(Editor's note: This interview was conducted on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, when the Montana Grizzlies football team visited the Portland State Vikings. Keithan's wife, Chelsey, gave birth to their son, Oliver, 18 days later)
HILLSBORO, Ore. -- Two decades have passed since Keithan Gregg entered high school in Cut Bank, but his impact on the Wolves' athletic department remains.
Gregg was an outstanding basketball player for the Wolves, leading the program to an undefeated Class B state championship during the 2002-03 season -- a 61-58 victory over Manhattan securing the state title. Gregg made a jump shot while getting fouled, successfully converting the free throw, to lift the Wolves to the overtime win.
He was also part of a program-record 49 consecutive wins between the winters of 2002 and 2004.
Gregg was one of the top playmakers in the state -- his name can be found 10 times in the Montana High School Association record books, including marks for assists, free throws and percentage, as well as 3-pointers.
Despite being more well-known for his basketball career, Gregg was arguably a better tennis player, winning four straight Class B individual titles from 2001-04, while also leading Cut Bank to three straight Class B-C team titles. The Wolves hold the record for team points scored in Class B, 80 in 2004.
Gregg is one of only four four-time state tennis champions in Montana's boys tennis history, according to the MHSA record books, netting him a collegiate scholarship at Eastern Washington.
After a year with the Eagles, Gregg transferred to the University of Great Falls, now the University of Providence, to play basketball, then went back to EWU for tennis and again back to UGF to finish his college career with the Argos basketball team.
He served as an assistant coach for the Argos before moving to Ashland, Ore. to coach high school boys, then joined Lynn Kennedy's staff at Portland State, where he serves as an assistant. His wife, Chelsey, is the associate head coach.
The trio led the Vikings to the Big Sky Conference championship in 2019, securing a berth in the women's NCAA Tournament.
The Vikings enter the final weekend of February with a 12-14 overall record, including a 6-10 Big Sky Conference mark.
Below is MTN Sports' conversation with Gregg from November, which can also be viewed in the video above.
MTN Sports: How much fun is it living out here near the coast, having one of these grown-up jobs that we get to have? It’s a pretty fun job to have.
Keithan Gregg: “It’s definitely a good job to have, and to have it in a city like Portland, there are just so many opportunities to get out and do things. Whatever you want — get out to the mountains and go hiking? It’s a half hour away. If you want to go downtown and shop, that’s 10 minutes away. There are definitely things, wherever you want to go, there are options everywhere. So it’s fun having that, and having the money with a grown-up job that allows you to do those things, as well, so that’s been fun.”
MTN Sports: You’re a small-town guy, was this ever in your wildest dreams?
Gregg: “No. I have always said no to cities. I’m a Montana guy through and through, love small towns, and I love everything about how I grew up. I could have never imagined living in the city and being a college basketball coach. It’s beyond my wildest dreams, but I love it.”
MTN Sports: Take us through some of that college basketball coaching — last year was a lot of fun to follow along with Portland State, but once a team has a good year, the expectations start to rise a little bit. What are the expectations?
Gregg: “It’s balancing. We build from the ground up. That first year was four wins. You steadily get to 16 the next year, 19 the next, and then last year was obviously a great time. You win 25 games, you win the Big Sky Conference championship and get to go to the NCAA Tournament. What’s better than that? When you build from the ground up with freshmen, those freshmen eventually become seniors, and then they leave. We’re in, I would say the rebuilding stage right now, but we have a lot of good pieces left from last year. Maybe rebuilding (isn’t) the right word, I would say re-loading, I hope that that’s the term we can go with. Time will tell. We’re young, but hopefully they come around. Towards March I think we’ll be playing our best basketball, which is what you always want.”
MTN Sports: What’s the difference between a championship as a player, an athlete, and the championship from the sideline as a coach?
