Neither winner was able to be present, but basketball hooped the main honors Saturday evening at the Montana AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Little Sullivan Awards banquet.
The annual awards are given for the top male and female athletes from Montana and recipients may win the honors only once. College basketball standouts Josh Huestis and Jordan Sullivan were the 2014 winners announced Saturday at the banquet held in the Butte Plaza Mall. The space that housed the former Stage clothing store was used for the ceremonies, subbing for the Copper King Inn, which closed after having been selected as the venue for this year’s banquet.
Master of ceremonies Dave Bennetts, a longtime wrestling official from Butte, said the Butte-Silver Bow Chamber of Commerce “stepped up” to help secure the mall space to keep the 2014 banquet in Butte after the Copper King Inn closure.
Huestis is from Great Falls and Sullivan from Sidney. Both were important contributors to their college teams and recently completed their college basketball careers — Huestis at Stanford and Sullivan at Montana.
The 6-foot-5 Huestis, a 2010 graduate of C.M. Russell High School in Great Falls, averaged 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds a game his senior season at Stanford, which saw the Cardinal reach the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament. He was a 45-percent accurate shooter from 3-point range and the 41 blocks he posted this recently ended season raised his career total to 162, second on the Stanford all-time list. Huestis lettered all four years at Stanford and earned several in-season and postseason honors in the Pacific 12 Conference. He is projected to be a National Basketball Association draft choice later this spring.
The other finalists for the men’s Little Sullivan Award were Montana State football star Tanner Bleskin from Great Falls, Montana football standout Jordan Tripp from Missoula and Olympic freestyle moguls skier Brad Wilson from Butte.
Huestis was unable to attend the banquet due to being the guest of honor at one Saturday in Great Falls where his CMR high school jersey number was being retired.
Sullivan, from Sidney, was a four-year starter for the Lady Griz basketball team at Montana. She was coached there by her uncle, Robin Selvig. The 6-2 Sullivan enjoyed a senior season that saw her average 11.6 points, a block, a steal, 1.7 assists and 7.8 rebounds at game. She shot 71.8 percent from the free throw line and 42.8 percent from the field.
The other finalists for the female Little Sullivan Award were Montana State basketball star Jackie Elliott from Billings, Montana soccer standout Maddey Frey from Kalispell and Olympic slopestyle skier Maggie Voisin from Whitefish.
Sullivan, being a senior at UM, chose to attend the Montana Lady Griz Awards Banquet in Missoula on Saturday with her teammates and so was not able to be at the AAU awards ceremony. Her father, Rollie, a veteran high school basketball coach in the state, however, accepted the award for her.
He congratulated the other nominees in both the male and female categories, joking, too, that his daughter would have even extended the congratulations to the two Bobcats — Bleskin and Elliott — in attendance. He said Jordan Sullivan would have been pulling, too, for the fellow Grizzlies — Tripp and Frey — but also had special sentiments for two of her longtime friends — Elliott and Huestis.
“I don’t think Jordan has ever gotten over losing to Jackie in the state Class A (girls’ basketball game),” Rollie Sullivan said about Billings Central’s title-tilt victory over Sidney. “They competed against each other for seven years and I think Jordan would say she hated every minute of it.”
He noted, too, that his daughter and Elliott have often joined forces over the years to play in summer tournaments and all-star competitions.
Last year’s award recipients were Montana State football All-American Caleb Schreibeis and collegiate wrestler Trent Sprenkle, both of Billings, who shared the men’s Little Sullivan, and Montana State basketball star Rachel Semansky of Highwood, who captured the women’s honor.
Jean Olson of Bozeman, former governor of the state AAU, was the keynote speaker and talked about the history of the organization in Montana, the virtues of the organization and the award winners, and told some anecdotes from past meetings.
Since retired Montana Tech football coach Bob Green addressed the group one year, Olson told, and relayed a story about the Orediggers being stopped at the border on a trip to Canada for a game one year. She said Green told how the border guard looked into the bus and questioned whether the young men in the seats were all Americans.
Apparently, after some nervous fidgeting and exchanging of glances, one of the players spoke up, politely, and responded: “No sir, but we’re all-conference.”
“I’ll never forget that line,” Olson said, laughing.
Other awards were also handed out at the 2014 banquet. State official Mike Ward of Columbus was presented the Volunteer of the Year Award for his taking on of added duties, including the staging of the banquet, this year. Dan Elser of the Billings Renegades Wrestling Club was chosen the Contributor of the Year for his landing of the AAU Grand National Wrestling Tournament for Billings, and Montana State University-Billings was picked for the Outstanding Service Award for its efforts in helping to put and keep the Grand National in Billings.
The state AAU Outstanding Wrestler Awards were presented to Rico Stormer of Circle, Chris Nile and Brandon Weber, both of Forsyth, Jarrett Degen of Belgrade and Randy Keesler of Great Falls.
About 100 people attended the banquet.