Devin Montgomery has heard all the lines before. He’s so old he’ll be collecting social security before his eligibility runs out. He is so old he looks more like a coach than a player.
It is rare a day goes by when he doesn’t hear it from a teammate or coach at least once.
The Cal State San Bernardino senior point guard may not be up in years when it comes to everyday life. But at 28, he is indeed an elder statesman on the hardwood. The series of events that derailed his playing career for more than six years make him even more appreciative of the chance he has to finish it off in style.
Montgomery helped the Coyotes to their eighth CCAA regular season title in 10 years, as well as a conference tournament championship.
Next up is the Division II West Sub-regional which starts today at
Western Washington University. The Coyotes (20-9) will square off against local rival Cal Poly Pomona at 5 tonight .
“They tease me about it all the time.” Montgomery said about the age gap between him and his teammates. “I do have to do a better job of taking care of my body and getting ready to play. I feel it the most when I try and dunk.”
Cal State is Montgomery’s fourth and final stop on the collegiate
circuit which started with one-year stints at Duquesne, then Moorpark Community College.
He spent his junior season at Pepperdine in 2001-02, the highlight being an NCAA Tournament appearance against
Wake Forest in which he scored 18 points in an 83-74 loss at Arco Arena in Sacramento.
Despite that loss he looked forward to his senior season because the team had most of its starters back and the experience of being in the playoffs would be something to build upon. That never happened.
Two days before school started , Montgomery’s maternal grandmother Ernestine Morgan, who helped raise him, collapsed and died at the family home.
He was hoping the sport would provide a refuge to help him escape the grief he was still feeling three months later. Then that was taken from him too – four games into the season. He was driving the lane and going up for a shot when an opponent from Cal State Fullerton went up to defend, only to come down hard on his hand.
Montgomery came out of the game for a few minutes to ice his hand but finished the game. When the adrenalin had worn off he knew something wasn’t right.
“I never felt pain like that before,” he said. “To this day I
still hate Cal State Fullerton because of that.”
An X-ray taken the next day revealed that the ligament had torn away from the bone. Rehabilitation didn’t work and he ended up having surgery in December.
Montgomery couldn’t travel with the team. He was on several
painkillers. And now he was without basketball. The lack of structure or an outlet for his frustrations showed. He started skipping classes and his grades suffered. He alienated himself from his teammates.
Even his closest friends had trouble getting through to him.
“We tried to stop by and get him out of the house, take him to the movies. Anything to get his mind off things,” recalled T.K. Reed,his friend since travel ball and a former player at Cal State.
“He was having a hard time dealing with things.”
Then came another curveball. Montgomery became a father as son Devin Jr. was born in March of 2004. The thought of college basketball was the furthest thing from his mind. He took odd jobs just to help make
ends meet. He worked at basketball camps and did some private coaching just to stay in the game.
Montgomery always wanted to go back to finish school and use his last year of eligibility but that plan was put on hold – again and again
and again. His priority was his son whom he had custody of for the first two years. He kept promising mother Sharon Morgan, a
registered nurse at Los Angeles County Medical Center, he would go back but it became a standing joke.
“She went back after 10 years so she told me I had 10 years,” Montgomery said with a laugh. “I almost used it all.”
He talked with Reed several times about finally getting back on the court and his longtime friend put him in touch with Oliver.
The Coyote boss remembered seeing him play when he scouted Reed, who played in the same backcourt with Montgomery at Moorpark.
But it wasn’t that easy. He had transferred so many times a lot of his college credits didn’t apply so he had to take several summer
classes to get back in good enough academic standing to be eligible.
The rest is history. Montgomery earned first-team all-conference honors and heads into the regional ranked fifth in scoring (14.3 ppg)
, shooting .493 percent from the field and .754 from the line.
“I was willing to give the old man a chance,” Oliver said with a laugh. “I knew he could play even though it had been awhile, a long
Montgomery got off to a great start, totaling 76 points in his first three games. After a bit of slump midway through the season he is
delivering again. Oliver said the turning point was a closed-door meeting he had with Montgomery after a 73-71 overtime loss to Cal
Poly – the same team the Coyotes face today.
“He wasn’t aggressive enough and wasn’t playing at the speed at which I knew he could play. He’s never exactly been a jet but I
didn’t want him playing in slow motion either. I told him if he wasn’t going to do that I would put someone in who would.”
The Coyotes lost the next game but then reeled off seven straight wins, a streak they hope to extend today. Montgomery dished out a
season-high 12 assists in a 79-77 CCAA Tournament quarterfinal win over Sonoma State, one of the helpers being a picture perfect entry pass to Brandon Brown for a game-winning dunk.
“It’s nice to see him enjoying the game again,” Reed said. “I knew he still had it in him.”
Maybe you always can go back again.