FULLERTON, Calif. — Danny Sprinkle doesn’t miss Montana winters.
“I’ve gotten very, very soft, I will admit that,” the former Helena High and Montana State basketball star said. “When it gets cold, I get very soft now. I got to get back some of Montana toughness. Montana, that’s still home. My parents are still up there, my little sister in Bozeman with her husband and kids. That’ll always be home. Do I love southern California? Absolutely. When you’re walking outside in January and it’s 80 degrees out, I’ll call my parents and there’s four feet of snow, I’m pretty happy to be down here at that time. (But) Montana’s an awesome place.”
Sprinkle starred on the basketball courts at Helena High and Montana State in the 1990s, becoming a three-time all-conference selection for the Bobcats. He set the program records for 3-pointers made in both a single game (nine against Sacramento State) and a career (263).
But that was nearly 20 years ago. Sprinkle played in 29 games as a freshman during the 1995-96 season at MSU, averaging 9.8 points per game. He averaged 13.7 points per game as a sophomore, 13.5 as a junior and 16.6 as a senior during the 1998-99 season. Sprinkle made 41.9 percent of his 3-point attempts during his career.
Since his illustrious playing career concluded, Sprinkle has spent 16 years in southern California on the coaching staffs of two different programs — 11 years at Cal State Northridge and the past five at Cal State Fullerton.
“It’s crazy to even think I’ve been gone that long. It just flies by,” he said. “Obviously, the last couple weeks, we went back to the NCAA Tournament. Everything’s pretty good right now. There’s been a lot of ups and down in that 20 years, but recently it’s been pretty good.”
Fullerton is coming off one of the best seasons in program history. The Titans won 20 games for just the seventh time in school history, making their third trip to the NCAA Tournament and first since 2008. A No. 15 seed, Fullerton lost to second-seeded Purdue in the first round.
It was Sprinkle’s fourth appearance in the tournament – three times as a coach and one time as a player at Montana State. Sprinkle played under coach Mick Durham, who guided the Bobcats to their most recent NCAA Tournament appearance in 1996.
“The way coach Durham coached, we were kind of ahead of our time a little bit,” Sprinkle recalled. “We played fast and we shot a lot of 3-pointers. Now, we didn’t shoot near what they shoot now. Obviously there’s a shorter shot clock now and there’s a lot more possessions in a game. … Percentages, 3s made and all that, obviously it’s a lot easier to do now than it was back then because it’s a different game and the speed of it, but I think we were kind of ahead of the curve a little bit.”
Count Sprinkle among the many with a deep admiration for Durham, who is MSU’s second-all-time winningest coach. Durham led the Bobcats for 16 seasons, compiling an overall record of 246-213 before resigning in 2006. Durham has been the coach at Division II Alaska Fairbanks since 2011.
But sources have told MontanaSports.com that Durham is the leading candidate to become the next head coach at MSU Billings, which is seeking a new coach after Jamie Steves stepped down after seven seasons at the helm.
“Hopefully (Durham) gets that job and his family can come back to Montana,” Sprinkle said. “He’s obviously done an unbelievable job at a really hard job up in Alaska. I can’t imagine it’s too easy to get kids up to Fairbanks. It was sad for me to see the way he went out at Montana State, because I saw how much he put into that. I think there was some circumstances there that he didn’t have control over, which was too bad because he did an unbelievable job. And I think people now are starting to see how good of a job he did with the success he had at Montana State. Hopefully he gets back to Billings, and I’m sure his wife and family will be really happy to get back into the state, too.”
If the opportunity presents itself in the future, Sprinkle wouldn’t mind returning to Montana, either. He interviewed for the MSU job in 2006 but wasn’t a candidate when the Bobcats hired Brian Fish in 2014. Fish has posted a 50-75 overall record during his four seasons at MSU and has one year remaining on his contract.
“The end goal is obviously to definitely be a head coach. That’s what I work for, and that’s what I’ve been preparing for,” Sprinkle said. “Whether it’s in Montana or whether it’s in California or wherever, you’ve got to kind of jump at the opportunities now when they’re presented, but that’s definitely the goal.”
Even if it means Sprinkle has to find that Montana toughness again.