remember vividly.
“Yeah, it’s kinda hard to believe because I have a son who’s 10 years old, and he’s the only one of my kids who got to see a national championship,” said head coach Bill Dreikosen. “I’ve always told my own kids if I ever play for another one and you’re in the house, I’ll fly you all out there. I’ll find a way.”
First step – get into the tournament, which Rocky did as the last team in the field. That’s the good news. The bad news is that means they draw the best team – No. 1 Georgetown out of Kentucky.
“They look athletic and big, kinda what you’d expect from the No. 1 team in the country,” Martel said. “But we’re athletic too.”
Especially senior guard Craig Wilmore, who will compete in the NAIA Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday. He won’t back down from the Tigers. In fact, many players were excited to see the bracket.
“Why not? I was pretty excited when I saw we were playing the No. 1 overall seed,” said forward Jared Samuelson. “We get a chance to go against the best competition in the country.”
“I think they’re top 98 perecent in offensive rebounding – they average over 11 offensive rebounds per game,” added Dreikosen. “Hopefully that works well for us, because we’re 98 percent in defensive rebounds – we’re one of the top defensive rebounding teams in the country. So hopefully that’ll be a good matchup.”
At worst, it’ll be an experience players remember forever, just like those leftover from the 2009 trip do.
“It’s great memories,” Dreikosen said. “We’ve got James Bullock on the staff, he gets to go back out there and walk in those same footsteps from a different perspective as a coach, and those are always fun things.”
“I’m expecting it to be a pretty cool environment,” Bartel added. “I haven’t been to a gym like that probably ever. I’ve never played in front of that many people or been in that big of a gym, so I’m just really excited for the atmosphere.”
It was a pretty cool one the last time they were there.