Gregg: “Not having control. I think that’s the worst thing about it, and best thing as well. You’re so happy for the kids. I loved winning it myself, but there was definitely, when you have control and you have the, say, the nerves aren’t there — nervous for one person is one thing, but when you’re nervous for 15, it’s a little bit different. The difference between it for me was that I enjoyed seeing the look on our girls’ faces when they won it. They had worked so hard, just like everybody, but when you get to the pinnacle and you’ve hit the mountaintop, it’s pretty awesome to see them enjoy that.”
MTN Sports: What was that NCAA Tournament experience like?
Gregg: “I had to scout on Oregon, so that was a little bit different. It’s always fun, you get to go to the NCAA Tournament, you get to experience everything that comes with it. On the women’s side it’s a little bit different (than the men’s tournament) because you play at the host site, so we played in Eugene. That was different. But when you open up with one of the best basketball teams in the country, and not even arguably, but I think Sabrina Ionescu is the best women’s basketball player in the country, so trying to scout against her was a little bit difficult. It is for everybody. It was an awesome experience, but it’s over, so now it’s time to get back to work and put the boots to the ground and really try to get back there, is the ultimate goal.”
MTN Sports: You’ve had a good basketball knowledge through your upbringing, but what’s changed now that you’re a coach? Where are you still learning and where do you feel comfortable in where you’re going with this?
Gregg: “I feel comfortable on both sides of the basketball. I think the big thing for me in the transition from being a younger coach to being a little bit older now, not quite as old as some would say, but I think the big transition has been the expectations every day. You scream and yell and get after the kids early in my career, and now the expectations have changed a little bit. It’s definitely more about teaching and having that evolution, not just as a basketball player, but seeing them grow up. I think I’ve, not lowered my expectations, but changed them, for sure, and what I demand from them every day. That’s to be their best self, instead of trying to be the best basketball player, and execute the best, play your best every day out in practice. I just want you to be the best form of yourself, because you’re going to have good and bad days. Give me your best every single day and we can go from there, we can work with that.”
MTN Sports: We’re doing this interview in November, the Montana Grizzlies’ football team is out here playing at Portland State, so you’re seeing some familiar faces — some through-marriage relatives. How much fun was this to see some Montana, even though you’re decking that green?
Gregg: “I’m definitely in the green right now, loving the Portland State life. But Michael McGinnis, No. 14 (for the Griz football team, who has since stepped away from football to accept a prestigious internship), my wife, that’s her cousin. They’ve been awesome. I love their family. It’s one of those things where, any time you get to support family you do it. Michael is great. He’s such an awesome kid. Seeing him get to experience the, running out of the tunnel with, what is it? The hammer that they have? He had the hammer last week and seeing how excited he was to have that, and getting to hang out with him today was pretty awesome. It’s tough when the Vikes take the loss, but you’re happy for family. I’m happy to see he’s doing well, he’s doing awesome and loving his experience. He’s just a great kid.”
MTN Sports: We’re talking about Montana, what do you miss? It’s a great place that you guys hopefully get a chance to go back and visit now and again.
Gregg: “Family and friends. Friends are big for me, and a lot of them live in, well a few in Missoula, but a lot of them live in Bozeman. Having the family and friends aspect is what I miss. And obviously the support. It’s awesome to see, we have pro sports teams, so everyone is supporting the Blazers, and there are so many things to do out here, where in Montana, this is the pro sport. Montana football is that. Community support was always something that’s nice to see, it reminds you of home and reminds you how it was growing up. But I definitely miss the family and friends aspect of it. This time of year, I could do without the weather. I like it out here, I could do without the snow. This is definitely, 60 degrees at kickoff was perfect for me.”
MTN Sports: We’re getting old.
Gregg: “We definitely are.”
MTN Sports: What do you remember about the high school days and some of the success you had, maybe in the sport of basketball first. You guys were one of the most fun teams, whatever class, to watch during your four years there.
