MISSOULA — Pass first.
In a nutshell, that is Montana true freshman Josh Vazquez’s game. It is also one of the reasons Grizzlies head coach Travis DeCuire zeroed in on the Torrance, California, native as he came out of high school.
DeCuire saw him as a pure point guard, a playing style that has become rarer, especially in the United States.
“There just aren’t that many pure point guards out there anymore,” DeCuire said. “That’s important for me to have. His ability to create for others and make shots and the fact that he comes from a winning program is always a big thing.”
Bishop Montgomery knows a thing or two about winning. The school, which plays in California’s highest classification, has four state titles, with its last coming in the 2016-17 season. Vazquez was a sophomore on that squad and a major contributor during his final two seasons with the Knights.
His junior year, in fact, he averaged 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
And Vazquez has just about seen it all, as he played against some of the best prep products in the nation during his years with Bishop Montgomery.
“(It) prepared me a lot, especially on the defensive side, the concepts are somewhat the same,” Vazquez said. “So I’m kind of like in the spots I’m supposed to be, it’s not that much I have to learn, it’s more just getting used to where I have to be and in what situations.”
Defense is one of the places where the freshman feels he has improved the most over the first few months on the team and could be a key to carving out some playing time. It’s an area he prides himself on and along with his shooting could give opposing teams headaches from the point guard spot this season.
Having a strong 3-point stroke would help provide spacing for the offense and allow him to find teammates when defenders come out on him. More than anything, he knows what will get him on the court this year.
“Two goals I have right now, I really don’t want to turn the ball over because that’s one of my pet peeves,” Vazquez said. “I just hate it and it gives me that eerie feeling. And then I also want to defend. I want to make sure I’m able to be in front of my man and not be that defensive person that lacks on the court.”
His poise has already impressed his teammates and his passing has too. During practices and scrimmages the flashes of high-level passing are there and as he builds more on-court chemistry with the rest of the Grizzlies, that’s only going to improve.
“He sees a lot. He sees the floor very well for being young,” senior guard Sayeed Pridgett said. “He kinda sees the plays before they happen … he knows where we’re going to be at on the court. He knows guys' tendencies, he knows where guys want to get the ball at.”
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Freshmen will see the court this year for the Grizzlies and Vazquez very well could find himself in the mix for a starting spot.
“There’s going to be plenty of opportunities for him to be on the floor, his maturity is going to determine how many minutes that is and how often that is and what that role is,” DeCuire said.
"He’s getting better every day … he’s played at a high level and our expectations are high for him.”
Falls back, Samuelson not
Junior guard Timmy Falls is back on the court after injuring his right hand during the offseason.
He did not playing during the Maroon-Silver scrimmage, but has been back practicing since, DeCuire said. He has been full-go in practice for several days and will be available to play in Montana’s season-opener against Stanford on Nov. 6.
Rocky Mountain College transfer Jared Samuelson, however, has not been cleared to practice fully with the team. DeCuire said he is, "a little ways away," but Samuelson was shooting and had worked up a sweat at Thursday’s practice.
No update on Naseem
Redshirt freshman Naseem Gaskin still has not heard one way or another from the NCAA as far as his transfer waiver goes.
Redshirting at the University of Utah a year ago, Montana filed for a waiver over the offseason and Gaskin is in a similar position as Kendal Manuel last year. Manuel’s was a medical hardship waiver, so the circumstances are slightly different, but the coaching staff will not be shocked if the exception is accepted or denied.
Manuel did not find out he could play last year until the night before the Grizzlies’ opener.
“When you take transfers, you have to be prepared for transfers to not play,” DeCuire said. “So you can’t take a kid and bank on him being a part of your team the following season and then build everything for that and get denied, because you wasted 30 practices preparing your team.
"So with transfers, you’ve just got to be prepared for them to sit and if you get a last-minute phone call to add them to the roster you do that.”