Former University of Montana guard extraordinaire and Mission Valley resident JR Camel was one of several players to take his place in the Montana Indian basketball Hall of Fame.
News that Junior, along with former Lady Griz Kayla Lambert and Louis Incashola were being recognized brought me back to my first year broadcasting men’s hoop.
JR, Ryan Dick and Sam Riddle and of course others powered Missoula Hellgate through 23 straight wins including a classic state championship game at the Adams Center and made their way to the UM campus.
Camel was the state’s Player of the Year and had also won state in the high jump while his high school triple jump record still stands.
JR immediately put an imprint on the Griz and the Big Sky Conference being named Freshman of the Year then twice to the All Conference team.
They were eventually to win a title in Flagstaff and play defending National Champ Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
Jr broke the single season steal mark – it still stands – and set the since broken career standard in just three years.
Like many he had his challenges off the court but no one was more of a presence between the lines.
He saw the floor like no one I have been close to and told me when he returned from playing professionally in Kosovo that the game was incredibly slow. I quickly assured him it wasn’t slow for the other guys.
Not only a ball hawk, picking pocket after pocket, if you don’t keep stay focused there was a chance a Camel pass might break your nose or careen off your chest.
Those were good UM teams under Blaine Taylor, winning 20 games and also playing against UTEP the NIT and later Rick Pitino’s high powered Kentucky team.
The Wildcats pressed and JR twice turned the trap into a layup drill necessitating Petino to immediately call time out.
I quickly said “Montana leads defending National Champ Kentucky 5-2 … Great fun.
I also fondly recall a conversation we had about all things on a road trip sitting on the pavement outside my room late one night in Cedar City, Utah.
It has been a bit of a journey but JR and various Desert Horse teams remain a force on the three-on-three circuit.
And now JR Camel adds Indian Montana Basketball Hall of Fame to his resume.