CHOTEAU — Matt Luedtke knows a thing or two about pure scorers.
A former Gatorade player of the year at Ronan, Luedtke twice dropped 50 points during his high school career and still holds the Montana High School Association record for 3-pointers made in a single game — 13 against Libby in 2000. Luedkte scored his fair share of points in a collegiate career that spanned from the Montana Grizzlies to the Colorado School of Mines and back to the Treasure State at Montana Western.
Though the conversation about Luedtke’s scoring abilities could carry on for hours, he prefers chatting about his basketball exploits as the head coach of the Choteau Bulldogs, where his knack for scoring has clearly been passed on.
“I’ve been real lucky to have really, really great offensive players and I feel like I’m an offensive-minded coach. We try to give kids opportunities to make plays. We’re trying to allow them to show us what they’ve got, and when you have talented kids who can score, the cream always rises to the top,” Luedtke said. “We’ve been lucky and he’s just another great player in the line of great players I’ve had, starting my first year with Wyatt Pannabecker. We’ve had a pretty good run of player of the year in our conference – Wyatt Pannabecker, Dylan Pannabecker, Colin Achenbach, Derrek Durocher was an all-state guy and averaged near-20 points per game, Darrien (Garcia) last year was at 27.”
Enter Sayer Patton. Last year as a sophomore, Patton made his name known in Class B, averaging 23 points per contest, scoring 95 points during a late-season three-game period. Now a high-scoring junior, he hopes to continue the postseason trend of former friends and teammates, leading the Bulldogs into the weekend’s Northern B divisional tournament.
“I think it’s just how we’ve been raised up, because we’ve all played against each other and been competitive,” Patton said of the string of success. “I’ve been the youngest of them all and they wouldn’t hold anything back. I would get beat 11-0 playing one-on-one, but what can you do? It made me better. I always thank those guys.”
Patton may have taken his lumps over the years, but he’s become one of Montana’s premier scorers, regardless of classification. Eight times this season he has crossed the 30-point threshold and been described with adjectives such as “sharp shooter” and “flame-thrower.” Opposing coaches have also called him a “matchup nightmare,” insisting there isn’t a spot on the basketball court he won’t attempt a shot.
“I’m not afraid to shoot any shot, I’ll pull from pretty deep sometimes. I’ll hear my mom in the stands sometimes whenever I shoot a really deep 3-pointer, she’ll say, ‘Sayer!’ I’ll think in the back of my head, ‘Calm down,'” he laughed.
“I would just say he’s a pure scorer,” added Luedtke.” He can score from anywhere on the floor. He shoots it from deep, sometimes I think he shoots it better from 25 feet than he does from right at the 3-point line. Teams have to pick him up and guard him really close, they always know where he’s at on the floor.”
An odds-on favorite to win any game of H-O-R-S-E, Patton is finding other ways to lead the Bulldogs to wins. Scoring is still a natural ability, but his defense, rebounding and court awareness have all improved under Luedtke’s tutelage. His coach credits his knack for “finding his teammates and getting them better,” while still knowing when to take over a game offensively.
Patton also credits his summer workouts with the Montana Select AAU program, which saw him join forces with the likes of Chrishon Dixon of Billings Central and Bridger Deden of Missoula Hellgate. The Select club traveled to Seattle, Anaheim and Las Vegas, facing some of the top high school players in the country in what Patton called “a reality check against big-time players.”
That experience fares well for Patton as he and the Bulldogs prepare to open the Northern B against defending champion Malta, while powers like Shelby, Wolf Point and Rocky Boy also fill the bracket.
“I think Class B is very competitive and just in our (division), we’ve had so many state championships. I think the last seven or so have come out of our division,” he said, referencing the nine champions in the past 10 years from the Northern B. “That shows how competitive our district is and our division is. I think that’s good. It’s always good to play against the best.”
That’s what Sayer hopes to become — the best — in his final seasons of high school basketball. Playing at the college level has been a dream since elementary school, following in the footsteps of those former teammates like Durocher, Pannabecker and Achenbach.
Patton is the latest in that long line of Choteau stars, but which does he most emulate?
“I don’t like to do that. I just like to say that Sayer is a really, really great player,” said Luedtke. “I think the comparison is, I don’t want him to have to try to live up to anybody. I want him to be himself. The same goes for the rest of the kids we’ve had, they all made their own way about who they are.”
“I like to take bits and parts (from each of them),” Patton added. “For example, I like to drive to the hole like Dylan because he was extremely good at driving. I like to create passes like Colin Achenbach did. I try to take bits of each of their game and try to make it my own.”
That clearly makes him the best of the bunch, correct?
“Yeah. Don’t tell them I said that, but yeah,” he laughed.