“I always said when the ball went up, I got hit by a cattle prod,” former Lady Griz basketball head coach Robin Selvig said. “I wanted to be intense, but I didn’t want to be crazy, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want people to watch me; I wanted them to watch the ladies.”
Fans came to the University of Montana arena in droves to watch the Lady Griz, as Selvig spent nearly 40 years on the sidelines helming one of the most successful women’s basketball teams in the West.
Selvig’s legacy from his coaching tenure is the subject of the documentary “The House That Rob Built,” co-directed by Jonathan Cipiti and Griz alumnus Megan Harrington, which premiered at the 2020 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. The film was released to nationwide audiences via streaming platforms on Feb. 23.
“I feel so honored to be able to share the story of Coach Selvig and the impact he had on the lives and careers of so many women across Montana and beyond,” Harrington said. “I grew up in small-town America where the big ticket was the women’s basketball game, and I owe my opportunities to the women who blazed the trail for me and countless others, as well as Rob, for believing in the greatness of women athletes from the very beginning. Accumulating 865 wins in general, let alone at one school, is unbelievable.”
The success of the program, which earned 18 regular season and 17 tournament Big Sky Conference titles, four Mountain West Conference titles and 21 NCAA tournament appearances under Selvig, is just one aspect of the documentary, which focuses on the growth of women’s basketball at the university and in Montana as a whole.
“I was fortunate to get involved in women’s basketball at the college level from the start, and I got to see the opportunities for women grow,” Selvig told the Beacon. “To start with, it’s not like we had a budget. The rules were different then for men’s basketball. We couldn’t fly in recruits from around the country so we had to look in state.”
“It’s amazing how many Division I basketball players Montana was producing,” he continued. “As the University of Montana, we wanted to give opportunities to Montana players and we were fortunate the state was producing so many quality athletes.”
One athlete was Lora Anderson née Morast, who played for Flathead High School before joining the Lady Griz in 1990.
“I played at a time in Montana where girls basketball was its own season, separate from the boys, and Flathead was the only team in town,” Anderson said. “I was a little naïve going to the university, not knowing the culture that had been created around women’s sport there.”
Anderson got a scholarship to play for the Griz, despite blowing out her knee during her last high school season. She credits her high school coaches and local referees for convincing Selvig to take a chance on her.
“The support at the university, the atmosphere during games, it’s honestly just hard to describe,” Anderson said, noting that game attendance records were repeatedly set during her time with the Griz. “We clearly had an amazing home crowd advantage because of the crowd support. We were outdrawing the men oftentimes.”
The documentary chronicles the stories of former Lady Griz players from across Montana, including many Native American women who played at UM and went on to successful post-collegiate careers. For his efforts in recruiting American Indian players, Selvig became one of the few non-Native American to be inducted into the Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.
“To think that we were all from small towns, reservations, small ranch towns, pretty, pretty amazing,” said Malia Kipp, one of the first Native American athletes Selvig recruited from Browning. “Getting the opportunity to go to school on a Division I scholarship was amazing.”
According to Kipp, resources and opportunities were limited on the reservation, but everyone had basketball. Selvig discovered talent across the state, even in areas that were often overlooked, such as the state’s tribal communities.
“There were a lot of talented Native American men and women playing basketball in the state, but not many who had gone on to college,” Selvig said. “I had always been interested in Native culture, it’s such a big part of the state’s history, so I had the good fortune to recruit across the reservations and bring in a lot of talented kids. It was not easy for them and I certainly feel blessed that I had the young athletes I did.”
Anderson, an assistant coach with the Glacier Wolfpack basketball teams, showed the film to her athletes this season.
“I felt so proud to be able to show the girls what I was a part of and show that they walk in the footsteps of all these women,” Anderson said. “They get to see how women’s sport has evolved and how it’s different now. They can talk about where it’s going to go next.”
“The video is not so much about me as it is about the growth of women’s sport and opportunity, and it traces that through the years,” Selvig said. “Realizing what we were doing back then was pretty special, not only that we had success, but that the players were taking full advantage of the opportunities.”
To find out more about “The House That Rob Built,” watch the trailer or purchase the film, visit www.thehousethatrobbuiltmovie.com.
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