First seen in the Montana Kaimin
From Craig Hall dorms to the NCAA Tournament twice, the four-year 2019 senior class – Bobby Moorehead, Michael Oguine, and Ahmaad Rorie – elevated Griz basketball to the most successful two-season stretch in school history. They will never again step onto a game day court as Montana teammates.
As they grew from freshmen to seniors, their perseverance and leadership drew fans back into Dahlberg Arena. They graduate in May and will move onto to professional lives in basketball and adulthood, leaving the court a little colder without their sweaty 0, 14, and 24 jerseys.
Few bright spots shine from the Griz senior class’s last game, when they shot under 30 percent against Michigan, but the team’s talent occasionally peaked through against a Big Ten basketball team.
“We knew how much we were down. We wouldn’t give up the fight,” Rorie said. “We wanted to go in there for each other. And on national television, if we were going down, we weren’t going to go down without a fight.”
The last timeout buzzer sounded and the seniors entered the last three minutes of the game down 24 points. Rorie stepped onto the court for a final time with Moorehead and Oguine, two guys he’s loved to compete with in college. He says he owed it to them – the team owed it to them – to keep cutting into Michigan’s lead.
“It’s been an honor to play with them and be a part of the senior class with them,” Rorie said.
Sayeed Pridgett, a junior guard who led the game in scoring for the team, tried to tell the seniors that the game didn’t define their legacy.
“[ I was] just trying to let those guys know, just because we lost by however many points, this is the best senior class we’ve ever had at Montana,” Pridgett said. “And let them know we will always be brothers. It’s family.”
The seniors left the court at 1:54 in the second half. They sat down, watching the next generation of Grizzlies play the last few minutes of the game. Towels were pulled over heads and eyes were red with tears. The final buzzer sounded – a loss to Michigan 74-55.
They walked off the court from their last game with stoic but pained faces. They wanted to win. They wanted to be Cinderella. Their carriage turned into a pumpkin yet again.
Jamar Akoh, a redshirt senior, sat sidelined for his second and last tournament. On the court he played a huge role as a leader, but injuries forced him out of most of his last college year. He bestowed as much knowledge as he could to the young posts but his height and leadership were missed in season and will be missed next year. When he played, he dominated the Big Sky Conference in rebounds.
Despite the height mismatches, the Griz beat the Wolverines in steals and turnovers. They left Iowa deflated, but the team’s disappointing national showing didn’t reflect the season’s success through injuries and high expectations.
“I’m proud of the selflessness that my group has expressed and shown,” DeCuire said.
Rorie gave up stats and points to play as a point guard after transferring from Oregon, a Pac-12 program, after his freshman year Before this season, Rorie and DeCuire decided his goal shouldn’t be to win the Big Sky MVP award, but to win the conference tournament.
“He’s taken a backseat, not to anyone but just to the moment, to benefit our team,” DeCuire said.
Oguine blew Montana away as a freshman, racking up the best freshman performance in history. But then he had to share the spotlight with four other top players. Many of the Griz teammates have hit 30-point career highs, but no one averaged above 20 points a game. They shared the ball, playing as a unit.
“Building something we could be proud of, the people in the state are proud of and putting a product on the floor people can enjoy and bringing enjoyment to the community is a special thing.” Oguine said. “And I feel like we’ve been able to do that in our time.”
“[The seniors] helped me lead this team to what it is now,” DeCuire said. “The level of expectation is way different than it was five years ago.” It’s the first graduating class that DeCuire said is 100 percent his own. It’s a vision he’s had since coaching high school basketball, where whoever walked the halls made up your team.
“I always dreamed of the Division I level, having an opportunity to go into different communities and pick the kids that I think would represent me the way I wanted to be represented and play basketball the way I think it should be played,” DeCuire said.
His team is about more than basketball and winning – it’s about growth.
“Maybe there’s one class that might have three rings as opposed to two, but my group is the only group that’s 100 percent graduated and no issues off-court,” DeCuire said.“I think their legacy is they’re the best senior class in the history of Montana basketball because of what they represent and how they represent it, the way the community supports and embraces them proves it.”
For Rorie, he felt the growth from his first year with the Griz until now. He remembers coming to Montana, complacent without good study or basketball habits.
“All I can do is thank Trav [DeCuire], honestly,” Rorie said. “I didn’t care about reputation. Just wanted to play basketball. Didn’t care about school, but I think I’ve improved in that regard, graduated, got a degree and working on another one in media arts.”
DeCuire holds more pride for this year’s team than last year’s team because of the adversity they pushed past.
“Because of that I feel like these guys are ready to move on with their lives,” DeCuire said.
Hanging in the air between the flat plains of Iowa and the Rockies of Montana, uncertainty filled the future of Griz basketball. Moorehead hopes the Griz can build on these past two years to become a mid-major power house that gains respect for the Montana name.
“I trust the coaching staff and the players that will be left behind,” he said.
Only next season will show the longevity of the legacy these players left on Montana. November can’t come soon enough for Griz fans hungry to continue watching the program evolve under DeCuire’s leadership.
The senior class defined a road of success and a culture of family for their younger teammates to follow. More uncertain than the team’s future is the future of these three soon to be Griz alumni, but coaches and family remain confident that the skills that made them successful on court will propel them into real life.
“It won’t be easy and they will hit speed bumps and they will see more adversity, but I think they’re ready for it,” DeCuire said.
Even without the bright lights and shared jerseys, the teammates will have each other’s backs.
Griz nation will still stand behind them, thankful for their devotion to the University of Montana’s basketball program.