Jeff Tuttle, That she did, finishing with 32 points. Grace Page had 12 points for the Hawks.
Most of its odd residents drove 70 miles south through Missoula and then into the Bitterroot Valley, a river corridor full of subdivisions, trailers, exclusive private communities and ammunition stores. The crowd filtered into the gymnasium at Hamilton High School, wearing red shirts and pins bearing the faces of the Arlee Warriors basketball team, who that evening would be playing the Manhattan Christian Eagles.
Manhattan Christian is a faith-based private school near Bozeman. Arlee is a public school on the Flathead Indian Reservation; about half the town is Salish, descendants of the people forced out of the Bitterroot in the 19th century.
Manhattan Christian arrived in a sleek black bus with aerodynamic curvature and tinted windows; Arlee came in a yellow Blue Bird. The Feb. They had Phillip Malatare. Phil is 18 and six feet tall. He claimed to be pounds, but that seemed generous.
His normally angular face was especially gaunt that afternoon, a result of a nasty cold.
But he had a reputation in the state: for his routine triple-doubles, his no-look passes thrown around his back at a dead sprint, his unguardable pull-up jump shot, the speed and body control that made it all possible. His parents, John and Becky, arrived at 9 a.
The Malatares never sat together at games. Normally, at this point, the boys would be making fart jokes or talking about video games. Now, though, the Warriors left the locker room and gathered in a hallway.
A cameraman lined the players up. They were silent. The light on the camera blinked, and Phil spoke. But as state champions, they were kings on the Flathead reservation.
They came into the season hoping to defend their trophy; Phil and Will also wanted a chance to play in college. But by the evening of the Manhattan Christian game, the season had transformed into something else entirely.
The videographer turned off his camera, and the Warriors retreated into the locker room.
The boys could hear the gym rippling with noise. Then the drumming started. Driving north out of Missoula, you pass a few gas stations, then wind through tight timber.
A large casino emerges on the left, and then, just north of an overpass for migrating wildlife, the land yawns open to reveal a spectacular landscape. A timbered ridge rises to the east, out of which flows the Jocko River, fat with snowmelt in the spring. One mile later, Arlee is gone. The town is named for a Salish subchief.
This put him at odds with the head Salish chief, Charlo, who stayed in the Bitterroot Valley until , when he marched north under military escort.
Government officials assigned them Anglicized names, and in Congress passed legislation opening the reservation to settlers. Many tribal members sold their allotted land, and Chief Charlo died in ; Native youth were forced into a Catholic boarding school, where nuns told the children that the devil was in them.
The town of Charlo, 30 miles from Arlee, is now almost entirely white. Arlee is not.
Louis and were proclaimed world champions. In , a team from the Fort Peck Reservation won a state high school championship; its stars, three brothers, went on to anchor a group that beat the Harlem Globetrotters. The game is predicated on speed and cooperation.
To make your people happy is one of the greatest things you can ever do. But for the past decade, the basketball program in Arlee, which is in the foothills of the Mission Range, has touched the hem of this elite.
In , a group of parents, including John and Becky Malatare, started a youth basketball clinic. During that time, both teams secured divisional titles but fell short at the state level. He installed a system that combined the freewheeling speed of Indian ball with defensive strategies borrowed from college programs.
In , Phil Malatare entered high school. He had dedicated most of his young life to two pursuits: horn hunting — searching for the freshly shed antlers of bull elk — and playing basketball at the community center. During his freshman year, the team lost in the state semifinals; during his sophomore year, they reached the championship; last year, they went , and Phil played nearly every minute of the championship run.
Just before the end of the game, someone in the crowd called him a redskin. Then, in the final seconds, he jumped for a rebound that clinched the victory. In his bedroom, he hung news clippings of his victories and defeats, for motivation, along with the cleaned skull of a buffalo he killed.
Phillip is flat-out quick. Whenever Phil arrived at basketball camps, kids flocked to him. Wetzel played at Montana State University at Billings, but he left the team after having a child in his sophomore year.
He went on to a career in public education. Not everyone has been so fortunate. Others have gone to college, only to leave after feeling homesick.
Pitts says that in five years as head coach, he has had three college coaches ask if prospects are Native, openly worrying that they might not last in school. For Wetzel, the businesslike nature and slower pace of college ball was challenging. That meant a lot was riding on Phil.
A good student with a supportive family, he was covered by local newspapers with headlines like unstoppable. Pitts thought he had been touched by God.
Sometimes he found himself pleading with him to thrive in college. It was 5 p. Coach Pitts stood at the front of the room in baggy jeans, a baseball cap covering his sandy hair, dried manure on his boots.
Guys who disrespected teachers would not play. Guys whose parents complained about court time would not play. Latecomers would not play.