BOZEMAN — With Tyler Hall exploring his NBA potential, Montana State head coach Brian Fish found himself in a new role over the last few months.
MSU’s star shooting guard declared for the NBA Draft in April. On Wednesday, the final day to withdraw from next month’s draft, Hall took his name out of the pool, deciding to return to Montana State for a senior year almost certain to be filled with chasing and breaking records.
On Thursday, Fish addressed the media and talked about morphing from a head coach — he will enter his fifth season at the helm for the Bobcats next fall — to an adviser, a facilitator, a mentor and a friend for his standout pupil.
“It’s a strange situation to be in because you go from head coach to basically a confidant,” Fish said. “You have to be real careful what you say because it could be interpreted like, ‘He wants me to stay, he wants me to go’ or something like that. I have a great relationship with the family and him. We get a lot of talking, a lot of never being the head coach, just more of someone, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’
“It was strange but exhilarating to go through the process. I was extremely happy and proud of the effort he put in go get himself ready to go. I think that will ultimately pay off for him as he continues to grow as a player.”
Since MSU’s loss in the first round of the Big Sky Conference Tournament in Reno in March, Hall has been in Chicago working out with Ethan Happ, a standout from Wisconsin who played on the same club team as Hall in high school in Rock Island, Illinois. Because Hall did not hire an agent in order to maintain his collegiate eligibility, Fish served as a liaison for Hall, setting up his workouts with NBA teams.
Over the last two months, Fish facilitated workouts with the Atlanta Hawks and the Boston Celtics. The head coach also confirmed that the Oklahoma City Thunder were interested in a workout before Hall withdrew his name and affirmed his amateur status for one more year. Despite his private evaluations, Hall did not get the assurance that he would be a first or second-round draft pick, the affirmation he sought if he was going to forego his senior year.
“He took the workouts and got invaluable feedback, invaluable knowledge from people who do this at an incredibly high level for what he needed to work on,” Fish said.
“If I was to grade it from my side, the learning experience I gained was substantial so I would say what he gained and what his family gained was huge too. Now he can take what they told him and apply it to the upcoming season.”
Hall first started building hype as a star player in the Big Sky after a standout freshman season in which he averaged more than 20 points per game and drilled 96 3-poiners to earn league Freshman of the Year honors.
Hall broke onto the national scene as a sophomore, going blow for blow with eventual NCAA scoring champion Marcus Keene of Central Michigan, eventually finishing with 42 points in a home loss to CMU. Hall ended up hitting 120 3-pointers two seasons ago on the way to averaging nearly 24 points per game, one of the top 10 marks in the nation. He shot nearly 44 percent from beyond the arc despite ranking among the NCAA leaders in 3-pointers made, a fact that earned him publicity from national outlets, including Sports Illustrated.
Although Hall’s junior year was largely disappointing, he still managed to earn second-team All-Big Sky honors by averaging 17.5 points per game. But MSU lost 13 of 15 games down the stretch, including blowing a 19-point second-half lead in a lost to North Dakota in the first round of the Big Sky Tournament. Montana State has lost in the first round of the tournament each of Hall’s three seasons playing for the Bobcats.
The 6-foot-5 combo guard was the preseason Big Sky MVP entering his junior campaign but a collection of circumstances and pressures aided in him not fulfilling that prediction. He suffered an ankle sprain early in MSU’s non-conference less than a week before the Bobcats embarked on a four-game, 13-day road trip. While traveling to Louisiana, Mexico and Fresno, Hall wore a walking boot when he was not playing.
The way the boot sat on his foot during the long flights caused for his Achilles to swell. When he ankle finally healed, he had a new ailment. The enduring pain in his lower extremities caused him to favor his food when he landed on his jump shot. Hall has the ability to elevate vertically while shooting a basketball on an elite level but him favoring the landing put a hitch in his jump shot.
That mechanical flaw combined with the hype, pressure and extra attention that comes with being one of the league’s premier players caused Hall to shoot 40.7 percent from the floor, including 39.9 percent in league play. The Rock Island, Illinois native hit 99 3-pointers, including 54 in Big Sky games, but shot 37.2 percent from beyond the arc, including 35.3 percent in league competition.
“A lot of the evaluations from NBA teams you have to keep confidential because teams don’t want other teams to know what they are thinking,” Fish said when asked about how NBA teams evaluated Hall. “But the one thing I do know he learned is that he wasn’t wasting his time. There is a chance for him to play at that level. I think he’s taken that as motivation and fuel to really attack getting better.”
Hall’s return was accompanied by the official announcement of three incoming recruits and the departure of junior guard Devonte Klines. Fish officially welcomed junior college transfers forward Ladan Ricketts, a Livingston native who spent the last two seasons at Sheridan (Wyoming) College along with Southwest Florida College point guard Russell Daniels along with prep recruit Max Schuecker, who joins the program as a 6-foot-9 center from Modling, Austria.
Klines, a starter the last two seasons for the Bobcats in Fish’s three-guard lineup, also declared for the NBA Draft. He was the only underclassmen who declared but did not hire an agent who kept his name in the draft, essentially foregoing his final year of collegiate eligibility even if he goes undrafted.
“Devonte is going to pursue his professional dreams no matter where that may be,” Fish said. “I think it’s good. I think he has a chance to go and make some money overseas if he works and hopefully he does it. We are going to help him anyway we can because my job as a coach and teach is to try to help these guys chase their career so hopefully we can help him get something overseas.”
Hall’s return sets the table for a banner year filled with records. Hall has 1,861 points in his career, the third-most in the history of Montana State and the 10th-most in the history of the league. If he stays healthy, he will likely become the sixth player in Big Sky history to score 2,000 points in his career before the non-conference even ends. Hall needs 174 points to pass Larry Chanay as Montana State’s all-time leading scorer. He needs 309 points to surpass Bogdan Bliznyuk as the Big Sky’s all-time leading scorer, a mark that last season’s MVP earned just a year ago.
“He now has his eyes open to a level of basketball that he has to bring back to the locker room and share with the guys, the commitment that guys at that level play at,” Fish said. “I’m looking for him to come back and be stronger and better and be a leader and voice some of those things and he’s started to grow in those areas. I’m extremely excited to have him back but on the same hand, I’m down he didn’t get a first or second round pick. It’s a weird spot to be in but boy, I’m glad to have him back.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.