Montana men’s basketball coach Wayne Tinkle unveiled what could be his backcourt of the future Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period.
Mario Dunn Jr., a point guard from Richmond, Calif., and Brandon Gfeller, a shooting guard from Colfax, Wash., signed national letters of intent to play basketball for the Griz beginning next season.
The 6-foot Dunn helped lead Salesian High School to a 34-2 record and a California state championship last season. The powerhouse team coached by Bill Mellis also includes Jabari Bird, a Cal recruit, and Markel Leonard, who has committed to Cal Poly.
“He’s very, very good with the ball,” Tinkle said of Dunn. “He’s a great ballhandler, creator, super athletic. He’s real, real shifty with the ball; he can get wherever he wants to get with the ball. And he’s a pretty darn good shooter with great court vision.”
Dunn played in the same AAU program – the Oakland Soldiers – as Griz senior point guard Will Cherry.
“I’m sure the fact that another Bay Area guy has come up here and had success certainly helped,” Tinkle said. “The No. 1 AAU team in country is the Oakland Soldiers and he was their starting point guard. He’s very experienced and has played in some high level basketball games both as a high school player and on the AAU circuit.”
“Coach Mellis has done a great job with that Salesian program,” Tinkle said added. “He’s won a couple of state championships in the last few years, so obviously we know he’s been very well coached and prepared to go to the next level.”
Dunn reportedly also received offers from Santa Clara, Pacific, UC Irvine and UC Davis.
“I had a better experience and connected better with the players at Montana than at Irvine,” Dunn said of his decision to pick Montana. “And I think it’s a better opportunity.”
The 6-4 Gfeller (say JEE-feller) was Washington’s 2B player of the year last season after helping lead Colfax to its first state championship since 1979.
“He’s a typical Montana guard – tough, blue-collar, the family is farmers and ranchers,” Tinkle said of Gfeller, who averaged 18 points a game as a junior. “He has great length, probably a wing span of a 6-7 kid. He can really shoot it from deep; he really elevates and has a nice high release. We’ve identified him as probably one of the best shooters we’ve seen the last couple of summers.
“He’s kind of a wiry kid who knows he has to get in the weight room, but plays his tail off. He’s another great character kid from a super family who is chomping at the bit to get here.”
Gfeller said Montana was the best choice for him.
““It’s just a great place,” Gfeller said. “Great coaches, great tradition; they’ve had a lot of success. That’s why I wanted to come to Montana.”
Tinkle said the Griz have been able to upgrade the talent level of the players they’re recruiting and cast a little wider net due to their recent success.
“We’re able to maybe reach out a little further than those early years when it was predominantly the Northwest,” said Tinkle, who has taken the Griz to the NCAA tournament in two of the last three years. “Now we’re getting to Northern California and Southern California, and not just average players. You look at guys like Will (Cherry) and Kareem (Jamar) and Jake Wiley … and even big Andy (Martin). We’ve been able to raise bar with the level of talent with the success we’ve had. The kids have seen us play on ESPN.
“The hardest thing over the years has been getting them to come to Montana for a visit. We’ve always had a pretty good record once we get them on campus, because we have so many great things to offer here. Now we’re getting a little bit higher talent agreeing to come take a look and we’re able to get those guys here. The assistant coaches have identified the players to get us involved with, then when we get them up here we feel like what we have to offer helps close the deal.”
The Griz have one more scholarship to give and are expected to use it to recruit a post player.
Sports editor Bob Meseroll can be reached at 523-5265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.