ANACONDA — When it comes to sports, Anaconda is a basketball town. Historically, it is one of the best in all of Montana, as it is the birthplace of former Minneapolis Laker Ed Kalafat and Utah State legend Wayne Estes. Both athletes were star ballplayers for the Copperheads, and Estes’ legend especially lives on in the Smelter City.
“I can remember coming to the games — the excitement of the crowd, the excitement of the town,” said Ron Estes, Wayne’s younger brother. “You know, he was my big brother, so it was pretty darn neat.”
Wayne Estes’ and Kalafat’s scoring records add to the lore of the city’s basketball tradition. This season, Anaconda point guard Braxton Hill is having a season that is taking the community back in time.
“Wayne (Estes) is Anaconda, and that’s kind of nice, what we’re going through now with Braxton,” said Blake Hempstead, the radio voice of the Copperheads. “He is bringing everybody back through the history.”
This history is one the star guard is familiar with. Though he passed away decades ago, Estes was like an idol to him.
“Wayne — I always looked up to him my whole life,” Hill explained. “(I) just (have) kind of known that this is his gym, pretty much.”
Now, Hill looks down on Wayne Estes, Kalafat, and every other player to put on a Copperhead jersey, scoring the most points in school history.
Perhaps, the most impressive feat during this historic season is that Hill has played through it all with a torn labrum, an injury sustained during football season. It has not been surgically repaired, and if pulled out of its socket, the senior’s high school career — and a bit of his college career — would be over.
“Every game’s been different,” Hill said of playing through the pain. “A couple of games, it has hurt pretty bad.”
But he doesn’t worry too much about re-injuring his shoulder, as he is trying to lead his squad to a second consecutive Class B state championship game. Every bucket along the way will only raise the bar for the next great.
“He’s definitely one of the best athletes to ever come out of Anaconda High School,” Hempstead said.
Anaconda basketball is a program built by legends.
Braxton Hill is now one of them.
(Editor’s note: Braxton Hill’s record-breaking accomplishment would not have been possible without Tom White. White diligently compiled records from the 1900s to early 2000s to commemorate Anaconda’s basketball history. Blake Hempstead has now assumed much of that responsibility, but White’s the reason the record books exist. White passed away in 2016.)