HELENA — As Dan Pearson strolled around the familiar confines of Carroll College’s PE Center, a recognizable voice hollered at him.
Pearson spent three years at an assistant men's basketball coach at Carroll College under coach Carson Cunningham. He took that job after coaching with Guy Almquist at Capital High.
During a homecoming of sorts for Pearson, it was usual for him to talk to many people. He was in Helena as an assistant with the University of Calgary Dinos as they took on the Saints on Thursday and Friday.
But this voice issued a command.
Ife Kalejaiye, a junior stopper for the Saints, called out to Pearson.
“Ife said I wasn’t allowed to say a thing in the first game,” Pearson said.
Pearson coached at Carroll when a good chunk of the roster was recruited. He knows the players, knows the plays and knows the place in the PE Center. Kalejaiye and him shared a laugh about the reunion.
“And then, I would talk the second game,” Pearson said.
Pearson is in his second year with the Dinos, and the matchup between his former team and his current one is an evenly matched affair. The Saints bested the Dinos this time with two exciting matchups as Calgary, which usually plays under FIBA rules, gave Carroll College a good challenge playing under American rules.
Pearson played at Carroll from 2008-12, so he’s deeply knowledgeable about the Frontier Conference, NAIA and more. The Billings Central alumni knows Montana basketball and he’s always excited for a return back to his home state.
Pearson’s tie to Calgary came after he sought to use his final year of eligibility. Canadian college basketball allows for a fifth year. That, along with Pearson’s year, made a transfer up to the University of Calgary a desirable option around 2012.
His buddy Phil Barndt, who is also an assistant at Calgary, was going to play another year up north. The two who grew up together in Billings were concocting another year of play together.
A delay in Pearson’s offer allowed him to settle in at Carroll College, but he stayed in contact with Dinos coach Dan Vanvooren. Pearson’s basketball network swelled.
“It was a good chance to try something different,” Pearson said. “Dan asked me if I wanted to try something different.”
That difference included a massive population increase and a new style of basketball. Canadian teams play under FIBA rules. Some major differences include a shorter 24-second shot clock, a different key, and a longer 3-point line.
“The speed that makes you play and the extended lane line takes the bigs out a little more,” Pearson said. “Being able to learn a different system has been a great learning opportunity.”
And the Dinos get some professional-caliber players. Pearson estimated there’s probably been about 10 Dinos who have come on to play in a professional league over the last decade. Part of that, he said, is due to the networks Calgary created.
He still keeps tabs on the Saints while he’s up north, too. Pearson maintains contact with the Saints second all-time leading scorer, Zach Taylor, who graduated last year and is still looking for a professional team to take a chance on him.
“It’s one of those ones where literally a team just has to take a chance and then he’ll have that comparable experience and he’ll get more looks,” Pearson said.
Now he’s in his second year coaching at a university of 35,000 students in a city with a larger population than all of Montana. He works within the university, too, doing event staffing and assisting in marketing capacities. The job allows him to balance coaching responsibilities while still working full-time, though a time conflict has caused him to miss one or two road trips.
Pearson wants to coach for the foreseeable future. Whether that’s in Canada or the states depends what opportunities present themselves.
“I want to coach at a place where I enjoy living, at a university that I think would support the type of coaching I would like to do,” Pearson said. “If that’s up in Canada, that’s great. If that’s down here, that’s something I wouldn’t be upset about. It’s kind of wherever it takes me.”