It didn’t end the way either Keller wanted.
On consecutive nights with Carroll College hosting both conference championships, father and then son led their college basketball teams into high-stakes finale.
It’s believed to be the first time in Frontier Conference history a father and a son have coached in consecutive title games. Twenty four hours a part, both came up on the short end.
Yet, it was still a display of remarkable success for one of Montana’s most recognizable basketball families: Montana coach Steve Keller, a Montana Coaches Association Hall of Famer at Montana Western over the past decade and change, and his son Wes Keller, who is leading quite the turnaround at Rocky Mountain College. (Just needed Josh Keller coaching in the Capital City for a full-blown reunion.)
“I’m real proud of (Wes),” Steve Keller said. “He’s done a great job there. I’m excited for what’s to come.”
Wes Keller laid out his goal to win a national championship when the Battlin’ Bears promoted him from an associate men’s basketball coach to the women’s coach in 2014.
This has been his team’s breakout year, posting the first winning record under Keller in his fourth season. His Battlin’ Bears received a No. 5 seed for the NAIA national tournament, which is hosted in Billings this season.
It was a reunion of sorts in Helena, too. Wes grew up here and became an all-state player at Helena High playing for Steve, who coached the Bengals boys or girls teams for 19 seasons, which included three Class AA girls championships.
Basketball has been at the core of the Keller family, and both father and son competing for conference championships before heading off to national tournaments was just another blimp on lengthy basketball resumes.
Before Helena High, Steve Keller spent seven seasons at Opheim, winning three Class C girls championships. He’s now been with the Bulldogs since 2007. Before that, he starred for Custer High and you can still find his scoring marks in Montana High School Association record books.
“My dad’s had a lot of success and he’s helped me along the way,” Wes said. “It was a neat deal. Unfortunately we both came out on the wrong side, but he’s done great things down there at Montana Western.”
Wes Keller played high school ball at HHS, and then at Miles Community College before finishing up at Western.
Then he served as an assistant coach at Western and Miles Community College, before a one-year hiatus that led to eight years as the men’s assistant at Rocky.
They’re basketball lifers and still adding more to their stories.
Those stories intertwined on Monday and Tuesday in Helena. Wes Keller, as he did so often growing up, sat behind his dad’s bench and supported the Bulldogs.
Tuesday, Steve Keller sat behind Wes’ bench, observing his son coaching in the Frontier Conference championship.
Both, appropriately enough, even sounded similar in their postgame interviews.
After each team lost their title game, each Keller praised the opposition, requesting earnestly to “credit them,” and note the winning team’s performance.
Neither was excited to talk after a loss, but both were gracious in defeat.
Between the two of them this season, defeats haven’t come often. Going forward, that’s likely to be the case in the Frontier Conference for many years to come.