Arlee basketball coach Zanen Pitts knew he had something special in Tyler Tanner three years ago.

Trailing by double digits to Superior in the District 14-C championship basketball game’s waning minutes, Pitts called a timeout. The second-year head coach thought he was preparing his team for its first loss of the season. But…

“Tyler comes up to me, he’s a sophomore, and (says) ‘Not a chance. Don’t even worry about it, I’ll win this game,’” Pitts recalled.

From there Tanner took over. He hit three straight 3-pointers, going on a one-man scoring run that tied the game with just a few seconds remaining. Pitts called for another break.

“In the timeout, I said ‘Tyler, I know you have the hot hand, but they’re going to be coming at you. Let’s let Patrick (BigSam) hit the shot,’” Pitts said. “He was like, ‘OK that’s great! Whatever we have to do to win.’

“That’s him, that’s who Tyler is. He can stick the world on his shoulders and carry you and he can totally say, ‘I don’t need the glory,’ and he’ll give it to his teammate. … He’s a special person.”

It’s the same attitude and athletic ability Tanner demonstrated in his senior year, which was recognized by Missoulian readers as Prep Athlete of the Year worthy.

And truly, Tanner’s senior season may have been even better.

The soft-spoken Warrior was named all-state in both basketball and football, where he won the award as a first-year quarterback. It was a difficult call for head coach Todd Yocum to move his senior under center. Tanner was coming off an all-state junior season at wide receiver.

But in Class C 8-man football, it’s best to keep the ball in the most talented hands.

“(Tanner playing quarterback) was everything for us,” Yocum said. “Tyler hadn’t played quarterback since junior high and we knew we were asking a lot of him to do that. It did hurt his personal accolades a little bit, but he did it for the team and he just did an outstanding job.

It was another example of Tanner’s standout play through selflessness.

“We lost seven starters in football and with our town, he could have easily not played football, just concentrated on basketball, and nobody would have said a word," Yocum said. "… He’s such a committed kid, and he’s a great student, great leader and a hard worker.”

The Warriors went 5-3 overall, just missing the playoffs by a tiebreaker.

Tanner, who was also named team MVP at the Cleverley 8-Man All-Star Game earlier this month, would more than make up for the heartbreaking football season in basketball.

The senior guard, who will continue his basketball career at Dawson Community College next year, was part of what coach Pitts called a “three-headed monster.” Junior teammates Will Mesteth and Phillip Malatare were named to the all-state team, too, with Malatare garnering press for near (and actual) quadruple-double performances.

While Malatare may have grabbed more headlines, Tanner -- who made his third-straight all-state team -- was nearly as scary statistically. The senior averaged 19.5 points per game and over six rebounds. He also doled out 2.7 assists per game and forced more steals (3.7) than he had turnovers (2.7) each time out, according to Arlee’s Maxpreps.com page.

Tanner capped his senior season with the Class C state tournament MVP and, oh yeah, Arlee’s first-ever boys’ state basketball title.

“He can really just take over a game quietly,” Pitts said. “We called him our rock, our foundation.”

He was Arlee’s silent leader and now he’s the Missoulian’s Male Prep Athlete of the Year.

Kyle Houghtaling can be reached by email at kyle.houghtaling@missoulian.com or on Twitter at @khotel.

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