Bozeman's Les Craft (43) rejects a shot against Great Falls CMR in the 1970s. (Photo courtesy Les Craft)
Bozeman's Les Craft (43) rejects a shot against Great Falls CMR in the 1970s. (Photo courtesy Les Craft)
Bozeman’s Les Craft (43) rejects a shot against Great Falls CMR in the 1970s. (Photo courtesy Les Craft)

The #MTTop50, MTN Sports’ look at some of the best boys basketball players in Montana history, has finally reached the top 20. Before beginning the countdown of the best players regardless of era, though, here’s one last quick overview of everybody featured up until this point.

MTN Sports began profiling players by decade back on June 13, spending one week on each decade. The series started with an active high school player – reigning Gatorade Player of the Year Brendan Howard of Great Falls High – to kick off the 2010s.

We moved through time featuring the 2000s, 1990s, 1980s, 1970s and the 1960s, ‘50s and earlier last week.

Mike Welton, Willie Weeks, Jack O’Connor, Kermit Young and George Yellow Eyes were some of the best players from the era. Here’s a quick recap of each, plus a look at some of the honorable mentions.

  • Mike Welton, Billings West – Welton was a three-time all-state selection at West and is still the Golden Bears’ all-time leading scorer. He played both baseball and basketball at the University of Arizona, where he was a three-year letter-winner.
  • Willie Weeks, Wolf Point – Weeks helped lead the Wolves to the 1968 Big 32 state championship. He continued his career at Montana State, earning all-conference honors and averaging 18.1 points per game during his career.
  • Jack O’Connor, Baker – O’Connor is second on Baker’s career scoring list and owns two of the top three single-seasons scoring marks. He played at the College of Great Falls (now the University of Great Falls) and is the program’s all-time leader in both points and rebounds.
  • Kermit Young, Fairfield – Young was an all-around athlete at Fairfield and helped lead the Eagles to the 1959 state championship as an all-state center. He played collegiately at Montana State, and is one of only two players in program history to average a double-double over his entire career.
  • George Yellow Eyes, Miles City State School – The shortest player in the #MTTop50, Yellow Eyes stood only 5-foot-7 but was known for his outside shooting and quickness. He was a two-time all-state selection and averaged better than 23 points per game.
  • Honorable mentions: Floyd GrossGuns, Browning; Bob Hasquet, Shelby; Darrell Hill, Hardin; Ray Howard, Great Falls; Bob Jensen, Sidney; Dean Kratovil, Billings West; Ray Kuka, Havre; Don Miller, Gildford; Gary Peck, Libby; Russ Powers, Billings (Senior); Marc Racicot, Libby; Glen Smiley, Bozeman; Jim Soft, Richey; Paul Strong, St. Leo’s; Ed Yeo, Butte.
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The countdown of the best players in state history begins with the most prolific scorer in the Montana High School Association record books, Reece Gliko of Highwood and Belt. Before turning our full attention to the countdown, here are the 25 other players, separated by decade, profiled in the #MTTop50. Stay tuned for more on Gliko.

1970sAllan Nielsen, Westby; Steve Keller, Custer; Les Craft, Bozeman; Craig Finberg, Columbia Falls; Blaine Taylor, Missoula Hellgate. Honorable mentions: Mick Durham, Three Forks; Rick Goodman, Belt; Gary Michael, Park City; Rocky Tollefson, Saco; Duane Walker, Malta.

1980sBill Dreikosen, Hinsdale; Gary CrossGuns, Browning; Scott Zanon, Kalispell (Flathead); Gary Kane, Butte; Roger Fasting, Glendive. Honorable mention: Shane Lorash, Reed Point; Scott Ferguson, Butte; Scott Hurley, Anaconda; Wally Doney, Pine Hills; Luke Spotted Bear, Plenty Coups.

1990sDanny Sprinkle, Helena; Scott Hatler, Great Falls; Matt Garrison, Billings Senior; Mat Seidensticker, Shelby; Kirk Walker, Darby. Honorable mention: Pete Conway, Billings West; Shane Gamradt, Fairfield; Scott Henderson, Box Elder; Matt Kempfert, Missoula Hellgate; John Lazosky, Billings West; Adam Leachman, Bozeman; Chris Spoja, Helena High; Travis Walker, Plentywood.

2000sBobby Howard, Great Falls; Andy Garland, Missoula Sentinel; Casey Rogers, Billings West; Kevin Criswell, Colstrip; Nick Dissly, Bozeman. Honorable mention: Jordan Hasquet, Missoula Sentinel; Justin Hartman, Great Falls CMR; Matt Luedtke, Ronan; Eric Henkel, Missoula Sentinel; John Seyfert, Stevensville.

2010sBrendan Howard, Great Falls; Dane Warp, Havre; Brandon The Boy, Box Elder; Kendal Manuel, Billings Skyview; Tanner Roderick, Bozeman. Honorable mentions: Riley Bradshaw, Corvallis, Kendall Denham, Malta, Daine Muller, Billings Skyview, Cooper Olson, Westby-Grenora, Danny Robison, Billings West.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Slim;
    Everyone has an opinion and you have gone to a lot of research to establish yours. Having played against Mike Welton, I certainly agree that he is a top guy of the ’60’s. Biggest error is not including Mike Lewis, Missoula County High School ’64. He is probably the best basketball player produced by Montana regardless of decade. You will find lots of info by googling him but here is a start:
    http://www.goduke.com/ViewArticle.dbml?ATCLID=220780

    2nd argument for the ’60’s is Tom Storm of Great Falls over Kermit Young. Played with Tom and watched Kermit; Storm was a tremendous forward for Bison and MSU Bobcats

  2. Mike Lewis in terms of his rank in his era is the best player of all time….

    With all due respect, this survey is meaningless without his name, 3-time all state, dominated the state for 3 years, during which his Missoula County HS team went nearly unbeaten…..

    He was a supremely gifted big man (6’7″) of his era, quick, strong, and completely dominating…

    I saw he and Storm play at GF High in ’62, Storm a senior and Lewis a junior, Lewis led his team to one win in it’s undefeated (2 years?) season, scoring 20 to Storm’s 19….

    it is impossible to overstate the impact Lewis had on MT basketball in the ’60’s, he was named to several high school all-american teams, with the likes of Unseld and other household names….

    Trivia: if I’m not mistaken, Lewis played Center for Duke in a game against UCLA/Alcindor in ’66, held Kareem to 56 (or was it 61) in Alcindor’s collegiate debut…

  3. Wasn’t much of a role model, that’s for sure, but how can you leave out Kirk Stiles from Malta in the 90’s decade?! I also realize that the 90’s group is stacked and is by far the most talented of all the decades. Gary Lynch of GF High should get an honorable mention.

  4. And if your leaving out people of the 70’s how about Rick Shaw of 1971 and Wayne Clark 1972 Shaw averaged 22.8 per game on deadly outside shooting all conference three years in a row and Clark also 3 years all conference averaging nearly 20 boards a game and 24.9 points a game his junior year all for Whitehall high school

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