BC teammates take game to Western

You can’t really blame Keegan McCarthy and Colin Hollow if they have a hard time adjusting to their new name.

For guys who were basically Maroons from birth, being called a Bulldog is going to take some getting used to.

“I’d almost rather be a Copperhead than a Bulldog,” McCarthy jokes.

Like it or not, the former Maroons are saddled with that name for the next four or five years. Maybe even for life.

McCarthy and Hollow are the newest members of the Montana Western basketball team.

McCarthy will redshirt this season with the varsity squad in Dillon. Hollow will play on the junior varsity team. Practice begins next week for a season that opens on Oct. 12. The junior varsity schedule begins Oct. 17.

For Hollow and McCarthy, that season will be a continuation of a relationship that started long ago. The two have been basketball teammates since the fourth grade. They’ve been classmates since they were in kindergarten.

Montana Western coach Steve Keller says he has big plans for McCarthy, a tall, skinny player who hit a growth spurt fairly late in high school.

The road to a varsity spot for Hollow might be a little bit longer, the coach says.  The 5-foot-9 Hollow plays a position that was held by All-American Brandon Brown, and Keller worked hard to find the closest thing he could get to Brown, a “jet point guard.”

That means Hollow has several talented point guards ahead of him as he starts his career in Dillon.

Hollow eventually making his mark on the varsity team, though, certainly wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Keller’s Bulldogs.

“That’s how I found Kyle Erickson,” Keller said. “He played JV.”

A long list of Bulldog JV players turned varsity contributors also includes new Butte High boys’ basketball coach Terry Hauser.

“We’ve got a few kids off the JV,” Keller said. “If they get a chance I’ll play them JV one year and redshirt them the next year.”

The junior varsity year counts as a year of eligibility, and Keller suspects that to be one well spent of Hollow.

“We like him,” Keller said. “He’s going to play a lot of JV this year.”

McCarthy’s job his first year on campus — aside from being a practice player — is to get bigger.

At 6-6 and 170 pounds, McCarthy is certainly bigger than he was when he first cracked the varsity roster at Butte Central as a junior. He’s still not as big as Keller wants him to be.

The coach doesn’t expect to be a full time “back-to-the-basket” player, however. He likes the type of player McCarthy already is, so he doesn’t have to change his game.

“He’s playing good,” Keller said of McCarthy. “I’m impressed with him, and he’s impressed me each time I watch him.”

Keller said he first noticed McCarthy when he was a sophomore, and the coach sees McCarthy as a player with “huge upside,” something he says the Bulldogs have to shoot for.

“He’s got length, long arms and he can shoot,” Keller says. “I really like that. He can rebound and he can run the floor. I don’t say this about a lot of kids, but I think he could be really good.”

That news should come as no surprise to fans of the Maroons, who watched McCarthy burst onto the scene late in the 2010-11 season.

McCarthy came off the bench to help the Maroons place third at the Class A State tournament in Bozeman. He quickly earned a reputation as a player who was fearless. In situations where he probably should have been nervous, McCarthy typically responded by driving to the basket or taking a 3-point shot.

“I think I just decided my junior year I was just going to do it or don’t,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy says his late growth spurt actually helped develop his game. He says he learned how to be a smaller player before he transformed into a 6-6 player.

“I was just lanky,” McCarthy says. ” I wasn’t head tall, but just lanky. My arms were down to my ankles.”

As a senior, McCarthy started every BC game. He averaged 12.4 points per game and earned first-team all-conference honors. The Maroons failed to qualify for the state tournament after dropping a heartbreaker to Stevensville in the semifinals of the ultra-tough Southwestern A Divisional tournament in Dillon.

Hollow got more face time on the varsity stage in high school. Hollow started three seasons at point guard for the Maroons, and he too showed from the start that he wasn’t afraid of pressure.

Perhaps Hollow’s biggest game came in the opening round of the State tournament at the Butte Civic Center in 2010. The Maroons struggled until Hollow, then a sophomore, drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to spark a rally that led to a BC victory over Corvallis.

OK, so Hollow might have been a little nervous on that big stage at such a young age.

“It was a little crazy,” he says of starting as a sophomore. “The first few games were definitely scary. I was definitely more afraid in the Butte High game. That was crazy.”

Hollow and McCarthy were pretty much all about basketball from the start.

McCarthy gave up football after his sophomore season so he could focus more on hoops. He also ran cross country the last two years as a means of conditioning.

“I think it helped a lot with basketball when I decided I didn’t want to focus on football anymore,” McCarthy says. “I ran cross country and that really helped. It got me in shape. The first two weeks of basketball everyone was getting in shape. I didn’t even really run the first two weeks before the season. I still maintained my shape.”

Hollow played football through his freshman season. After that, his focus was basketball.

“Not playing football helped me,” Hollow says. “All I did my sophomore year was go in and shoot. I’d go to the gym for a couple hours a day. When they were at football practice, I went to the MAC and would shoot.”

Hollow also played tennis for the Maroons, something he said was at least partially about meeting girls. He didn’t play the game at all until he was a sophomore, yet he turned into a key contributor to the BC squad.

“I didn’t know the rules or anything,” Hollow says. “Eddie (Lally) wanted me to be his partner sophomore year. I think that was the first time I ever talked to him. We’ve been like best friends ever since.”

Hollow also showed off his competitive nature when placed fourth in singles at Divisionals as a senior. That earned Hollow a trip to state.

“I played a kid who was definitely better than me,” Hollow says of the fourth-place Divisional match. “I just outlasted him I think. Our match to see who went to state was three and a half hours long.”

Despite a solid career as a three-year starter, Hollow didn’t have a whole lot of options playing basketball in college.

McCarthy had some options, but not necessarily his first choice. For a while he wanted to play basketball at Montana Tech, his hometown college.

The Orediggers didn’t show interest, though, so McCarthy had to choose between Western and Carroll College, his dad’s school.

“My dad wanted me to go tryout with Carroll,” McCarthy says. “Carroll called right after Western offered,” he says. “I called Coach Keller and I told him that’s where my dad wants me to go and that I’m weighing my options.  He was like, ‘Don’t think that.’ He’s intimidating, so I was kind of scared talking to him. He called me quite a bit after that and said ‘Don’t go there.'”

Once he signed with the Bulldogs, McCarthy started lobbying for his longtime teammate.

“Keegan actually talked to the coaches at Western,” Hollow says. “They called me, and I went down there for a visit and played. They offered me $500 to go down there. It was either that or go to school in Bozeman. I might as well keep playing.”

At Western, Hollow will study education. He wants to coach basketball. “I’ve always wanted to,” he says.

McCarthy will study biology. He says he doesn’t want to be a teacher.

The Butte teammates left for school three weeks ago. They started conditioning and taking classes.

They’ve also started getting used to their new name.

“Being a Bulldog is a little different,” Hollow says with a smile. “At least it’s not purple and white.”