BILLINGS — Let's address the elephant in the room: Organizers on both sides of the Montana-Wyoming All-Star Basketball Series, now in its 47th year for the boys game and the 26th year for the girls, are committed to the annual event in spite of its lopsided nature.
And "lopsided" is putting it nicely.
Montana has dominated both ends of the series. The boys own a 65-27 all-time edge and have won 20 in a row. Wyoming's last boys victory was a 90-84 overtime win way back on June 11, 2011. The Treasure State girls, meanwhile, lead 37-13 and have won 11 straight. Wyoming's last win in that series was a 71-64 triumph on June 10, 2016.
The Wyoming organization has been left searching for answers, yet the event presses on. This year's doubleheaders are scheduled for Friday at the Pronghorn Center at Gillette College — one of the top Juco facilities in the country — after years of being held at Sheridan College, and again Saturday at Lockwood High School in Billings.
"No. No. We're going to get this thing going," said first-year Wyoming coach Shawn Neary, a Butte High alum and the head coach at NJCAA power Gillette College, when asked if the series is in any danger of being discontinued. "In Montana it's a big deal, and they do a great job with it. I think it's a great honor for these kids — boys and girls — to be selected to play in this.
"It's nobody's fault in the past. I just think it's time for a change and to try to take a new approach. Having it here at Gillette College is going to be a great venue for it, both from the perspective of our Wyoming kids and also the fans and players coming from Montana. I think they'll really enjoy the facility and hopefully we'll be competitive."
This is Neary's first year helming Wyoming's boys all-stars, and he said he plans to do it as long as they'll have him. Gillette College women's coach Liz Lewis will coach Wyoming's girls. But those positions have been a bit of a revolving door in the past.
Meanwhile, Montana's coaches have been consistent through the past decade; this will mark hall of famer Steve Keller's 11th year in charge of the boys team and son Wes Keller's seventh year coaching the girls.
Neary has strong Montana connections beyond his Butte origins. He was the head coach at Miles Community College for 12 seasons, and also spent one year as a volunteer assistant under Mick Durham at Montana State Billings when Gillette College discontinued its athletic programs (they have since been reinstated).
The only head men's coach in Pronghorn history, Neary is well aware of the popularity and importance of the Montana-Wyoming series in the Treasure State, and hopes to galvanize similar passions for the event in the Cowboy State, which have waned over the years.
It could go a long way toward Wyoming becoming competitive again.
"What we need to do is we need to get the culture around the game like it is in Montana," said Neary, who served as an assistant coach to the Montana team in the past during his time at MCC. "They usually get their 10 best players.
"One of the challenges we have in Wyoming is we have a conflict with our Shrine football game. The issue for us is just trying to attract the top players to come play basketball. It's little bit of a recruiting thing, and we'll see if we can get that changed. We've got to build it in Wyoming. That's one of the things I look forward to doing.
"I think we just have to build this thing back to where it was when (Wyoming Coaches Association hall of famer) Bruce Hoffman and people like that had the game at Sheridan College. That's our long-term goal. Unfortunately, there are kids in Cheyenne and Casper who aren't really aware of this series.
"We've just got to get it turned around so it's a bigger deal in Wyoming like it used to be. Again, it's nothing against anybody in the past, I just think it's kind of deteriorated a little bit."
Friday's doubleheader tips off at the Pronghorn Center, first with the girls game at 5 p.m. and the boys game following at 7. The same schedule will be followed Saturday at Lockwood High, though the twin bill will be played after the second annual Montana All-Star Volleyball Classic at 3.
The events are sponsored by longstanding Billings athletic organization the Midland Roundtable.
"This year's team, it will be an interesting group," Neary said of the Wyoming boys squad. "I think size-wise we're going to match up. Some of these kids have played together before on summer teams, so it will be fun to get them together and see if we can put together a plan to go after Montana."
"I've got to make coach Keller sweat a little bit, you know," he added. "I've got to make them coach a little bit. I can't just let them roll us over. So hopefully we'll do that."
The 2023 Montana-Wyoming All-Star Basketball Series rosters are as follows:
- Royce Robinson, Lewistown
- Dougie Peoples, Butte Central
- Eli Hunter, Bozeman Gallatin
- Connor Dick, Missoula Hellgate
- Lane Love, Billings Skyview
- Seth Amunrud, Manhattan Christian
- Connor Michaud, Frenchtown
- Michael Murphy, Glendive
- Noah Dowler, Kalispell Glacier
- Billy Carlson, Billings West
- Head coach: Steve Keller, Rocky Mountain College (assistant)
- Braydon Bradshaw, Lyman
- David DeBoer, Rock Springs
- Kysar Jolley, Cheyenne East
- Isaac Patik, Casper Natrona
- Wilkins Radakovich, Cody
- Toby Schons, Big Horn
- Brenon Stauffenberg, Lander
- Dalton Thomas, Rock Springs
- Ryan Wells, Dubois
- Head coach: Shawn Neary, Gillette College
- Alex Bullock, Helena
- Malea Eagan, Colstrip
- Alyse Aby, Laurel
- Layne Kearns, Hamilton
- Avery Burkart, Bozeman
- Ava Bellach, Manhattan Christian
- Layla Baumann, Billings West
- Brooke Badovinac, Butte Central
- Jada Clarkson, Helena Capital
- Maddy Moy, Kalispell Flathead
- Head coach: Wes Keller, Rocky Mountain College
- Sage Bradshaw, Lyman
- Cameron Erickson, Star Valley
- Raimi Hladky, Gillette Campbell County
- Boden Liljedahl, Cheyenne East
- Laney McCarty, Thunder Basin
- Kennedi Niemann, Cody
- Jaylen Ostenson, Newcastle
- Millie Riss, Gillette Campbell County
- Joelie Spelts, Thunder Basin
- Brooke Wright, Douglas
- Head coach: Liz Lewis, Gillette College