When I was coming of age in the basketball world, there was a gentle giant who roamed the hallways and hardwood of Flathead High School. His name was Brent Wilson, and he was a towering 6-feet-11-inches and a lean 235 pounds. This week, Brent will be inducted into the Wall of Fame during halftime of the crosstown game at Flathead High School.
Brent was unique because of his size, but also because of his ability to move with great agility and shoot with a soft touch. The Braves won the state basketball title his senior season with a stellar 25-1 record. In that 1970 title game, Brent scored a record 51 points in Bozeman’s Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in front of 11,000 fans, one of the largest crowds to ever see a high school game in Montana. The big man for the other team that night was 6-foot-7 Pat Donovan, who played for Helena High School and went on to play football for Stanford University and the Dallas Cowboys. But Donovan had no chance against the bigger and more talented Wilson. The Braves won that title game 80-63 in a dominating performance.
Brent was fundamentally quite good. He did all the little things well. He kept the ball up on rebounds, used his body and pivoted well, positioned himself well in the lost post, and was a good passer. But Brent also had an amazing group around him that understood their roles in order to play well together. The starters included Bill Burton, Sam McCullum (later to play in the NFL), Dan Bain, and Gary Stoick. Off the bench came Rod Moore, Roy Beekman, Steve Wood, and Ed Reeves. It was formidable group of athletes that will go down as one of the greatest teams in our state’s history.
The coaching was stellar as well. They are a literally a “who’s who” of coaching in the history of Flathead High. The head coach was Chuck Gologoski. He was an organized tactician who knew what he had in Wilson and built his team around the big guy in the middle. Tom Gilman, the varsity assistant, perfectly complemented Gologoski with his dry sense of humor and sharp basketball mind. Then there was Bill Epperly (my dad), who coached the JV team as well as the sophomore team. His love for kids and the game of hoops was contagious, and he became the “passion” builder in the program. Then there was Tracy Walsh and Jim Scalf, who coached the freshman team, building fundamentals in all those entering the basketball program. This coaching staff led the Braves to three straight state championships in 1968 (lost to Wolf Point), 1969 (lost to Laurel), and 1970 (beat Helena).
During Brent’s years at Flathead, the team went a staggering 71-7. In his three seasons as a Brave starter, Brent averaged 21.4 points per game and 14.8 rebounds per game (1920 career points). His senior season was prolific. Brent average 27 points a game and 16 rebounds per game. And you have to remember that every team came into every game against the Braves trying to stop him. They simply could not. He was that good.
Brent went on to play two seasons at Montana State University before transferring to Colorado State University to finish out his playing career. He was a key part of each of those teams during his four years of college ball. He also had a few tryouts with NBA teams through a contact named Phil Jackson and played professionally in Europe for a few years.
When I did not travel with the team, I would listen on the radio. I couldn’t help but follow this group and their success. I was a coach’s kid during this golden period of Flathead High hoops and the players were bigger than life to me. But the biggest of them all was the gentle giant named Brent Wilson. He belongs on the Wall of Fame. And in my opinion, Brent Wilson’s career towers above those whom he now joins.
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