Gregg: “High school basketball, football, whatever it was, at that time it was king. It’s one of those things where, you’re on the sidelines and see kids throwing the football or dribbling the basketball, and that’s what it’s all about. You grow up, you're watching and you wait your turn. You work hard. When you finally get out and get to be that player that puts on the uniform on Friday and Saturday night, the whole town shuts down. They come out. We have a town of 3,000 people and everyone is there. The gym was still half empty, but it was one of those things where the community support was amazing. You grow up in that kind of a situation, that kind of an atmosphere, it’s hard to replace. We had great runs. We won, I think it was 49 straight games at one point and it was a lot of fun. You get to do it with friends and family around, and I think that was the best part about it — having that experience, but also who you experienced it with. Great games. Whether it was playing Browning at home and playing against Mike Chavez, or going against Chris Cole from Harlem, or Tyler Palmer from Fairfield — you had guys who could really play basketball at that time, so there were a lot of fun matchups during that little era.”
MTN Sports: You’re still on the courts, so would you still have more game than those people you just mentioned?
Gregg: “No. I guarantee you. Every now and then, we’ve been injury plagued, so I’ve had to be on the floor a little more than I’ve wanted to. It takes me a little longer to re-group and get back after a practice. Every now and then I can get out there, but it’s something that, time-wise, I don’t have a ton of to get out and just play, but there are flashes of the game. If you talked to the girls, they could tell you there’s a little bit left in the tank.”
MTN Sports: I know a lot of people associate basketball with your name because of the college career and now coaching, but tennis was incredible. I think I only got to see one of your matches live, everything else was on TV or the paper — but what was it about that grind? I know your dad (former Cut Bank tennis coach Jim Gregg) played a huge part in that for you to go out and win all those championships.
Gregg: “Tennis for me was an outlet. It was fun. It helped that I was really good, and my dad had started me at a very young age with him being the tennis coach, so I was always around it. When you’re around it, it consumes you. My attitude was, if you’re going to do it, you might as well be the best at it. Tennis was a lot of fun. You win four straight state championships, and I think I lost twice in high school, two Class AA kids — once as a freshman and once as a junior — and I still think I shouldn’t have lost those, but that’s besides the point. It’s one of those things where, tennis is a big part of who I am. My dad gets out here, first thing he does is give me a baby gift and it’s a tennis racket. It’s one of those things that will always be in me, always be something I’m watching and following. It was such an amazing run at the time, so you look back and you go, ‘Wow. You really did that.’ There aren’t a lot of people that are four-time state champs in anything, so to be in that classification is a pretty cool thing.”
MTN Sports: Player. Coach. Dad is the next thing on the list. I just saw your smile right there. That pretty much says it all.
Gregg: “I’m super excited. The end of November is the due date, and it’s just the next step. I’m super excited. My wife and I have been prepping. You’re never ready. Just like everyone says, you’re never going to be ready for it, but it’s one of those things that I’ve been looking forward to for a while now. To make that next step, it’s going to be a little difficult with the balancing act between the season and getting to practice, the girls team and having a baby boy around, but it’s definitely something that’s a challenge I’m looking forward to. A lot of sleepless nights, but I don’t get a lot of sleep during the season anyway, so I’ll just try to balance the scouting reports with the feedings. We’ll be all right.”
MTN Sports: Grandpa got the tennis racket, is anybody going to get the basketball? How much is going to be in that kid’s crib as we get going?
Gregg: “I’m super excited. I told the girls this year that they’re going to be baby boy’s first team. No matter what, you’ll never be able to take that away from you that this is his first team. I think there will be plenty of basketballs rolling around, hanging out in the crib, that sort of thing. I would love for him to go down the basketball path, maybe tennis, who knows. But it’s one of those things, as long as he’s happy, healthy, I’m good. We can balance and do whatever we need to do. I’m super excited for that aspect, the next chapter of my life. Hopefully we’ll raise another four-time state champ, but if not, everyone is still going to be happy.”