BUTTE — As Twin Bridges erased a 22-point deficit in its Class C state opener, a father-son dynamic that’s become a staple of Southwest Montana basketball was playing out near the Falcons’ bench.
Head coach Josh Keller, animated, emotional — rallying around his team desperate to stay alive in the hunt for a state title — barked orders as he paced in front of his bench.
Off to the side of the bench, Josh’s father Steve paced too.
Steve Keller is the head coach of the Montana Western men’s basketball team, which leaves for the NAIA tournament in Missouri on Monday. Josh’s brother Wes, also in the stands, heads the Rocky Mountain College women’s basketball program that will compete in the NAIA tournament in Billings next week.
As the first half unwound, Steve took his seat among family in the stands, not reacting much to the play on the court. Instead, he was watching with an analytical eye, he said, like any coach would.
“I don’t show near as much emotion watching as I do when I’m on the sideline (coaching),” Steve said at halftime. “I’m seeing if there’s something I can suggest to help their team play better.”
But as the game wore on and a legend of a comeback was playing out on the floor, Steve left the stands, instead standing nervously off to the side of the Falcons bench. When the Box Elder lead fell to 50-46, Keller’s quiet hands gave way to clapping as the rest of the Twin Bridges’ faithful rose to their feet.
“Dad wants us to win so bad,” Josh said after the game. “As much as he wants to win.”
Though the father-son-son trio looks for avenues to feed each other coaching tips, there’s a different emotion playing out when watching your boys coach, Steve said.
“I’m analyzing the game like a coach would,” he said, admitting he’s “more nervous with their games than I am with mine.”
The patriarch coached both boys in high school, and both boys went on to play basketball at Montana Western, before he was the chief of the Bulldogs program.
All still living relatively close, it’s rare to find a game any of the Kellers are coaching where another Keller isn’t present too, dissecting the game a few rows up from the floor.
“We just support each other, we talk basketball a lot,” Steve said. “That’s what they grew up knowing and that’s still going.”
“That’s the fun thing, we all support each other, help each other out,” Josh said. “If somebody sees something we come to each other’s aid and kind of talk about our plans.
“We’ve learned a lot from dad, Wes really knows the game of basketball too. I’m always picking their brains.”
Senior’s emotion nearly wills Falcons back
As a disappointing first-round game for Twin Bridges wore on, its supporters grew quiet.
RaeAnne Bendon seemingly got tired of the lack of noise just as she got tired of her team trailing by such a large deficit. With a touch over six minutes to play in the opener, teammate Clancy Phillips took a hard foul. When she sunk one of two free throws, Bendon charged to mid-court, throwing her arms in the air to will the crowd to make noise.
And they did.
A chorus of cheers breathed new life into the Civic Center, and into Twin Bridges, which a few minutes later tied the game at 51 with a Bendon 3-pointer.
“She lives and dies basketball,” her coach said. “When you sacrifice everything for something like that, it’s going to bring out the emotion. At tournament time, she knows this is the end, her senior year, her final tournament; I was happy to see some emotion out of her.”