BUTTE -- The name “Selvig” and basketball go hand-in-hand in the state of Montana.
It’s a name that’s become synonymous over the years with the University of Montana basketball program, and basketball in general.
It's a name that made its way to Butte this winter.
When first-year Montana Tech men’s basketball coach Adam Hiatt was looking for an assistant coach, the name Selvig popped up. It belonged to Derek Selvig.
“I wanted someone with either previous experience at the collegiate level or previous playing experience in college and overseas,” Hiatt said. “That was number one. Number two was, because I’m not a Montana resident, I wanted to be able to have somebody who was connected in Montana to be able to get me in front of the right people. Those were the two big criteria. So when I got hired, I called numerous coaching friends and put that out there. I got hit up by a number of really prestigious Montana coaches that said, ‘You should interview him.’ ”
In his first year as an assistant coach, Selvig seems to have been the transition from player to coach without any difficulties.
Selvig’s lineage is connected to several Montana basketball greats. His parents played at the University of Montana and his dad’s sister was a Lady Griz player. The 7-footer’s sister Carly and his cousin Jordan Sullivan also suited up for the Montana women.
But the most well-known Selvig in the Treasure State is his Derek's uncle, Robin, who coached the Lady Griz for 38 seasons. Robin ended his coaching career with an 865-286 record, which is the 15th highest win total in women’s college hoops. He had 36 winning seasons, won 24 conference championships and made 21 NCAA appearances.
The basketball genes were passed down to Derek, who excelled on the court. The Glendive product spent his early years in a gym as his father coached at Dawson County High School. When he finally hit high school, Derek blossomed.
During his junior and senior seasons in high school, his teams built a combined record of 44-4. The Red Devils reached the Class A state tournament all four years that he was on the team, and he was named Montana's Gatorade Player of the Year after his senior season. Even though recruiters from out-of-state schools lined up at his front door, he chose to stay in state and became a Grizzly.
The power forward helped lead the Grizzlies to back-to-back NCAA appearances and finished his career with 844 points and 560 rebounds. Derek shot 40 percent for his career from beyond the 3-point arc.
After his senior season at Montana, Derek faced a problem familiar to many college athletes: What now? He decided to continue his career playing in Gotha, Germany. He played for the Oettinger Rockets from 2012-14.
“It was definitely a culture shock when I first went over there,” Derek recalled. “It was the first time being a long way from home. Basketball-wise the game was different and the rules were a little different. The shot clock was 10 seconds faster. The 3-point line was a little a farther back, but overall I had a really good time playing over there.”
Language was a major barrier for Selvig. He said since he was in eastern Germany, not everyone spoke English as he had expected. After a lot of time spent listening and practicing, he finally got to the point where he could order in German in restaurants and understand slow speakers.
Derek didn’t travel as much as he had hoped but he did play in the Czech Republic and Japan. After spending two seasons playing overseas, he wasn't getting as much playing time as he had hoped for. He signed a contract to play in Denmark, but before he could get there, he was told that there wasn’t enough money to pay him.
That's when he figured it was time to hang up his jersey and start exploring his options.
“That was tough,” he said. “I have a lot of friends who still play. That was kind of my identity for a long time. I saw myself as a basketball player. When that’s gone you try to look to see what’s next in life.”
He came back to Montana and dipped his toe into the world of coaching. Derek spent half of last season as an assistant coach with the Billings West boys’ basketball team.
When Hiatt arrived in Butte last spring, Derek's name was almost immediately thrown into the candidate pool of assistants. From Day 1, Hiatt could tell he was sharp and had a solid basketball IQ.
“He’s a big name in the state obviously,” Hiatt said. “He’s just so eager to learn. He’s a grinder and that’s really what you’re looking for. You don’t want an assistant that sits there and waits to be told what to do. You want assistants who try to be proactive and one step ahead. He possesses all those attributes.”
The Orediggers grabbed six wins in the preseason, but hit a bumpy road once they began Frontier Conference play. Montana Tech went 0-8 in its first conference run but the team was showing constant improvement.
The pieces finally started to fall into place on Jan. 21.
Hiatt, Selvig and the rest of the Orediggers nabbed their first conference win, a 65-59 triumph over the University of Great Falls. The win “broke the ice,” Derek said, but the Orediggers have yet to grab another conference victory.
But this is a year about learning and restructuring for the ‘Diggers. Derek said he’s enjoyed working with the players, and Hiatt said they have responded well to the assistant coach. One of the hardest tasks for Derek has been learning how to communicate his message to different players.
Recruiting has also been a new experience.
“Calling kids and doing that type of thing — the more you do it the easier it gets,” he explained. “That’s the biggest thing, just trying to build that relationship. You don’t know the kid. That’s what people don’t quite understand about college basketball. It starts when they’re sophomores and juniors and you’re talking to them all the time."
Even though Derek has a pool of legendary coaching talent in the family, he said he hasn’t reached out for advice nor has he been given any. He said his family has been supportive, but doesn’t “try to force their opinions” on each other. Instead, he’s picked the brain of Hiatt.
Derek is sticking with an age-old coaching mantra: Take it one game at a time.
“We don’t look to far down the road,” he said. “We just want to take it game by game and see where we end up in the end.”