MISSOULA — The late Delvon Anderson played two short but meaningful years in the Montana men’s basketball program in the early 1990s.
The 6-foot-3 transfer from City College of San Francisco helped Montana reach back-to-back NCAA tournaments under two different coaches in the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons. He was the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year his senior season and helped lead Montana to its first conference title since 1974-75 during his junior season.
His name remains in the UM record book for most steals in a single game when he came up with 10 — to go with 11 points and 13 rebounds — in a Nov. 15, 1990, game against Simon Fraser.
There’s of course his heralded performance in a 1991-92 win against Pepperdine, when he hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds to force the first of three overtimes. Teammates Travis DeCuire and Roger Fasting both said the pass was supposed to go to Fasting, but DeCuire changed it up.
“We came out of that timeout, and I looked at Delvon, and I said, ‘I’m coming to you,’” DeCuire said. “He said, ‘You better.’ He set the screen for Roger, Roger came off the top and everyone in the gym thought Roger was getting the shot, so defensively Pepperdine reacted to Roger anyway, and Delvon stepped to the corner wide open and I don’t think anyone on the team questioned whether he would make that shot or not.”
His teammates also highlighted his performance in helping the Griz complete a comeback win over Nevada in the 1992 Big Sky tournament championship game to help them earn their second straight NCAA tournament berth.
Anderson left Montana without a degree and had a failed tryout with the Golden State Warriors. He took multiple jobs in public service while playing in area amateur leagues instead of trying out overseas. He earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2007 and later earned a master’s degree in public administration.
Former teammates and coaches share some memories and lesser-known stories about Anderson, who died on Aug. 30 and would have turned 47 years old Oct. 7.
Delvon on the court
Travis DeCuire (Montana guard from 1990-94): We were at Nevada in 1992, and Delvon had about 25, 30 people drive from San Francisco and northern California to see the game. I’ll never forget because we all gave him our tickets for the game. We weren’t playing very well that night. They made every shot they took, it felt like. He would not give up. He just kept competing like we could win the game. I mean, we’re down big. It’s just totally impossible for us to come back. They’re chirping at us a little bit, and you could just see Delvon, there was no way he was going to let them embarrass him in front of his family.
We had an inbounds play that’d we run where we’d run shooters to the corners, and the counter was that Delvon would fake to the corner and cut to the basket. We hadn’t really executed that really well to this point, so I don’t know that they were prepared for that. We called that play, and Delvon fakes outside and cuts to the rim and gets a bounce pass in front of the rim, and they have two bigs, 6-8, 6-9, and he goes up off two feet and stretches out. He’s only 6-3, and he doesn’t test at 40 inches on the vertical. He just kept going and going. The two defenders are stretched out and he goes over the top of them and dunks on them and just quiets the gym. You can just hear his family go nuts.
It carried over into a win at home against Idaho and then a tough win at home against Nevada the second time we played them. I honestly believe that that play launched us into the run to win the championship. I think that the team at one point felt that we couldn’t beat Nevada because of the way that they performed against us that day. If something spectacular doesn’t happen in the last two, three minutes of that game, we might be in the locker room hanging our heads thinking it’s not our year. I think that possession led us to a conference title.
Roger Fasting (Montana guard from 1986-92): I remember he came in as a transfer a little early in the summer, and we would go to Bonner Park pretty much every night during the summer and play pickup games. For basketball players in those days, that was just so much fun because it was basketball at its purest level. It was always four on four, and the winner would stay on. He was the new guy coming in and was hard to beat. He came in and really tried to be a leader by example. He wasn’t initially very vocal. He came in and played extremely hard, was a great teammate and led by example. He played with such effort and unselfishness. He wasn’t worried about anything other than winning. We saw that in the summer when we were playing in the park and it continued on for the next two years.
Matt Kempfert (Montana forward 1990-95): It may have been his first game as a Grizzly when Delvon had something like seven steals and just seemed to elevate everyone’s play. Everyone watching that game immediately knew we had something special in him and in that team. Those who watched Delvon play or were lucky enough to play beside him will remember his intensity and just how aggressive he was in all aspects of the game. Every day, every play.
