Griz men begin practice Friday

MISSOULA — The defending Big Sky Conference champion University of Montana Grizzlies begin their 2012-13 season on Friday, Oct. 12 with their first preseason practice session at Schrieber Gym on the UM campus, starting at 8:15 p.m.

Montana’s annual Silver-Maroon Scrimmage is less than two weeks away, Thursday, Oct. 25, with the action starting at 5:30 p.m. in Dahlberg Arena.  The Grizzlies have an exhibition game a week later, hosting Lewis and Clark on Thursday, Nov. 1.

The Griz are coming off their third straight 20-win season, a league championship and subsequent NCAA tournament berth, and UM has gone 68-28 overall and 37-11 in the Big Sky in that time span.

Montana returns three starters from that 25-7 squad that set a league record by winning 15 Big Sky games en route to a 15-1 conference slate.  The Grizzlies’ 25 victories a year ago were the third most in school history.

That 15-1 Big Sky finish meant Montana earned an automatic berth into one of the league’s post-season tournament semifinal games, but more importantly it also gave the Griz the host role for the tourney.

UM went on to beat Eastern Washington 74-66 in the semis, and then it faced Weber State in the championship contest.  A week earlier the Grizzlies beat (66-51) the Wildcats in Missoula for the Big Sky’s regular-season title. Montana beat WSU 85-66 in the championship game.  UM lost 73-49 to 13th-ranked Wisconsin in a first-round NCAA game, but prior to that setback they had won 14 games in a row and 20 of their last 22.

Those three starters back are senior guard Will Cherry (6-1, 181), junior guard Kareem Jamar (6-5, 210), and senior forward Mathias Ward (6-7, 223).

Both returning guards were first team all-league selections last season, although Cherry, who led the Griz in scoring (15.8 ppg) as a junior, recently suffered a foot injury and will hopefully be able to return some time in the month of November.  Jamar was UM’s second leading scorer (10.9 ppg) and rebounder (5.6 rpg).  Ward was third on the team in scoring at 10.9 points a game.  Cherry, UM’s all-time leader in career steals (223), was ranked sixth in the NCAA in steals last year with 2.59 a game.

Cherry and Jamar were both named to the Big Sky’s first team, while Cherry was tabbed the league’s “Defensive Player of the Year.”  Ward was named to the league’s post-season all-tournament team.

UM’s two key losses were forwards Art Steward (6-4, 210) and Derek Selvig (7-0, 230), who were Montana’s fourth and fifth leading scorers, at 9.5 and 9.1 points per game.  Both players were honorable mention all-league selections.

Also returning are junior center Eric Hutchison (6-9, 245), sophomore forwards Mike Weisner (6-7, 195) and Kevin Henderson (6-4, 208), and sophomore guards Keron DeShields (6-2, 182) and Jordan Gregory (6-2, 188).

The Griz added one player from the junior college ranks in forward Spencer Coleman (6-6 ½, 198).  Montana had also signed 6-11 center Marko Kovacevic from Western Nebraska Community College, but unfortunately he will be unable to play this season because of academic issues.

Last season Coleman was selected a junior college All-American, first team All-Region and all-conference, when he averaged 15.1 points and 7.3 rebounds a game, and shot 75 percent (66-of-88) from the line.  Kovacevic averaged 11.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game as a sophomore last season at WNCC.

Redshirt freshman forward Nick Emerson (6-5, 206 from Columbia Falls HS), and prep signees Andy Martin (7-0, 223 from Natrona County HS in Wyoming) and Jake Wiley (6-7, 204) from Newport High School in Washington), could be counted on this season as well.  Walk-on Wes Knox, a 6-4 guard from Dillon’s Beaverhead County High School, will redshirt this season.

“We’ve got a lot of adversity (because of Cherry’s injury and Kovacevic being unable to play) early in the year, but we’ve got to deal with it; and it may be a very good thing for us,” said Tinkle, who is ranked fourth in school history with 116 wins.  “Maybe this will help us develop a little bit of an edge.  We will be stronger because of it if we react the right way down the stretch.  We can’t control whose out there at this point; we’ve got to get those guys better and get them ready.

“I know most of the other teams in the league are vastly improved,” Tinkle said.  “Yes we’re going to have the target on our back, but that’s okay.  I think that will help create the hunger that the team had a year ago.  It’s going to be challenging.  There’s a reason why there’s not that many repeat champions.  Certainly that’s a goal of ours, but we know there are some good teams ahead of us, and we’re dealing with some adversity.”

— UM Sports Information