By Ryan Divish
It's not often that people can enjoy basketball and donate to a good cause at the same time. But this weekend, Hi-Line hoop fans can do exactly that as the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team hosts the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
The four-team tournament features the Lights, Carroll College, Canadian Bible College and the University of Lethbridge.
"This is the first (Coaches vs. Cancer Classic) ever here," said Northern head coach Shawn Huse. "A lot of schools are adopting the tournaments as a way to not only pick up a few games, but more importantly to do something for a greater cause."
Each team in the tournament will play two games, with Carroll and Northern facing each of the Canadian teams. Carroll will open the tournament tonight at 6 p.m. taking on the University of Lethbridge while Northern will square off against Canadian Bible at 8 p.m.
Carroll, which was picked to finish atop the Frontier Conference, returns several key players from last year's team, which made it to the NAIA National Tournament and is 4-0 on the season.
Senior guard Gary Lynch returns after an All-American season last season. Also returning is all-conference forward Jeff Mason. Junior guard Greg Johnson will take over the point guard duties from the graduated Shane Gamradt. Johnson should be more than a capable replacement and will bring some scoring to the point guard position.
Most of the talk surrounding Carroll isn't concerned with players returning, but rather players that the Saints brought in. Three starters from other teams in the Frontier Conference decided to transfer to Carroll in the off-season, giving the Saints solid depth and even more talent.
Randy Ranalli, a Helena High grad, earned all-conference honors at UM-Western last year while Newell Roche averaged 14 points a game for Montana Tech. The third transfer, former MSU-Northern guard Jeff Graham, will redshirt this season.
While the Lights won't play Carroll, they will get a chance to watch them play.
"It'll be good to watch Carroll," Huse said. "We can see where they're at in comparison to where we're at."
Carroll will face an experienced University of Lethbridge squad that returns four starters, including guards Ryan Reed and Alan Spoonhunter.
Local hoop fans may remember Spoonhunter, who was a standout player for the Browning Indians in 1994. After stints at Montana Tech and United Tribes College in North Dakota, Spoonhunter will end his career with the Pronghorns.
Besides Reed and Spoonhunter, Lethbridge also has a pair of solid big men in Nick Baldwin and Thom Hudel as well as transfer guard Darcy Day Chief.
"They have some good shooters," Huse said of Lethbridge. "They should be a good test for us."
The tournaments other team, Canadian Bible College is a bit of mystery. Located in Regina, Sask. the Rise as they are nicknamed feature several new faces and a first-year head coach.
"I really don't have much on them," Huse admitted. "They're all pretty much new to the program. But I assume that they will be like most Canadian teams and play physical and scrappy."
Northern is coming off a tough 87-86 triple overtime loss to Minot State. The Lights will be looking to bounce back this weekend. They will continue to play their uptempo, full-court pressure style of game this weekend and continue to improve.
"These games are good to see how we're progressing," Huse said. It's nice to have a lot of home games especially with a brand new team to get some added game experience."
For Huse, the basketball is simply a means to help a good cause.
"Anyway we can help out as a staff and a team is very exciting," Huse said.
The tournament, which is being sponsored by Super 8 motel, is asking for a $1 donation/admission for each night. Sixty percent of those proceeds will go the American Cancer Society chapter in Billings which provides transportation to cancer patients for treatment. The other 40% will go to the national chapter for research.
Besides that, Super 8 will donate $3 for every three-pointer made by the Lights to the Coaches vs. Cancer association. Super 8 also provided tournament t-shirts that will be sold with half of the proceeds also going to the charity. The motel will also be sponsoring a halftime putting contest in which one lucky fan could win $5000.
The Coaches vs. Classic tournament action gets underway both today and Saturday at 6 p.m.