Phillips County News - One Nation, Under God

By Pierre Bibbs
Sports Editor 

85' Mustangs relive championship

 

April 15, 2020

The Malta Mustangs pose for a photo prior to heading to the 1985 State B Boys Basketball Tournament in Great Falls. Pictured at the top from left to right: Assistant Coach Bob Hislop, Morris Denham, Brian Henderson, Stacy Nicholson, Mike McNamara, Dan Shores, Ross Anderson, Mike Woodman, and Head Coach Mike Woodman. Bottom row: Brad Williams, Ted Veseth, Brant Young, and Clark Darrah. Not pictured: are Ty Fried and Ron Martinez. PCN Photo. 1985.

Since the 1971 State B Championship, the Malta Mustangs have won eight titles in eight attempts.

A few weeks ago, the Phillips County News caught up with former Malta Mustang basketball head coach Mike Woodman, who coached Malta to the 1985 State B Championship. This week, the PCN reached out to Mike McNamara (who was a senior), Brian Henderson (who was a junior), and Brant Young (who was a senior); a trio of players that were on the team that won the State B title that year in the infamous triple-overtime win over the Browning Indians.

That year, both McNamara and Henderson were named to the All-State team, a team that was chosen by sportswriters and broadcasters present at the 1985 State B Tournament in Great Falls. McNamara, who scored 23 points in the championship was chosen at the Most Valuable Player for the tournament. Henderson had 20 points and Ross Anderson had 19.

Though McNamara was the team's MVP, he fouled out with 2:54 seconds left in regulation. He was in a difficult spot, but still had faith in his team.

"We had as much talent as any team in the state," McNamara said. "We could go six deep or eight if we needed to. Our sixth man would've started on any team in the state. We were in a good position talent-wise and we worked harder than anybody."

Starting that year were McNamara, Henderson, Anderson, Clark Darrah, and Stacy Nicholson. The starters were backed by Young, Danny Shores, Ty Fried, Morris Denham, Ted Veseth, Ron Martinez, and Brad Wiliams.

Though things worked out for Malta in 1985, the first season under Coach Woodman in 1982-83 was a rough year for Malta according to McNamara, who was a sophomore that season.

"The core group of players were underclassmen and we decided that we wanted to be good players," McNamara said. "We really put in the time and we really drank the Kool-Aid with what Woodman was telling us."

McNamara and Henderson both said that anyone on that team would've ran through a brick wall for Coach Woodman, who played for the University of Great Falls. From that 1982-83 season, the team started to practice for extended amounts of time to improve their play and conditioning.

"We knew that we would have to keep up with Browning and we had to be in good shape to do that," McNamara said.

Prior to the 1984-85 season, McNamara said that Browning was a Class A school. The teams would face each other five times in 1985.

Before the 1985 season, Malta attended various camps in and out of state. McNamara said that during the basketball season and offseason, he had only missed 10 days of basketball from his freshman year to his senior year.

McNamara's commitment to the game rubbed off on his teammates and according to Henderson, McNamara who stood 6'5" would threaten to give his teammates a rough time if they didn't come to practice.

"All of us had bought in, we all were dedicated to playing lots of basketball in the offseason and we did exactly what Coach Woodman wanted us to do and it ended up working," McNamara said.

The team wanted to win so badly, that a few players practiced shooting free throws during their free period in school at the Malta High School Gym; a move that ultimately paid off for Young, who made a pivotal free throw to send the game into its second overtime period.

With no three-point shot in 1985, the Mustangs found themselves down 78-75 in the first overtime period with 10 seconds left. Darrah had taken a desperation shot, a deep two-point field goal that missed. With only a couple of seconds left, Young, a 5'9" point guard found himself with a rebound and put up a shot over Browning's JR Manson, who stood at 6'5" with one second left. The shot was good and he was fouled.

"All they (Browning) had to do was stand there and they would've won the game," Young said.

