GREAT FALLS — Many Montana kids dream of playing basketball at a high level, and for one Cut Bank man, that’s reality.
Not only did Justin Wetzel play, he's coaching it at a high level, too.
"I kind of look back on the really fortunate path I've had and hopefully never forget where I come from," Wetzel said. "I hope first and foremost, I'm a good person."
He's a proud member of the Blackfeet Nation and a proud member of a hoops squad more than 2,000 miles from home. He knew from a young age he wanted to coach. And now, with 20 years of coaching and 11 stops along the journey, he finds himself as an assistant coach of the capital city Go-Go, the G-League affiliate of the NBA's Washington Wizards.
It’s been a long journey that started at Joliet High School. He spent some time in Class C and worked his way up, with stops at almost every level including Broadview-Lavina, the now broken-up Great Falls Explorers with the then-CBA, MSU Billings, Montana State, and Dickinson State.
He admits he had some nerves and hesitancy going further from home when he was offered his first G-League job as an assistant for the Wisconsin Herd, the Milwaukee Bucks’ affiliate.
"I mean, it's a big jump in a lot of regards from the level what's at stake, things like that," Wetzel said. "But basketball and connecting and working hard and learning the game and in trying to teach, I've tried to carry that everywhere I went no matter what."
He's been there for several years and says he wants to maximize his potential no matter the level of basketball he's coached from Class C to the G League but isn't leaving the NBA off the table.
"It's still just about being who I am and kind of what I'm about," Wetzel said. "And that's always been try to be a good person, try to connect with people, players, coworkers. If there’s a great situation for me to coach and connect whether it’s at the NBA level, back in college, or something else, then so be it. I’m just grateful for the journey and where I’m from."
He's met many people and coached many great players along the way, including Great Falls legend Josh Huestis. But Wetzel says it's all about his roots and he's living proof of you can't take Montana out of the man.
“First and foremost, I'm Justin Wetzel from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. I try to shine that through wherever I am," Wetzel said. "I hope I can be an example for someone else and that my work and character speak for themself."