DES MOINES, Iowa — Not every member of Montana’s men’s basketball team will step on the court Thursday when the No. 15 Grizzlies take on No. 2 Michigan at approximately 7:20 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
With a seven-, sometimes eight-man rotation, a few guys toward the end of the bench most likely won’t see the floor unless the game gets out of hand.
Anything could happen, but the contributions those guys bring are to add as much energy and support as possible. Its cliché and coach speak to emphasize their importance, but it really can help make a difference during a basketball game.
What makes March Madness fun is how often bench celebrations go viral.
Some of the lower seeds have a collection of players who come up with fun and unique celebrations in response to a huge play to get their teammates pumped up. The cameras are everywhere and always waiting for something to happen, and celebrations and viral moments are all part of the pageantry that comes with the NCAA tournament.
Montana has a strong bench crew that is loud and animated throughout the game already. So, do they have anything planned to hype things up?
“We’ll think about it on the road, but I’ve got a few in mind,” freshman Eddy Egun said with a smile. “You guys have to stay tuned to see it.”
Egun is redshirting this season but after watching him in practice, Griz fans are in for a fun player once he’s able to suit up. He along with fellow freshmen Freddy Brown III, Ben Carter and redshirt freshman Kelby Kramer make up the bulk of the bench mob as the guys who travel with the team on road trips and everything.
“We got to get something going,” Kramer added with a laugh. “We’re going to be very excited. It’s going to be high-energy. The whole nation is going to be watching.”
In home games, Montana’s bench crew gets even larger when junior Tony Miller, redshirt freshman Peter Jones and newly acquired transfer freshman Yagizhan Selcuk joins in on the fun. Even though he sees minutes more frequently now, freshman Mack Anderson is as big a part of that group as anyone.
Egun, who hails from Woodland Hills, California, claims the title of “bench captain” something Kramer and Carter confirm.
“I feel like the bench energy is a pretty big factor as to why we win,” Egun said. “I feel like if you have no energy on the bench, our players won’t play as hard as they do. They’re always playing hard but the bench energy gives them a little boost and more energy and hype.
“I take pride in that, so I feel like as a leader on the bench I need to bring energy all of the time.”
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Egun and Co. are usually seen dancing and keeping things loose on the bench during the game. He and Brown are roommates, so they have that connection. Partnered with Carter and Kramer, the group can be quite boisterous and supportive rather than sulking on the bench wishing they were playing.
“I’ve talked to some of the players and they’ve said it really helps when we are energetic,” Carter said. “It helps them be better. They say it helps them. I’m just trying to win. Whatever they need, I’m there to do it.”
Joking around and cheering on teammates can be a difficult task too when you know you’re not going to play. A lot of the players who compete in Division I basketball were stars at their respective high schools and saw plenty of minutes. They joined a Montana team that was already deep and patience and waiting their turn was the transition. Not an easy one, but they’ve embraced it.
“I feel like it’s only fair for me to bring the same amount of energy I do on the court to the bench,” Egun said.
But by accepting their roles, Montana’s bench is experiencing its own goals becoming achieved by making it this far. Carter, from Adelaide, Australia, said it was always his dream to play in America, and playing in the NCAA Tournament was a goal.
Standing at 6-foot-10, 282 pounds with a beard and longer hair, Carter is hard to miss on the bench. He’s one of the loudest ones, flexing whenever someone makes a play and yelling as much as possible.
“For me it’s not too hard to do that kind of thing,” Carter said. “I like to be loud, I like to talk a lot especially on the bench. It’s just fun to do. It makes the game feel a lot more fun. The team and crowd loves it so whatever I need to do I’ll do it.”
Kramer is the vet of the group. He redshirted last season when Montana made the tournament and took on Michigan the first time. So while he’s joined in on the fun with the younger guys, he’s also provided a voice on what to expect for those who haven’t been before.
“It’s a special experience,” Kramer said. “You have to prepare for the game, but you also have to savor every moment. I think that’s something that coach (Travis) DeCuire has been parlaying to all of us. Enjoy it, but we’re here to get a win.”
For him, this time around he’s going to soak everything in a bit more.
“I’m trying to enjoy it a little more,” the Rock Springs, Wyoming, native said. “I’m going to really take the time to enjoy and focus on this. You only get this a few times in your career. For a mid-major like us, it’s incredible for us to do two consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Not many times I’ll be able to do this and it’ll be a fun experience to tell my grandkids.”
As Egun said, stay tuned. You never know what they’ll come up with.