University of Montana men’s basketball coach Wayne Tinkle has chosen Kurt Paulson as an assistant to replace Freddie Owens, who recently departed for Oregon State.
Paulson, who has coached boys basketball at Bigfork High School the past two seasons, was a graduate assistant for the Grizzlies in 2009-10 and 2010-11. Paulson joins Jonathan Metzger-Jones and Kerry Rupp as the Grizzlies’ assistant coaches under Tinkle, who will be entering his eighth season at Montana next fall.
“We’re excited to be bringing Kurt on board, because it’s really going to make for a smooth transition,” Tinkle said in a statement. “He’s familiar with our style of play and the kind of kids that we want to recruit, so he’s going to be able to hit the ground running.”
Paulson is the son of Kent Paulson, the commissioner of the Frontier Conference, and the nephew of Kraig Paulson. The latter was the progenitor of the No. 37 tradition at Montana and a longtime assistant coach for the Griz football team. He is now the assistant head coach under Bobby Hauck at UNLV.
“Kurt comes from a family that bleeds maroon and silver, or copper and gold if you go way back,” Tinkle said. “The Paulsons are a long line of great people and great coaches, and they are loyal to our state. It’s nice to be adding one of our own to the mix. We know Kurt is going to do great things for us.
“He’s a go-getter and as loyal as it gets, and that was something we were looking for. When you sign a player, you want a guy who really loves the idea of being at Montana, and Kurt is that kind of guy. His addition is really going to bring a lot of energy to the staff.”
Paulson, a 2001 graduate of Whitefish High, was a five-year member (2001-02 to 2005-06) of the Carroll basketball team. He led the Saints to the 2005 NAIA semifinals and 2006 quarterfinals and finished third in the nation in assists as a junior. As a senior he helped Carroll set a school record for wins with 30.
Paulson spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Carroll (2007-08 to 2008-09) following his playing days before breaking into the Division I ranks. Montana advanced to the NCAA tournament in Paulson’s first season as a graduate assistant, the College Basketball Invitational in his second.
“I was hoping this opportunity would come,” Paulson said. “This has been a goal of mine, to be able to coach fulltime at the college level. It’s been my goal since I got done playing at Carroll.”
Paulson, who earned his undergraduate degree in business administration and health and physical education from Carroll in 2006 and a master’s degree in education from Montana in 2011, spent the last two years as the activities director and boys’ basketball coach at Bigfork High.
He led the Vikings to 39 wins in two seasons and to the semifinals of the Class B state tournament in March.
“The two years I spent at Bigfork was a really good experience in terms of being a head coach. I was able to run my own program and experience some of the administrative duties that I’ll have as a college coach,” Paulson said.
“But it wasn’t college, and the atmosphere that’s been created here, you can’t beat that. Growing up a Griz, I have a lot of pride in this school, so it’s a dream to be back here and be on staff with Coach Tinkle. I just feel lucky to be able to be around a guy like that and learn from him every day.”
Paulson’s first year will be one of transition for the Grizzlies, who will need to replace three players who started at least 18 games on last season’s NCAA tournament team. Among those is Will Cherry, a three-time first-team All-Big Sky Conference selection and twice the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Montana, which returns reigning Big Sky MVP Kareem Jamar, who will be a senior next winter, has commitments from five newcomers — three preps, two transfers — and Riley Bradshaw will be making his debut after transferring early last season from Utah State.
In addition to Jamar, Montana’s returning letterwinners include senior Eric Hutchison, juniors Keron DeShields, Jordan Gregory and Michael Weisner and sophomores Andy Martin and Jake Wiley.
A little more than three months before the opening day of practice, it’s a mix of players with more youth than experience, a group that generates more questions than there are currently answers, but Paulson isn’t concerned. He knows what he’s getting into.
“Coach Tinkle has really built this into a program now, where the team just reloads each year,” he said. “It’s to the point now where it’s about winning championships each year and trying to win NCAA games.”
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