CHURCHILL — Melstone and Manhattan Christian are more than 200 miles apart, but that hasn’t stopped the Bellach and Grebe families from becoming close.
It began with the fathers and head coaches, Jeff Bellach at Manhattan Christian and Jason Grebe at Melstone, competing against each other collegiately at Montana Tech and Dickinson (N.D.) State, respectively.
“He was a good player,” Grebe said of Bellach. “I think I was just a little bit older, so I had a few more things I could pull on him. I didn’t know him real good then, but it was fun to do the full circle with him, and then our kids now are good buddies.”
The relationship, though, has bloomed over the past few years, as Jeff’s son Caleb and Jason’s son Brody have immersed themselves in AAU ball.
“(Caleb) and Brody got to know each other really well and Jason and I got to know each other better,” Jeff said. “So it’s been fun. Just getting to know each other, both have the same passion for hoops, then just being in Montana, too. I think we both just generally love living in Montana and the lifestyle it brings, the coaching.”
“They play California, Portland, Seattle, Boise. Every night is tough on them. They become tight because they’ve got to work together to play some of the best players in the nation,” Jason said.
Jeff and Jason were hesitant on their kids playing AAU basketball, but they were both impressed with how the Montana-Idaho Select team coaches promoted balance and sharing the ball. The exposure, though, has been the most beneficial aspect of the summer hoops circuit.
“I think AAU has exposed Brody and Caleb to good and bad,” Jason said. “I mean, I think in Class C basketball, you don’t see the physicalness all the time and maybe as deep of athletes like A and AA every night, so for them to see that, the more college-type style of play, you go to the rim and there’s 6-(foot)-8 to 6-10. In 4C basketball where we are, we don’t see that.”
“It’s just the way things are. You have to go and get to that next level of competition in order to be seriously looked at,” Jeff said. “I don’t necessarily know if that’s right, but that’s the way it is. So it was really beneficial for (Caleb).”
The AAU circuit has paid dividends for the two, as Caleb has signed with Division I Montana State and Brody has several offers still on the table. Both are children of former college basketball players, but Caleb’s and Brody’s games, and bodies, differ greatly from those of their fathers, who were both snipers from beyond the arc in their day.
“Brody is just a hard worker, stays calm, he really don’t get upset. He’s worked hard to really develop his game. He’s a bigger, stronger guy. He’s probably 6-3, 205,” Jason said.
“(Caleb) plays a lot, obviously, more above the rim than I ever thought of or dreamt of doing,” Jeff joked. “And more inside the 3-point line, too. His game is really getting well-rounded, which is nice. I think that’s really going to help him at the next level. He’s got tools that we dreamt about.”
Now Brody and Caleb are in the final stages of their high school careers and are tearing down records in the process. Brody surpassed the 2,000-point mark on Jan. 11 at Terry and is on the cusp of Montana’s all-time top 10, while Caleb is approaching Manhattan Christian’s career scoring record. Both also led their teams to trophies at last year’s State C tournament.
However, it hasn’t always been all roses for Jeff and Jason being both fathers and coaches.
“It’s not easy. It’s not easy for any of us with the boys. But it’s been fun, too,” Jeff said. “Now that we’re kind of through the tough times, as far as that goes coaching your kid, it’s a lot more enjoyable. You get to see the benefits of his work, the work he puts in and the things you ask of him. It makes it a lot of fun. It’s something I’ll never forget. It’s something I dreamed of but never knew if it would happen.”
“It’s different. It’s hard coaching your kid,” Jason said. “As Jeff said, we’ve had ups and downs. Jeff and I have talked and we’ll be at wits end with both of them and be like, ‘What are we going to do with these guys?’ But it’s fun and it works out in the end.”
While Jeff and his Manhattan Christian team got the better of Jason and Melstone in their early December meeting, the dynamic of the relationship between the families hasn’t changed.
“We have a good time together. I always keep telling him I’m going to come out and spend a day working cows with him and stuff, because I kind of envy that part of his lifestyle — being out away from everybody, having that,” Jeff said. “One of these days I’ll get up there. It’s not a real accessible place this time of year.”