ARLEE — Phillip Malatare has stressed time and time again that each made basket, every win, the two state championships and the runner-up finish, all the time spent in the gym and blood, sweat and tears put into his high school basketball career were for the community of Arlee, the Flathead Indian Reservation and his supporters across the state of Montana.
Though his high school playing days are gone, capped by a second consecutive State C championship and a most valuable player selection in March, Malatare wanted to offer his gratitude one final time as the final days of his senior year pass by.
“I wouldn’t have been here without my greatest supporters — my family and everyone else behind them that supported me. I thank them very much, but it doesn’t end here,” said Malatare. “I hope their support can carry out through my years of basketball. I do it for my community. That’s who I want to do all this for.”
Malatare, who was featured in a MontanaSports.com Original in late February, has long dreamt of playing college basketball, and will officially live that dream next season. The Malatare family told MTN Sports on Saturday morning that he had committed and signed with the North Idaho College Cardinals, a community college in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and would be a key member of the program next year.
“It is pretty crazy. I’ve thought about it my whole life, and it’s all becoming a reality here in a few months. … I don’t really know if it was one thing that swayed me over there,” said Malatare, who repeatedly mentioned the beauty of the campus and city. “I went over there and visited, my sister went over there a couple times to visit for college and I went over there a couple times, too. I went over there again for a little college recruiting trip, and that turned out really nice. It turned out to be what I wanted and that’s what swayed me there.”
Malatare joins a roster that includes former Billings Skyview state champion RayQuan Evans, who will be a sophomore next season. Evans was named the MVP of the Northwest Athletic Conference tournament after guiding the Cardinals to the program’s first-ever conference title. He scored a game-high 28 points in the championship game, helping NIC overcome a 20-point second-half deficit to win 90-83 in overtime.
Evans was part of the welcome party when Malatare visited campus, and the duo teamed up in a scrimmage, where Malatare saw an instant connection.
“I think it’s going to be really exciting. I went down there on a recruiting trip and we played together. We seemed to connect right at the start of when I got there. I’m definitely looking to build some chemistry with him and seeing where we go on the court,” Malatare said.
The transition from Arlee to Coeur d’Alene might be even easier for Malatare, who was a three-time all-state selection in Montana and was named to the USA Today all-Montana first team. His best friend and former high school teammate, Tyler Tanner, hopes to walk on with the Cardinals, re-igniting the on-court relationship that saw the duo lead Arlee to its first state championship in 2017.
“That would make it even more awesome going out there,” Malatare said of the possibility of joining forces with Tanner once again. “I’m going to build some chemistry with RayQuan and I hope Ty does get the chance to play with me. If he does, I hope we build some great chemistry with (RayQuan) in the last year that he’s there. He’s from Montana, we don’t know him well, but when you’re from Montana you always have to give your Montana boys some love.”
Expectations are admittedly high of Malatare, who Arlee coach Zanen Pitts called “the most electric player in Class C history” earlier this winter. Fans in Montana grew accustomed to the quick hands and steals, the transition pull-up jump shots and no-look and behind-the-back passes from the 6-foot-1 guard, while others outside the Treasure State gained an enormous amount of respect for him and his teammates for their work with the Warrior Movement aimed at fighting and preventing suicide. The program was featured on the cover of The New York Times magazine this spring.
Malatare is prepared to meet those expectations head on and hopes the support continues throughout his collegiate career. The Malatare family told MTN Sports he held a full-ride scholarship offer from Montana Tech, as well as a preferred walk-on position with the Montana Grizzlies, but North Idaho College was a great fit for the flashy guard, allowing him to hone his skills before continuing his basketball dream elsewhere — possibly back in Missoula with the Griz.
“I think it’s definitely going to be a good experience for me, definitely a good learning experience. I think I’ll definitely build into a better player there,” he said. “It doesn’t end there. I’m going there because of the opportunities of the guys I’ve seen before me. There have been a lot of guys that have gone Division I and even further than that. That’s another reason I’m going there, I’m trying to go Division I and that’s my best chance, I think, is going there.”
As Malatare is set to walk across the stage at graduation in a matter of weeks, he leaves behind a program that makes the jump to Class B in the near future. The Montana High School Association recommended Arlee, along with Great Falls Central, move up one classification beginning in the fall of 2019.
Still, Malatare believes he and his teammates, along with Pitts and the coaching staff, have put the Warriors in a place to compete for titles for years to come.
“Yeah, I think it’s going to be a good place for quite a while. I hope so,” he said. “I think I might stop in when I can, maybe come back for a weekend here or there. That’s all up for them to decide. I can only help (my former teammates) so much.”
One can hear the pride in Malatare’s voice as he discusses the past four years with the Warriors — from the disappointment of losing in the state championship game as a sophomore, to the redemption in the next two title games — and though he’s prepared to welcome the new challenges in Coeur d’Alene, he says he’ll carry his greatest memories with him as motivation.
“Hugging Tyler (Tanner) and Alex (Moran) after the first championship. Yeah, that was the best memory of my high school career. Winning the championship was great, but having those two there made it even better,” he said.