BILLINGS — It’s been 2,919 days since the Great Falls CMR boys basketball program last competed for a state championship. For former Rustler Josh Huestis, it still seems like yesterday.
“Nerves probably. That was obviously the biggest game, it was my last game of my high school career, so to me it was the biggest game I had ever played in,” Huestis recalled Saturday morning. “It was this culmination of everything that had happened in my career and the last game I was going to get to play with these guys that I had played with since third grade. It was exciting, man. I was nervous, but I was really excited, too.”
Huestis, now a forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA, totaled 12 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks in a championship-clinching game against rival Billings West. The Rustlers blasted the Golden Bears 71-41 to win their second consecutive Class AA title.
Memories come flooding back to Huestis — hugging coaches as he checked out of the game for the final time, hoisting the trophy in front of a sea of green and gold, names of teammates like Harper, Skawinski, Oswood, Parsons, Bleskin, Graupmann and Morin. It was sharing those moments with the friends mentioned Huestis says he enjoyed most.
“That was it. We had a bunch of hard-nosed guys and we knew what it was going to take to win. Obviously we had guys who could score, but if we locked down on defense, there was nobody that could stay with us,” he said. “Everybody took it seriously and all everybody wanted to do was win, so everybody put it on the line, we played hard and we played together. That was definitely the best three-game performance we had ever put together, and it was right on time.”
“That was a fun one, man. Obviously rebounding the ball was something I knew I needed to do for us to win the game,” he continued, recalling his performance. “Blocking shots is always something that I love to do. Billings West had been a thorn in our side, not only for that season but the season before that, and they were a good team. It was a tough game, we were really excited for it, but like I said, everybody locked in and played our game, we played hard and it was awesome. It’s bringing back a lot of memories right now.”
It seems only fitting, then, that Huestis’ alma mater is set to return to the state championship game Saturday evening on the same court he and the 2010 Rustlers won the program’s last championship. It’s nearly eight years to the day since Huestis and CMR cut down the nets at what’s now known as Rimrock Auto Arena.
Huestis has played in 304 games since March 13, 2010, suiting up for the Stanford Cardinal, Oklahoma City Blue of the NBA G-League, and the Thunder. Still, kelly green and gold will always hold a special place in his heart.
“Always. Of course. It’s CMR for the rest of my life until I die, you know what I mean? Russell hustle. I go back there every single year to do the camps and always stay involved and always pay attention. It will be that way for the rest of my life,” said Huestis. “It seems really familiar considering the past couple years the struggles CMR has had, compared to the struggles CMR had my freshman and sophomore years. Finally guys get older and you start to figure everything out, start to play well together and it’s crazy that it’s back in Billings. They get a chance to go play for a title against (former CMR assistant and current Bozeman coach Wes) Holmquist, no less. It’s pretty cool. It’s a lot of familiarity.”
Huestis pauses for a moment and laughs to himself, saying he “feels old” knowing that eight years have passed. Though he returns to Great Falls each summer for the Josh Huestis Basketball Camp, he jokes about not knowing any of the current Rustlers personally, though he recognizes younger siblings of former classmates and friends.
Still, when CMR takes the floor against Bozeman Saturday night, Huestis will be in their corner, albeit from afar, hoping his former coach and program can capture the same MetraPark magic he did eight years prior.
“I talk to (CMR coach John) Cislo pretty often. He came to my wedding, I texted him (Thursday) on his birthday. I texted him (Friday) after the win. We definitely keep in touch,” said Huestis. “I texted Holmquist, too. I told him, ‘I hope it’s a good game, but I hope CMR wins by one.’ I always keep in touch with those guys and they’ll always be a big part of my life.”
Twitter and Facebook have played key roles in Huestis keeping track of this year’s state tournament, but he and the Thunder host the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday evening, meaning he won’t know the outcome of the State AA championship until he returns to the locker room, opens his phone and scrolls through Twitter with a congratulatory message ready to send, whether it’s for Cislo or Holmquist.
“Oh man, as soon as I find out I’ll be texting the winning coach and giving them congrats. The losing coach, I’ll let them absorb it a little bit and recover before I reach out too much,” he laughed.
It’s been 2,919 days since Huestis and CMR hoisted that state trophy in the same city, on the same court and in the same uniforms. Irony or destiny? Huestis can’t wait to find out.