GREAT FALLS — Building a successful team doesn’t happen overnight, although it might seem like that to outsiders wondering how the Great Falls CMR boys basketball team went from missing state in three consecutive seasons to leading the Eastern AA standings in 2018.
The Rustlers (14-2, 9-1) are an experienced crew, led by seniors Sam Vining, Garrison Rothwell and James Olsen. The varsity core has spent years playing together and building chemistry and was poised for success this season.
But John Cislo’s team also caught a lucky break when Peter Currington called to let the Rustler mentor know that his son Caleb was transferring to CMR from the Sacramento area after the military family was assigned to Malmstrom Air Force Base.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to make the team,” Caleb Currington said. “I thought I was just going to be working on school work and stuff. But I’m glad I’ve been able to play with these guys their last year here. So far we’re doing all right.”
So far the transition from prep hoops in California to Class AA in Montana has been seamless. Currington is the first player off the bench for the Rustlers, leading the team in assists and steals while backing up starter Jake Wilkins.
“(Caleb) had to make the adjustment to our league obviously,” said Cislo. “But since the first crosstown game he’s averaging right around six assists a game. He’s improved that a ton, and he handles the ball really well. Very unselfish, and for high school kids not to worry about shooting and points, that’s pretty special”
Caleb was much more of a scorer while playing at Vacaville Christian in California as a sophomore.
“My whole team is all shooters here, so I just pass it and they shoot it and make it,” Caleb said. “The team in California, they weren’t the best shooting team, but over here it’s so much better. That’s why I get so many assists, because they make all the shots.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the junior guard. When he found out he and his family were moving to Montana, he checked the forecast.
“The weather is … ” he trailed off. “I don’t have a word for it.”
And then there was the prospect of making new friends at a new school, something Caleb was used to but wasn’t looking forward to in a part of the country he’d never even considered living.
“I’ve lived in seven states since I started school, so I get used to the moving,” he said. “But when I got here, I didn’t feel like making new friends until my teammates welcomed me. So I thought maybe I should give it a shot and start making friends with them.”
Currington and the Rustlers started building relationships and basketball rapport during open gyms, hallway chats and hanging out outside of school.
“They’ve been really welcoming,” Caleb said. “They’re always giving me advice, especially before crosstown they told me not to get too hyped. Don’t get too overwhelmed. And coach Cislo has been an awesome mentor. He said, ‘You’re going to make mistakes, but that’s ok. I’m not going to get mad.’ He’s been helpful along the way, one of the best coaches I’ve had in a while”
Often adding a new piece can throw a team out of balance and disrupt chemistry. But with Currington’s smooth game, pass-first mentality and winning attitude, it feels like he was always meant to be a Rustler.
“We’ve just been playing as a team, we’ve been passing the ball more,” he said. “I think that’s why our record is so good right now, because of our ball movement. We feel comfortable with each other now and we’re getting used to it.”
He paused and smiled.
“I’m grateful for my teammates.”