Daren Engellant (Montana center 1988-92): He was one of our spiritual leaders on the court. I always considered him the golden spike that got us over the top. We had some great players when he came in, but he took us over the top. He gave you so much hustle. His heart, his desire to win ballgames was unprecedented with the hustle plays he gave you. Every game he suited up for we were going to get something out of him.
Blaine Taylor (Montana assistant coach 1981-83, 86-91 and head coach 1991-98), to the Missoulian on Aug. 31, 2017: We’re in a tight ballgame (against Idaho State in 1991-92) and the chips are down late in the game. His finger is out of joint; it’s dislocated. We’re standing there (by the bench), and all the guys look down and go, “Ew, look at that.” He stands there in front of us and grabs it and absolutely jacks it right back into joint. Kind of shakes his hand and says, “Well, what do you got to do now, coach?” Everybody goes, “Well, I guess we better go win the game.”
DeCuire: We’re playing Idaho the same year we won the championship here at home. Orlando Lightfoot’s a pretty good player but was doing some things to Daren Engellant that you can’t get away with. (Engellant: There was a skirmish, but I don’t remember over what.) It’s kind of working because he’s backing our bigs off a little bit. Delvon wasn’t going to have it, so Delvon starts doing it to him. I don’t know if the officials saw it or they just let it go. This is the 90s, so maybe they just let us play it out. But Delvon did it to him all the way down the floor to our end offensively. I’ll never forget from that point the rest of the game he took Orlando completely out of the game and took over the game himself.
That’s when you talk about toughness and heart and brotherhood. He wasn’t going to let anyone do anything to his teammates, whether it was on the floor, in the community, or in the classroom. You couldn’t say anything or do anything to anyone around him that he didn’t think was right. He wasn’t going to let it happen, and he was going to take the bullet for it 100 percent of the time. A lot of people never understood that. If you had a chance to get to know him, you’d figure out that he was protecting everyone around him.
To me, that’s how you define Delvon Anderson, is he cared and would do anything in his power to help the next person be successful, even if it meant he wouldn’t be. I honestly believe that that is what ended his playing career is that he was so busy taking care of other people that he never really made the decision to take care of himself first. It was always second. I think it’s why he was happy. I think it made him happy. And I think he enjoyed that. But I think there were some things out there for him that he never went after because of that. I respect that because there aren't many people that would do that.
Delvon off the court
Roger Fasting (Montana guard from 1986-92): He has that sort of blue-collar work ethic, be a good teammate, never criticize, lift people up, and do everything you can. That’s really how he was off the court as well. It was a direct correlation to his style of basketball was his style in life. Nice person, positive outlook and optimistic, glass-half-full outlook on everything. That translated into friendships. He was one of those people that sometimes you’re around people and you feel drained. But Delvon was a person when you’d spend time around him on and off the court, you felt energized.
Kempfert: I remember watching him tip toe around the ice when we took him ice fishing. He made us keep every little fish we caught so he could make perch sandwiches, which were disgusting.
Nate Covill (Montana 1991-96): When you think of off-the-court memories of Delvon you think of barbecues, watching football games. Those moments where you get to know each other and where they’re from are the most important parts about being a team. It was just spending the time together. We were always good for a barbecue for sure, whether in the dorms or somebody else’s house.
Locker room was always my favorite time. A lot of joking to get the team to come together as a group, but what’s going to stand out forever in my mind about Delvon is when he was on the court you were his teammate and brother, and if you were his teammate and brother, he wanted you to be the best version of yourself you could be.
Engellant: After our senior year, five of us seniors played some independent tournaments. There were no coaches, so we had to feel each other out. I think we actually won the Wayne Estes tournament and Western Invitational Tournament. This was April 1992, two or three weeks after we lost to Florida State in the NCAA tournament, and I think the Final Four was going on at the time. We were finished with our NCAA careers, so we’re basically professionals, and I think the tournaments also had prize money. It was Delvon, Roger Fasting, Nate Atchison, Keith Crawford and myself. We actually ran some of our own Griz plays.
