MISSOULA — The college basketball season unofficially began on Tuesday when the Montana men's and women's basketball teams held their annual Maroon-Silver scrimmages at Dahlberg Arena.
The Lady Griz scrimmaged first followed by a 3-point contest between them and the men. After, the men held a dunk contest before taking the court for a 20-minute period to play.
As can be expected, the rust was there, but overall sixth-year head coach Travis DeCuire was pleased with what he saw from his team that sports plenty of new faces.
"You want guys to get the jitters out a little bit," DeCuire said. "First opportunity to play in front of a crowd and it gives us some film to look at and go back and continue to work. With the closed-door scrimmage coming up Saturday (against Washington State), you kind of want to get a feel for where you're at, so yeah, I thought it was a good outing.
"The best thing they can do is come out and let it rip a little bit and learn from it."
According to Montana sports information director Nic Hallisey, the Griz return just 40 percent of their points, 39.6 percent of their assists, 38.9 percent of their steals, 28.3 percent of their blocks, 25.1 percent of their starts and 24.5 percent of their minutes played from last year's Big Sky Conference championship squad.
So the group is young, with eight players from last year's team gone. Tuesday's scrimmage offered fans a chance to see the new-look Griz while it gave some of the new and younger players a taste of what a college basketball atmosphere was like.
"I thought they played to their strengths," DeCuire said of the three true freshmen - Josh Vazquez, Kyle Owens and Derrick Carter-Hollinger - as well as Eddy Egun who redshirted a year ago.
Billings Skyview High product Kendal Manuel led the group in scoring with 11 and looked sharp from deep. He was 1 for 4 from 3-point range but connected on a few deep 2s as well. Senior Sayeed Pridgett led everyone with five rebounds.
Utah transfer Naseem Gaskin added 10 points on the night and grabbed four boards. Gaskin spent one year with the Utes, where he redshirted, so his status is up in the air as to whether or not he'll be able to play this season. Last year, Manuel went through a similar process before getting cleared a day before the regular season began.
"We don't worry about it," DeCuire said. "Kendal practiced with the other team (last year) just like Naseem is doing right now and if we get good news, we'll flip him over and let him get with the group and if we don't get good news, nothing changes.
"The worst thing you can do is get a guy in the rotation and have him create chemistry with guys and not have him. So we'll work with the guys we have right now and make the most of it and if we get him, it's a bonus. If not, we'll move on."
Manuel has taken Gaskin under his wing because he knows exactly what he's going through by being in limbo. Manuel, who spent the first three seasons of his college basketball career at Oregon State, said it's all about staying ready.
"I've been talking to him a lot because he's been asking all sorts of questions about the process and how long it took," Manuel said. "I told him to stay ready because last year I came into it that I was for sure redshirting. I didn't even have an idea that I would have a chance to play but with him, I just want to make sure he stays ready to play this year.
"Hopefully he does get cleared and we end up having him out there."
As far as the younger players are concerned, Manuel said so far it's been about getting them up to speed with DeCuire's defense. He said offensively those guys are coming along well, but so far it's been about helping them as much as possible because the group is so new.
"It's been crazy, all of that turnaround in that one year," Manuel said. "It has been an adjustment, especially early on, but I feel like once we get through the non-conference games and especially when we get to conference, we'll all gel together and be ready to go."
Junior Timmy Falls (hand) and grad transfer Jared Samuelson (knee) both did not participate in the scrimmage.
Montana opens the regular season at Stanford on Nov. 6.