New-look Western men hit court

DILLON — The University of Montana Western men’s basketball team will look a little different this year as they return to the court on Friday and Saturday to face the University of Lethbridge. The Bulldogs will return two starters, but lost five seniors: Brandon Brown, Kyle Erickson, Tyler Hurley, Bridger Chambers and Kyle Perry, each of whom averaged over 14 minutes per game.

Last season, the 20th-ranked Montana Western Bulldogs made it to the NAIA Division I national tournament for the third straight year. With their 25-10, 10-4 record, the Bulldogs were co-conference champions of the Frontier Conference and made it to the second round of the NAIA tournament, losing to eventual champion Concordia (Calif.).

Montana Western will most notably be missing first team All-Conference selections Brown, Erickson and Hurley.

For the past two seasons, Brown was honored as a first team NAIA Division I All-American, Frontier Conference Player of the Year and led the conference in both scoring and assists.

Erickson was named to the NAIA Division I All-American honorable mention team.

He was also one of seven players in NAIA Division I men’s basketball to be named the national player of the week during the season.

Hurley was second in scoring for the Bulldogs with 13.8 points per game and in rebounds with 5.7 per game.

Although fans will see many new faces on the floor, head coach and 2011-2012 Frontier Conference Coach of the Year Steve Keller is not worried.

“We are excited to start the season,” Keller stated. “This may be the best defensive team we have had.”

Last season, only seven players averaged more than 10 minutes per game. This year, however, Keller said “Depth will be our strength as we have 12 players who could see playing time.”

The Bulldogs will look to returning starters Jake Owsley and Tyler Miller to lead the way. Last season, Miller averaged 7.46 points, 4.23 rebounds and 1.11 assists in his 26.5 minutes per game. In Owsley’s 19 minutes per game, he averaged 5.21 points, 4.03 rebounds and 0.79 blocks.

“Both Jake and Tyler have improved immensely during the off-season,” Keller added.

Keller is expecting junior college transfers Maazin Butler and Kris Collins to carry some of the scoring load.

Butler, a 6-foot point guard from Tacoma, Wash., played the past two years at Butte College in Oroville, Calif. In the 2011-12 season, Butler averaged 14.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game. As a team captain, Butler led his team in scoring, steals and assists and was named to the Golden Valley all-conference team.

“Maazin can play both the point and 2-guard positions, is a very good three-point shooter and has the ability to get to the rim and finish,” Keller noted.

Collins, a 6-foot-1 guard from New Orleans, La., played the past two years at Reedley College in Reedley, Calif. in the Central Valley Conference (CVC). In the 2011-12 season, Collins was named to the All-CVC first team and averaged 12.2 points, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game.

“Kris is an outstanding three-point shooter as well as a great defender,” Keller stated. “He also has the ability to post up and score inside.”

To catch the 2012-2013 Montana Western Bulldogs in action, head to the Straugh Gymnasium on Friday, Oct. 12 and Saturday, Oct. 13 with the women starting the action at 5:30 pm followed by the men at 7:30 pm. On Saturday, game times will be at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

— Montana Western Sports Information