DeCuire: I remember one time we were on our way driving back from Seattle in the snow. It’s a race against time because if we don’t get there, we’re going to miss practice, and we can’t do that. Blaine doesn’t play that. He’d have us run the M in the snow. We’re trying to get back. It’s dark, and my car isn’t in the best shape. We’ve got one headlight, no windshield wipers, no snow tires and no chains. We’re creeping down the mountain.
As you leave Idaho going into Montana, there’s a sign that says “Welcome to Montana.” Every time I see the sign I remember this moment. This time Don Hedge is with us, and Don Hedge is in his first year with us. He’s a junior college transfer out of Oklahoma who also became very close with this group. Delvon’s in the back. He had been in a very serious car accident a couple years prior that could have taken his life, so he didn’t like sticky situations in a vehicle.
We’re trying to make it, and Hedge is in the front seat with the squeegee keeping the snow off the windshield. We’re driving through the snow with the window open. I remember Delvon yelling at me to pull over. I’m like, “We have to get there.” So we’re arguing for like two hours of this ride. Eventually he convinces me to at least drive slow. It took us quite a while to get back. We made it for practice. Every couple of years he and I brought that story up. That was a moment we could laugh about.
Delvon the longtime friend
Fasting: He was one of those guys that once you did get into a conversation with him, it always went to a deep and philosophical level. They’d last for long periods of time. He was somebody that had a lot of wonderful ideas socially. I think being raised in San Francisco probably contributed to that. He had a broad way of thinking of things and a deep way of thinking of things.
We got together a couple of times in the past few years, once when Travis had us come back for that reunion when they played Boise State, and Delvon came down last year when Montana played at USC. That time just talking a lot about what life is about and what is most important about life, and that’s having family and friends and making sure that you’re socially conscious and that you’re aware of others and how important it is for people to get along.
Taylor: Two years ago Travis brought all those guys back from the 91, 92 years and they were honored at the game and we had a gathering at Edgewater. It was so interesting to see the guys in the room: principals, doctors, people that have done really good things with their lives. And Delvon was standing there with a master’s degree. He wasn't from some privileged upbringing. That collection, the melt that kind of makes the United States what it is, he represented that kind of melt with a kid from Glendive and a kid from Lambert and him from San Francisco. He had a magnetic competitive spirit.
Covill: He would always talk to anybody. It didn’t matter who you were; he would always have the time of day for you. We were going through a time we were really good, and a lot of people see us as athletes and not really people. I think Delvon was a lot deeper thinker than people gave him credit for in terms of how he approached life, how he saw things. Like today’s society how we’re going through racial issues and divides. Those are the things that he was always constantly aware of and how to bring people together and how to bring the awareness to the things that people are going through, whether it be racism or poverty. He knew what people were going through, and he had a conscious side about him that he wanted to make a change with that. I think that shows with his social work degree that he got. He was a people person. He wanted to help youth.
The things that he did to inspire me, it wasn’t just in our one year together. It was our continued friendship through the last 20 years. Most recently, he inspired me to continue pursuing my dream of coaching college basketball. Just the process of becoming a college coach, and I have two kids, so it’s a difficult time to make a transition. Delvon always inspired you: It’s not too late, go out and pursue it. Those are the things I’ll always remember. He always inspired you to do more than you wanted to do or than you thought you could do.
DeCuire: A guy like him, he’s like a magnet. He’s easy to develop a strong relationship with. There was a group of us, some out-of-state kids, and a couple in-state kids. It was a big recruiting class that came in together, and we were all pretty close. Delvon and I always stayed in touch, and our relationship just kind continued to grow after basketball, after college. He had more heart than anyone I’ve ever played with, coached, experienced as a basketball player. He as an individual represented a will to win on the court and off the court. His fight was contagious.