MISSOULA — The Montana men's basketball team will officially open practices next Wednesday, Sept. 25, to start the 2019-20 campaign.
But before this season even starts, the Grizzlies got an early gift with oral commitments from two California guards from the Class of 2020.
Brandon Whitney and Robby Beasley III made their commitments public within five days of one another recently. Whitney made his announcement over Twitter on Sept. 8 and Beasley followed on Sept. 13.
The pair took a visit together at the beginning of the month, liked what they saw, and decided to give the Grizzlies their commitment.
"The first thing I noticed was the people," Whitney said. "It's like a family and they're all together and the environment is beautiful. That and I also feel like the coaching staff believes in me a lot."
"You don't go anywhere without seeing people in maroon," Beasley added. "It just feels like everybody is invested in the school. You don't really get that feeling in the big cities and I really liked that. I'm completely sold on college towns."
Whitney is in his senior year at Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills, California. Listed as a two-star point guard at 6-foot-1, 165 pounds, he was drawn to how Missoula wraps itself around UM.
He and Beasley attended UM's home football game against North Alabama. Both Whitney and Beasley visited Montana from Sept. 5-8.
Though he'd never been to Montana, Whitney had a connection with the Griz with fellow Southern California natives and future teammates in true freshman Kyle Owens and redshirt freshman Eddy Egun. Whitney said he has played against the two; they were friends through basketball and all worked out with the same trainer in high school.
Whitney said he is familiar with Griz history, thanks to meeting the coaches. The summer entering his junior year was when UM assistant coach Jay Flores got in contact with Whitney and gave him a simple message.
"The first thing he told me was, 'Nobody will recruit you harder than me'," Whitney said. "And he stuck to his word so that was also something that stood out."
That summer was also when Montana offered Whitney a scholarship. He also had an offer to play at Cal State Northridge and was receiving interest from Southern Utah as well.
Whitney said he plans on studying business, specifically, marketing.
Whitney said his strengths include getting into the paint and finishing around the rim. He also looks to create for his teammates as well. Whitney's scoring ability was on full-display this summer when he scored 39 points in a summer tournament game.
He said he wants to improve his 3-point game. He's confident shooting from there, he said, but wants to find more consistency.
"I've always wanted to play Division I basketball ever since I was little," Whitney said. "It was amazing. I was excited and pumped (about the offer).
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"It was really cool (to visit with Robby). We bonded together pretty well so I'm excited."
Beasley has been on Montana's radar for some time. As a freshman at Dublin High School in Dublin, California, he was a teammate of current Griz Timmy Falls, a senior.
Beasley said associate head coach Chris Cobb was at an open gym and pulled him aside to let him know they were after him as well.
Not long after, the Grizzlies offered Beasley as a freshman. His commitment brings a relationship four years in the making full-circle.
"I really loved the environment," Beasley said of UM. "I could see myself spending the next four years there and I really loved the coaching staff. They really welcomed me and had a role for me from the start and I appreciate that and the honesty.
"They've been recruiting me for about four years, the longest anybody recruited me, so I had a really strong relationship with them so I felt most comfortable committing there."
Beasley, a 6-3, 160-pound guard, is listed as a three-star recruit by recruiting website rivals.com and ESPN. He chose Montana over offers from Nevada and San Francisco.
The early interest inspired Beasley to prove the confidence was merited.
"They showed that they believed in me and had faith in me that I can really do something there," Beasley said.
Beasley spent three season at Dublin but will play his senior year at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon. Dublin won 80 of 97 games with Beasley, according the San Jose Mercury-News, and he averaged 17.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game as a junior. In total at Dublin, he averaged 17.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
Beasley watched Montana make the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons. The way head coach Travis DeCuire has steered the program back to the top of the Big Sky Conference and the player buy-in stood out to Beasley.
Beasley said he's confident on offense, whether it's distributing or knocking down shots. He wants to get stronger and says he is focusing on making defensive improvements.
And though he's been a standout from a young age, Beasley wants to grow in a key area even more in his final high school season.
"I just want to be a leader and I want to lead my team," he said. "Timmy was a great leader and he led us to a lot of wins. I need to do my duty and I think I need to prove myself a little more. I need to fill that role to show the next level I'm ready."
Whitney and Beasley join Australian duo Josh Bannan (6-8, forward) and Hunter Clarke (6-5, guard) as Montana's known Class of 2020 commits.