Montgomery made most of 'Last Dance'

Photo by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Colson Montgomery (23) had himself a career at Southridge, setting numerous program records, such as most games (94), most points per game (20.9), most points (1,966), rebounds (670), most field goals made (711), most 3-pointers (166), most points in a game (41) and most points in a tournament game (38). He won two sectional championships, and as a senior, led Southridge to its first regional championship since 1986.


HUNTINGBURG — ESPN’s documentary “The Last Dance” attracted a lot of eyeballs to tell the story of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty. One of those pair of eyeballs belonged to Colson Montgomery, who soaked up a lot of information about His Airness, and used what he learned as motivation for his senior basketball season at Southridge.

“Going into my senior year — you got to make it special, and so then, when they called it ‘The Last Dance,’ I kind of thought to myself, ‘Well, this is kind of my last dance of basketball and high school,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery drew the inspiration from that documentary to push his teammates, to get the most out of them in practices and in games. He admitted he was hard on some people, but that was because he believed in them.

“It was just because I knew it had to be done for them to witness success,” he said. “So, I mean, I pushed people beyond their limits — more than they wanted to be pushed. And sometimes, you have to be that bad guy, but at the same time, you’re making them better. And I knew that from past experience with my dad (TJ) pushing me to be great on stuff, and now that I’m older, I realized everything he did when I was younger, it made into who I am now.”

Mark Rohrer just finished his third season as coach of the Raiders, and in all of his years as a head coach or assistant coach, he called Montgomery the best leader he’s ever been around.

“He empowers his teammates, he makes them better,” Rohrer said. “He does it on the court, he does it in the locker room, he does it in practice. He’s just the ultimate team leader.”

Some athletes may specialize in a sport if they are gifted at one and know that their future is in said sport. Montgomery, however, hasn’t. He had to walk away from football after his sophomore year, as he was also playing fall baseball, but his first love growing up was basketball.

Being a baseball commit to Indiana University and also a Top 100 prospect in the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft wasn’t going to deter him from that love he developed for basketball as a young boy.

“It was my first sport that I ever loved and that I wanted to play,” Montgomery said. “I had a vision actually playing college basketball when I was younger. That’s what I always thought that I was going to play. I just love the game, pretty much, and I noticed that when I got older, that baseball came into the equation. Everybody was saying I was better at baseball than basketball, and I was like, ‘Well, I thought I was pretty good at basketball.’ So, I couldn’t imagine what people thought of me with baseball.”

His status as a baseball prospect is well-known and prolific, but he managed to make it work and balance out the two sports during his senior basketball season.

“In basketball season, I was shooting every day,” he said. “Seven days a week, I was shooting every single day in the morning, and then, with baseball, I would hit two or three times a week. I still did a lot with baseball, but it was more just kind of easy stuff — keeping everything fresh.”

Rohrer told the Herald before the season began that Montgomery would be right there with the very best players in the state if he dedicated himself to the game of basketball 12 months a year. Some might argue he still was one of the best players in Indiana this season, even though it wasn’t his main sport.

“We talk about being tough and having a killer instinct,” Rohrer said. “And I think as it got closer and closer to tournament time for him, not just his talent level kind of took over, but just that killer instinct mindset.”

Montgomery already knew what it was like to be a sectional champion — a feat he accomplished his freshman year, but couldn’t get back to the sectional championship game his next two years, and especially had to deal with a tough loss to South Spencer in the sectional semifinal his junior year.

What motivated him was to prove any critics wrong who felt that he hadn’t won enough, and he also remembered the adversity he had when injuries kept him off the court at times in his career.

“I wanted to just go out and end on a bang,” Montgomery said.

All he did was score 166 points in six postseason games — bringing him to a record 1,966 points in his career and leading Southridge to its first semi-state appearance since 1986. There’s plenty of postseason performances he had that people can choose from of which one they liked the best.

Perhaps they might love the game where he dropped 26 points against South Spencer in the first half of the sectional championship, and totaled 38 points — the most in a tournament game in school history. They could savor the 57 points combined against Paoli and Southwestern in the March 13 regional tournament. He scored all of his team’s points in the first half against Paoli in the regional opener.

Some people might also choose to cherish his 25-point outing against a Parke Heritage team that won 11 in a row heading into Southridge’s semi-state game March 20 at Washington’s Hatchet House. His performance came close to sending the Raiders to the Class 2A state championship, as they fell just shy, 40-36, against the Wolves.

“I just think it will be an absolute crime if he is not on the Indiana All-Star Team this year,” Rohrer said. “What he was not just able to accomplish as a senior, but his entire career, and then to have the tournament run like he did, I don’t think there’s another player in the tournament this year that had a five-game stretch (sectional and regional) like him. There’s been great teams that have advanced into the tournament, but what he did was just different.”

He’s had time to reflect on his high school basketball career. He hopes that he proved the people who believed in him right, and that he made it a good ride for other people, too.

“What I’m going to miss the most is just the brotherhood that you can get from basketball, and just the grind of early morning workouts and stuff like that,” Montgomery said.

There’s a ton of pressure that comes with Montgomery being a future draft pick, perhaps even a first rounder, but he’s used to it, and doesn’t think about it a lot. The outside noise doesn’t bother him, as he’s managed to stay locked into whatever sport he’s focused on.

He’s thankful to his family for making him stay on his feet and keeping him humble — that he can lean on them, and they’ll talk about things other than sports.

Montgomery will hang out with his friends, and they’ll do different things together, like swim, fish and play different basketball games like Pig and Horse.

“I see myself as a normal kid,” he said. I don’t see myself as what other people see me.”

Now, his attention shifts to baseball. He’s trying to get the foundation of his swing down and also on arm care every day. He’s currently taking swings and lifting weights five days a week to get back into his baseball body. Montgomery is focused on getting bigger and stronger, but also maintaining athleticism for his career in baseball after high school. Basketball helped him with his agility, but he also feels he can get quicker on the basepaths.

Whether he’s continuing his baseball career in Bloomington, or he finds himself in a team’s farm system soon remains to be seen, but there’s still one big box he would love to check off, and that’s helping the Raiders win the Class 3A state baseball championship this year after experiencing two years of heartbreak as the Class 2A state runner-ups in 2018 and 2019.

“The only thing I have in mind when I’m working out, when I’m doing anything is how those games ended,” Montgomery said. “It just fuels me, it motivates me, just to want to bring back a state championship to Huntingburg.”

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