MISSOULA — The New Year is seen as a chance to start over, make resolutions or try something new.
This particular year also brings new flights out of Missoula International Airport — and the flight pattern behind the Garden City and Texas could impact how the Montana men’s basketball team goes about recruiting players.
American Airlines will offer year-round daily direct flights to Dallas/Fort Worth and seasonal daily flights to Chicago during the summer. The nonstop flights to and from both destinations will begin on June 7.
“Texas is a two-day trip for us with layovers, so you’re going to miss a practice, maybe two practices going back and forth,” Griz head coach Travis DeCuire told 406mtsports.com. “You’ve got to work around it, and for me, I can’t go.
“But if I had a direct flight, I could get there tonight, catch him after school, see a game, get up in the morning, see him before school and get back. Right now, it’s just difficult. It opens some doors for sure. It’s why Weber State can recruit those kids (from Dallas or Chicago) with direct flights out of Salt Lake.”
Texas has been an under-recruited area for the Griz. Freshman forward Karl Nicholas is the first-ever Montana player from the state.
Nicholas was rated as the No. 17 prospect in the state of Texas, but the Griz didn’t find him there. He was discovered by the coaching staff when they saw him at a tournament in California, one of their main recruiting grounds.
There are 30 high school players in Texas’ class of 2018 rated as three stars or higher, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. There are 53 in California and nine in Washington, Montana’s two big recruiting areas. For 2019, there are currently 19 such players in Texas, 22 in California and four in Washington. There are zero in Montana for both years.
DeCuire recruited Dallas when he was an assistant coach at Cal. He also tried to get talent from other parts of Texas as well as Chicago when he was an assistant at Old Dominion.
“We weren’t successful recruiting out of there,” DeCuire said. “It was hard. The kids we were going after, they had to say ‘No’ to a lot of schools to get to us because of the level of kids. At that time, Conference USA and the Atlantic 10 were sending four, five teams to the (NCAA) tournament. When you’ve got three or four teams in those conferences in those regions that are top 25 programs, it’s hard to get kids to skip them.
“The kids who are at our level, I think we could still have some access to them because there’s not a lot of Division I teams between us and Texas, us and Chicago that we wouldn’t be able to compete with at the mid-level at least.”
Dallas is the 13th non-stop destination with flights to and from Missoula. United Airlines has been operating seasonal summer flights to Chicago, and the addition of American Airlines could add more flexibility.
The seasonal flights to and from Chicago run from June 7 through Aug. 20. During that timeframe, the recruiting calendar includes quiet periods, dead periods and evaluation periods.
During the summer, coaches have more free time to recruit and players can be seen competing on the AAU circuit against other top-talent players.
“(Dallas and Chicago) are areas everyone would like to recruit,” DeCuire said. “Chicago has a lot of talent and makes sense for us because the weather and climate is similar.
“Anytime you have direct flights to places like that, it increases your accessibility to kids, their accessibility to you. Whether it’s our ability to get to them or it shortens the time of travel for them to get here for visits, for parents to come see them play or for them to go home at holidays; it makes them feel as if they can make those things happen.
“They might not go home more often than they would if there weren’t direct flights, but at least they think they could. When you think you can get somewhere when you need to get there, you feel a lot better about the transition.”