Millions of basketball fans during NCAA March Madness fill out brackets.
But Jabe Mullins and Tyler Patterson have earned a one in a million opportunity, every young basketball player’s dream.
The two former Mount Si High School basketball standouts, who led the Wildcats to a 2020 4A state championship, are both playing for teams that have qualified for this year’s Big Dance.
Mullins is in his second year playing for Saint Mary’s College of California, the No. 5 seed in the East bracket, and Patterson is in his second season with Montana State University, the No. 14 seed in the West. St. Mary’s opening game in the single-elimination tournament is on March 17 against No. 12 Indiana (in Portland, OR) and MSU battles No. 3 Texas Tech on March 18 (in San Diego).
“It’s cool. Unreal,” said Patterson. “Playing college basketball always was a dream, playing in the tournament is the biggest dream.”
Mullins said, “It’s a weird feeling being in the tournament. For the first time, I haven’t filled out a bracket.”
The two continually text each other and kept tabs with each other as the season progressed, culminating with each making the tournament.
“We punched the ticket together,” said Patterson.
They also keep in touch with a third member of their Mount Si championship team, Hayden Curtiss, a 6-11 forward for Portland State University, which reached the semi-finals of the Big Sky Conference tournament.
Patterson had a key role in getting the Bobcats into the tournament for the first time since 1996. The 6-8 starting guard scored 14 points in his team’s 87-66 win over Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Conference tournament final, clinching a spot in the Big Dance and upping MSU’s record to 27-7. He sank 4-of-5 three-pointers, his specialty, and also grabbed five rebounds.
Along with his family in attendance, Patterson was glad to see his Mount Si coach, Jason Griffith, at the Big Sky tournament.
Danny Sprinkle, Patterson’s current coach, played for the MSU team that last made the tournament in 1996.
“He tells us of his experiences,” said Patterson. “He has insight and gives us encouragement.”
This season, sophomore Patterson has averaged 23 minutes on the court and 7.2 points a game. He has made 84 of 202 shots (42 percent), with 63 of those being 3-pointers (39 percent). In addition, he hauled down 42 rebounds, with 24 assists and 16 steals. His highest point game was 22 against the University of the Incarnate Word.
Sophomore Mullins hasn’t started this year on the senior-dominated Gaels, which finished 25-7 going into the Big Dance. St. Mary’s finished second in the West Coast Conference to Gonzaga and lost to the Bulldogs in the conference tournament finals.
The Gaels and Mullins’ highlight of the year was upsetting No. 1-in- the-country Gonzaga, 67-57, Feb. 26 on St. Mary’s court. “I played well that night,” said Mullins, who came off the bench and scored seven points that night, shooting a perfect 3-for-3 (one 3-pointer), with two steals and a rebound.
When the game ended, Mullins and his teammates were swarmed on the court by the Gaels fans who left their seats, and St. Mary’s became the country’s 18th ranked team.
Mullins, who averaged 10 minutes a game this year and 3 points a game, has similar shooting percentages to former teammate Patterson. Mullins made 33 of 81 shots (41 percent) with 21 of 57 from the 3-point range (37 percent). He grabbed 35 boards with 9 steals.
Mullins said college basketball is quite different than high school because of the increase in speed.
“Everyone is super fast in college,” said Mullins, who noted Gonzaga was the quickest. “They play so fast. You play three minutes against them and you’re out of breath.”
Both agree the crowd noise is different, louder in college.
“Sometimes players can’t hear each other on the court,” said Mullins.
Patterson said, “There’s no professional team here (Bozeman), so everyone comes out to our games. It means a lot to us.”