MISSOULA — Jay Flores liked the intensity he was seeing from freshman Kelby Kramer.
The Montana men’s basketball assistant coach ran through drills with the redshirting center after the team’s Dec. 13 practice at Dahlberg Arena. They worked on passing through the paint and stepping past imaginary defenders. They then moved to pump fakes and hook shots.
“Have some imagination,” Flores exclaimed during the session of hook shots. “This is where you can have some personality in your game.”
After they both worked up a sweat, they closed the 15-minute individual workout by Kramer setting screens and then rolling to the basket.
“Yes, that’s big time,” Flores yelled with excitement after Kramer collected a pass and finished with a dunk.
Flores, who is in his second year with the program, is known for his energy and positive outlook. That’s how the first-year Griz assistant coach is able to try to get the most out of players while coaching out of position, balance the duties of two jobs and work on earning his master’s degree during the season.
And he does it without any sort of coffee or energy drinks. Water does the job.
“Before I started coaching, I had an internship at a desk job where I worked 9-5,” Flores said. “There was one day, because I can’t sit and punch numbers in all day, so I almost fell asleep that day at work. I tried to have a sip of coffee that day, but it was just disgusting. The main thing I try to do to have energy is work out, get my blood pumping.”
Before coming to Montana, Flores was a conference MVP guard at Division II Chico State, where Griz associate head coach Chris Cobb was an assistant coach. After one year playing in a Mexican league, he coached guards for three seasons as an assistant coach at Cal State East Bay.
He now has a different challenge at Montana coaching the post players. He spent the 2016-17 season as the director of basketball operations, and in what was essentially a redshirt year, he learned how head coach Travis DeCuire wants his forwards and centers to play.
“My two favorite things are basketball and relationships,” Flores said. “When I can combine both of them, I get excited most days to come into practice and try to get people going.
“Some days as a player, it’s hard to come back from a game and get yourself going in practice. If I can get one player going every day, I feel like I did a good job as a coach.”
Players rave about Flores’ liveliness and intensity on the court. It’s the niche he’s carved out among the coaching staff.
“He’s determined every day in practice to have the most energy, be the most positive. It really is contagious,” senior forward Fabijan Krslovic said. “He’s not afraid to challenge guys if they’re flat or faking it.”
Added forward Jamar Akoh: “His energy is contagious, gets us going. I do a lot of skill work with him one on one. He helps me with little things you can’t see, like my footwork and my jab game. He grinds and knows what he’s talking about.”
As the director of operations last season, Flores wasn’t even allowed to touch a basketball during practices. In the administrative role, he oversaw players’ academics, arranged travel plans and worked camps.
“Energy and optimism stand out the most,” DeCuire said. “You see it in camp with the kids. You see it with our team. He hammers academics, which is a great attitude to have. Very impactful to the program.”
When DeCuire promoted Flores on July 25 to replace Marlon Stewart, who left for a position at Hawaii, and decided to not hire a new director of operations, Flores became responsible for the duties of both positions. He gets some help from Griz head student manager Jesse Bartels on travel.
This year, he’s able to coach players in practice, work with them one on one, watch film with players, put together scouts of opposing teams and go on recruiting trips. Although he didn’t put together the scout for the game against Pitt, being on the bench for the win has been a top moment.
“That was phenomenal,” Flores said. “When we got the 10-second call, I felt that was one of the top 10 worst moments of my life. Then we scrapped after we had the game won and blew it. We were resilient.
“When I was a kid, I always dreamt about going to Duke, so to be in the (ACC) conference getting a road win, it was a very unique feeling that I’ll take with me forever.”
While all coaches have some academic duties, he runs study halls with former Griz player Brandon Gfeller. He also does class checks, writes out lists of the players’ upcoming assignments and reviews their assignment schedules with them.
“I’ll always do academics because I feel that’s one of the most important aspects of my job to be able to help these guys academically,” Flores said. “It’s a huge way to show them that I care when I’m on them.”
When Flores was hired as the director of basketball operations on June 30, 2016, he put his own coursework on hold. He also was busy with getting married about a month later in August.
He had started working on getting a master’s degree in kinesiology from Fresno Pacific University in May 2016, picked it up this past January and finished his last class paper in the days after the extra workout session with Kramer. He has one final test to take in May.
“Everybody told me if you get a physical education degree, it will open up more doors, so I did it,” Flores said. “And I also did it because of all my sisters.
“My oldest sister is a doctor; she’s an emergency-room medicine doctor. My other older sister got her master's and teaching credential, and she teaches first grade in Sacramento. My younger sister just finished physical therapy school at Boston U.
“All of them are way smarter than me, so I felt like I had to get some type of degree to try to keep up.”
But for most of the Griz players, it’s all about keeping up with Flores.
“If the hardest thing I have to do every day is to get excited to coach basketball,” he said, “I’m living a pretty good life.”