MISSOULA — A trio of seldom used reserved have moved on from the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball champions.
Tuesday afternoon, Skyline Sports confirmed true freshman point guard Lars Espe had been granted his release from the Montana basketball program. Tuesday evening, Frank Gogola of the Missoulian newspaper reported that true freshman center Admir Besovic and sophomore wing Niko Bevens are also leaving the Grizzlies.
All three departures played sparingly for the Grizzlies during a historic 26-win season that culminated in UM’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2013. While head coach Travis DeCuire locked in what ultimately became an eight-man rotation — seven players consistently saw minutes the final three weeks of the season — Espe played spot minutes during the non-conference behind junior All-Big Sky point guard Ahmaad Rorie.
“Our culture was strong this year, and Niko, Lars and Admir all played very valuable roles in the success of the Montana basketball program,” DeCuire said in a press release. “We appreciate what they brought to our team, and we wish them the best as they move on to their next chapter.”
Bevins, a former transfer from North Idaho College, played just 24 minutes in 15 games. The 6-foot-6 sharpshooter was expected to be a contributor in his first Division I season. He made one 3-pointer, had one rebound, one assist and one turnover. During his one year at NIC, the Beaverton, Oregon native made 111 3-pointers and shot more than 50 percent from beyond the arc.
The 6-foot-1 Espe came to Missoula from Oslo, Norway. He initially visited Montana State where he had a connection to MSU sophomore point guard Harald Frey, also an Oslo product. During that same visiting weekend, he stopped in Missoula and promptly chose the Griz.
During the non-conference, Espe spelled Rorie toward the end of the first half of games but never could break through once DeCuire started playing junior All-Big Sky guard Michael Oguine on the ball during the rare times Rorie rested. Espe played 42 minutes in 17 games, including just 25 minutes in Big Sky play, almost every single one of them when the outcome had already been decided. He scored six points on 2-of-6 shooting to go with five assists, three rebounds and one block.
In Norway, Espe earned a reputation as a rising star, earning Young Player of the Year in the BLNO, Norway’s top professional basketball league. For Gimle BBK, Espe averaged 15 points per game. He was also the captain of the Norwegian U-18 national team
The 7-foot Besovic is originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina but came to Montana from the Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Virginia. As a prep senior, the center averaged 11.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. At Montana, he played in 31 total minutes and appeared in 18 games, almost all of the time inconsequential. Besovic scored 13 points, grabbed five rebounds, had one assists, one block and two turnovers.
The departures coupled with Fabijan Krslovic’s graduation gives Montana four open scholarships to recruit with this off-season.