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Mike Larsen standalone

New Montana Western men's basketball head coach Mike Larsen speaks during his introduction on Wednesday afternoon.

CHANCE Q. COOK, 406mtsports.com

DILLON — There's a calm and cool confidence that emanates from Mike Larsen.

It was apparent when the new Montana Western men's basketball coach stepped up to the podium on Wednesday afternoon, just as it must have been obvious in his interview for the job.

With a strong roster and a team that's been to the NAIA national tournament the past three seasons, expectations are high. New athletic director Bill Wilson certainly needed to hit a home run with this hire.

It seems like he did.

"It's an honor," Larsen said as he gestured toward the tournament banners hanging in Straugh Gymnasium. "When you look over at the wall over here, you know you're part of something special when you're at Western."

Larsen spoke at length about his eight years at Dakota State — one as a player, seven as an assistant — and how it had shaped him as both a coach and a person.

He felt he was more than ready to take a head role at a college and shared a story about facing the decision last year.

"I've been fortunate enough over the last eight years to play and then coach for Coach (Gary) Garner," Larsen said. "He's such a unique coach. He granted me a lot freedom, not just to experiment with offense and defense, but he let me really indulge in every aspect of recruiting, game plan development and other things.

"Last year Coach Garner got diagnosed with cancer at the same time I got offered the Mayville State head coaching job. I decided to not take the job to stay home and help him fight cancer."

Being in a situation where he was offered the job gave him confidence moving forward, but staying for another year shows what type of person Western has hired.

When asked about his philosophy in regards to coaching Larsen had two quick words — character and hard work. They were stalwarts at Dakota State and it sounds as if that will be continuing at Western.

"No matter what we do, you will always see those two things," Larsen said. "I'm not going to stand for not having a work ethic. That's a big thing in winning. The character side of it, doing what you're supposed to do how you do it, when you're supposed to do it, why you're supposed to do it and do it every single time. 

"If you have good character, that will shine way past just basketball."

From Utah originally, Larsen expressed happiness at being back in the Mountain West. While there aren't any direct connections to Montana in his past, the self-described 'basketball junkie' mentioned how he kept tabs on the Frontier Conference.

Larsen certainly sees parallels between Dakota State and Montana Western and has already felt comfortable with Dillon.

"I think we're both in very good conferences, so you've got to be on your toes every single game. Even just one game can cost you," Larsen said. "Very similar schools, very similar towns, very similar recruiting aspects, if you would.

"We've got more restaurants here than Madison (S.D.), so I'm excited about that." 

As far as recruiting goes, Larsen wants there to be an emphasis on local players first. He'll branch out from there, but he wants home-grown players to be the backbone of his roster.

That, however, is in the future. Larsen said his top priority over these first couple weeks is to keep his roster in one piece. He mentioned that he had already sat down with each returning player on the team and felt the meetings went well.

"I figure I'll get the recruiting going, but I want to make sure every player on this team comes back," Larsen said. "This is going to be a special place. It's going to be different, when you lose a coach that's been here for 11 years and has as much success as he's had, there's going to be changes.

"I want them to be a part of it because I feel there's going to be special things happening in the future."

Jordan Hansen covers prep and Frontier Conference sports for the Montana Standard. Shoot him an email at Jordan.Hansen@406mtsports.com or give him a shout on Twitter @jordyhansen.

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