It was then that the crowd lost it's composure. Young was tasked with the ultimate clutch free throw. Make the shot, head to the second overtime period. A missed shot and everyone goes home. Coins and cups were thrown on to the court by the Browning crowd in an attempt to break Young's focus. The court had to be cleared and in came security. After some encouragement from Malta's bench, Young made the shot. Though he came off the bench as the team's sixth man, Young had a high motor and according to Woodman, practiced so hard that he collapsed during practice. Henderson remembers the team trying to tell Young occasionally to take it easy during practices, but Coach Woodman knew that Young's day would come.

"Coach Woodman would tell us all of the time, 'Hey, you guys can get after him about playing so hard and all of that stuff all that you want, but he is going to win us a game one of these days, and it is going to be a big one,'" Henderson recalled.

McNamara said that every year on social media he messages Young. He tells him, "thanks for not missing that free throw."

Though Young's moment is one of the most memorable moments of the game, Young maintains that it was only one of many moments in the game and that the free throw wasn't the only point that mattered.

"That was only one piece of the puzzle," Young said. "It took all 10 or 12 of us to get us to that point; for me to be in the right spot at the right time and to be lucky enough to make that free throw."

He pointed to the time when Henderson made a pair of clutch free throws to tie the game at 68 and send it into overtime. He also mentioned a mid-range jumper made by Anderson in the second overtime. In the third overtime period, Young added two more points on a steal he took coast-to-coast for a layup in the third overtime to 93-88. Browning would add two more points to their total before fouling Henderson, who eventually made the free throws, giving Malta a 95-90 victory.

"I was in game mode," Henderson said. "I had played the whole game minus a minute-and-a-half. I was pretty focused and locked in."

Henderson said he remembered thinking that the team had put in too much time to come up short in the moment. Prior to the state tournament, Malta had taken fourth place in the 4B District Tournament after being defeated by Browning in the semi-finals. During the regular season, Malta won both games against Browning, the first by one bucket in a 58-56 win and the second was a 95-57 season-ending blowout.

After their consolation game in the district tournament, Coach Woodman went to the chalkboard and wrote "6-0" stating that they needed to win three games in the Divisional Tournament and then three more at the State B Tournament to become champions.

"Coach Woodman painted that picture in our minds for three years," Henderson said. "His constant talk of us becoming champions; he put that in our minds and groomed us daily to think like champions."

Coach Woodman, who currently lives in Idaho, communicates with players from the 1985 Mustangs to this day, he said in a previous interview.

After graduating from Malta, Henderson went on to play basketball at Miles Community College and then the University of Montana Western. He then became an assistant coach at Western for three years. Then he coached at Beaverhead County High School for a couple of seasons and then back to Western, followed by a stint at St. LaBre. Henderson would then coach Women's Basketball at Rocky Mountain College as an assistant from 1999-2001 and then as head coach from 2001-2014.

"It was a great job," Henderson said. "It was awesome because my kids got to grow up in the gym with me. It was a good run."

Mike McNamara wears a net from the 1985 State Tournament after being named the tournament's MVP. Courtesy Photo.

McNamara currently lives outside of Helena. McNamara signed with the College of Great Falls during his sophomore season in November of 1983. The following April, the school dropped its athletics programs. He followed his original recruiting coach, Steve Aggers, who was hired at Wayne State College in Nebraska. After his college career was over in 1989, McNamara was fifth in career rebounds with 698 and third in steals with 122. Though he had a record book career at Wayne State College, McNamara does regret not going to school in his home state. He went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. He then worked at a hospital in San Francisco for 15 years. The family moved back to Montana in 2005. McNamara works for the State Health Department as a Cardiovascular Disease Specialist.

Young is currently living in Billings as a pharmacist. After graduating from Malta, Young went to a few different colleges and then went to the Navy for several years before being medically retired by the military for a broken back. The incident happened while on a flight carrier. After his injury, Young went to Pharmacy School at the University of Montana. During his time in the military, Young had won the Armed Forces and Navy Championships in Boxing.

 

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