BILLINGS — Mike Chavez attended the All-American Indian Shootout as a guest speaker a year ago, and he felt an itch.
The former high school basketball star and University of Montana player watched a bunch of boys and girls basketball teams, including Northern Cheyenne, run up and down the court at MetraPark from Dec. 6-8, 2018.
“Being in that environment last year and not coaching motivated me to coach again,” Chavez told 406mtsports.com on Saturday.
Chavez, 36, scratched that itch this fall, when he was hired as athletic director and boys basketball coach at Northern Cheyenne. He and the Eagles began their season this weekend at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark for the seventh annual Shootout.
“I’m always excited when it comes to working with kids,” Chavez said. “To see the excitement on their faces when it’s a game situation and we’ve got a chance to win, it makes it all worth it.
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“The community gets more excited than the kids do come basketball season, so that keeps me motivated, keeps me happy.”
Chavez won State C championships with Heart Butte in 2000 and 2001 and another with Class A Browning a year later. He went on to Montana, where he played limited minutes in a three-year career marred by off-court issues, such as a 2003 suspension after he was charged with a DUI. He talked about overcoming battles with alcohol during his speech at last year’s Shootout.
Chavez’s playing career continued in the since-shuttered Continental Basketball Association and in a Mexican pro league.
After that, Chavez coached St. Charles Mission School, Little Big Horn College and Northern Cheyenne.
He was also Northern Cheyenne’s AD and boys basketball coach during his first stint, which lasted from 2013-2015. He stepped down because he was “trying to do different things” and “trying to settle down,” he said.
In the four years since, Chavez has remained on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, mostly working odd jobs. He and other former UM basketball players spent part of last year working with athletes in El Salvador as part of a U.S. State Department sports diplomacy program.
Motivated in part by last year’s Shootout, Chavez reached out to connections hoping to land a coaching job. Northern Cheyenne came through once again — he replaced Melvin Mitchell as AD and Thomas Crazymule as boys basketball coach. He currently lives in Ashland but is in the process of moving to Busby.
Chavez’s main goal as AD is to motivate more children to attend Northern Cheyenne and play sports. He wants to make the community proud.
Chavez, who is Northern Cheyenne and Crow, doesn’t know how long this run with Northern Cheyenne will last, but he knows he needs time to turn the boys basketball team around. The Eagles won three games last season and were blown out in many of their losses. They went 0-2 at this weekend’s Shootout, with a 103-41 loss to Lame Deer on Saturday.
“(When) you come to a program that hasn’t had a lot of winning in the last couple years, it’s a lot easier to mold than to step into a program that’s been running like a well-oiled machine for some years,” Chavez said. “It takes patience.”
Success is an issue Chavez can worry more about in the future. For now, he’s happy he gets to be more than a speaker or spectator when he steps onto a basketball court.
Email Victor Flores at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @VictorFlores_BG