Montana is the fourth-largest state in the country, yet it holds just over one million people. Tyler Hall had the seventh-most points per game nationally and second-most three pointers made, yet most people have never heard his name. In 2015, these unknowns met when Hall put on a Montana State jersey for the first time.
Overlooked met overlooked, and the two never looked back.
Last year, Hall averaged 23.1 points per game and shot 42 percent from behind the arc while committing only two turnovers per game. He was more efficient than Marcus Keene, scored more than Luke Kennard and Frank Mason, and recorded eight games with at least 30 points.
So how did college basketball’s best-kept secret end up in Montana? It took a little luck, a lot of persistence, and an unlikely coaching connection formed at the perfect time.
At one point, Hall didn’t even look ready for D-III ball. Hall’s AAU coach at Quad City Elite in Rock Island, Ill. even felt that he’d have a shot recruiting him for Blackhawk College, a local community college.
“As a 15U kid, he was a very skinny, 5’11, six foot kid that never went inside the three-point,” coach Darren Bizarri said. “It didn’t take long, about a month and I knew I would never see him in my gym.”
Bizarri always knew Hall was a scorer, but initially he questioned whether he had the physicality to be a star. He started the process of turning Hall into a more aggressive, battle-ready player by focusing on drills that got him pushed around to score.
“He really helped me believe in myself,” Hall said of Bizarri.
Things finally clicked for Hall the summer heading into his senior year at a tournament in Fort Wayne, Ind. Bizarri remembers calling for his team to run the same set over and over because Hall was not missing shots. He led his team with 34 points, and the makings of a star were born.
Still, it’s not the scoring outbursts or occasions of resilience that Hall remembers most about AAU. It’s something bigger.
“My team didn’t look the part; we didn’t look like we could compete,” Hall said. “I always try to prove people wrong at everything level.”
This underdog mentality is something Hall has associated with his whole life. Hall wasn’t recruited by the “bigger schools” in the Midwest, only landing offers from Northern Iowa, Nevada, Western Michigan, and of course, Montana State.
Instead, he had what really mattered: trust.
Brian Fish had known Hall ever since he was a scrawny teen. The current head coach of Montana State got this introduction thanks to a tip from Bizarri in 2010, when Fish was an assistant at Creighton. The two had become friends after Fish came to be a speaker at a coaching clinic in town a few years before.
While recruiting the likes of Casey Benson and Jordan Bell at Oregon, Fish continued to keep an eye on Hall.
“We didn’t know how many coaches were gonna be there watching, but we know Fish was gonna be at midcourt sitting there early to watch Tyler play,” Bizarri said.
Fish believed so much in Hall that once he left Oregon for the Montana State job, his first call was to the Rock Island shooting forward.
“He just said that you’re my first recruit and I can kind of build this around you,” Hall said of Fish’s pitch.
There’s another key aspect of Hall’s recruiting process that ended with him happily at Montana State: his parents. Both of Hall’s parents played D-III basketball at Augustana University and they were key in harboring his self-confidence. His father, Henry, always told him, “If you can play, you can play. People will find you.”
Hall became a leader for the Montana State team right off the bat. He was the leading scorer and rebounder for the Bobcats in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. In his two years at the program, he has improved the team’s record from 7-23 to 16-16 with an 11-7 record in conference.
The big test for Hall will be if he can take Montana State to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996. Not only could the opportunity to play in the tournament brand Hall as a March Madness hero, but he could be looked at as a serious NBA draft pick. To date, Montana State has not sent a player to the NBA.
Hall has a chance. Both the player and program have always been overlooked, but if they keep producing like this, that won't be the case for long.