Back in the spring of 1981 Bobcat head coach Bruce Haroldson put together a knock out recruiting class. Rumors at the time was that Haroldson – who typically recruited JC’s pretty hard – was told by the administration no more JC’s. The class of high schoolers he put together was out standing it include 6-10 Tryg Johnson, 6-9 (at the time he was signed) Greg Walters, 6-7 Phil Layer, 6-5 Craig Kilborn, and 6-4 Jeff Epperly. Now we did not have Scout or Rivals at the time but any it is still considered to be one of the best all freshman class ever.
During this classes freshman year under Haroldson this class really looked like it was going to live up to it’s hype. Epperly and Johnson found themselves in the starting line up at times. Walters and Johnson at times would form a very early version of the twin towers which was exciting and Layer was putting in some spot duty as Hashley’s back up. also. On the JV team (which MSU had back then) a Kilborn and Layer lead a team that was man handling other Big Sky conference JV teams as well as the local Junior College teams. If a freshman of the year was awarded back then Epperly would have been the leading candidate. The future of MSU basketball looked very promising.
Then by season end Haroldson got in all sorts of trouble, and was fired at the end of the season. Stu Starner was hired and in the transition this group found themselves stuck between the past and the coming future. To their credit all of these guys stayed true to the program and sacrificed some of their game to make the transition better. Much of the success that Starner had in later years with the likes of the Ferchs, Domako, Willis and Hampton can be tied back to what these guy’s gave to make the program better.
Recruiting – From Canada his stats were incredible 25ish points and 20ish rebounds a game. Montana State beat out Montana, Gonzaga, and Washington State among others for his services. This thought to be highly skilled big man was considered one of the best recruits in the Big Sky. He chose MSU because we graduated all of our centers and he was told he would start from day one.
Career– Walter always gets a bad wrap because at times he looked really goofy and gangly on the floor. Walters grew to 7-0, but was still a pretty good ball handler and out side shooter from the out side but while he was effective he just did not look good doing it. I will admit though he did try to bring the ball down court a little to often. He did not live up to his billing but he did have a solid career at MSU.
Recruiting – From Montana -of course- he did not have the regional or national reputation that other players had but he was the #1 target for the Bobcats and Grizzlies that season. The battle for Epperly who was considered at the time to be one of the best guard prospects ever out of Montana was intense with Washington state also in the mix. It was also rumored to be rather nasty. Epperly could handle the ball with the best of point guards, shoot from deep and was extremely aggressive.
Career – No one was hurt more by the transition between Haroldson and Starner than Epperly. During his freshman year he looked like he was going to be all world from the shooting guard spot as he started most freshman year. He was Kral Ferch before Kral Ferch. When Starner took over he moved him to the point, and it really took a lot out of his game. The move was out of necessity, and took a lot out of his game. In my opinion Epperly is one of those forgotten Bobcats who never gets the love he deserved. He was a great selfless player for the Cats and people seem to forget how good he was.
Recruiting – From Minnesota he was being recruited by a handful of Big Ten schools very seriously, but when signing day came they all went in other directions and he fell at the last minute to Montana State. Kilborn was a scorer out of high school with deep range.
Career – Kilborn was one of the best pure shooters I have ever seen in a Bobcat uniform. Back then MSU had a JV team and he lead that team in scoring, and had some huge games against the Grizzly JV team. Kilborn was turn over prone and needed help to get off his shot. He was the designated zone buster for the Bobcats, but after a few season hung up his sneakers. He stayed very involved with the Bobcat basketball team, and ironically enough became the most famous of this group appearing as a ESPN personality, hosting couple TV shows and appearing in a handful of movies.
Recruiting – From California, he was billed as the next Doug Hashly at 240 pounds fit the bill but as Phil would admit he was a little softer than Doug. Doug was Weber State’s #1 big man recruit that year and they figured they had him. When he signed with MSU they were not happy, but Haroldson was ecstatic. I beleive Phil once told me the choice came down to academics.
Career – Phil contributed as a true freshman but was also effected greatly by the coaching change. When Starner took over he wanted to go quick and athletic and that was not Phil’s game. I talked to Starner once during his second season at MSU and he admitted that he screwed up his first season in how he used Phil. He thought there were games that MSU could have won a that season if he had trusted Phil more. On a side note Phil lived on my floor in South Hedges and was one of the smartest people I met at MSU.
Recruiting – From Minnesota, Johnson was considered to be the project of the group. He was recruited by a number of d-1 schools but near the profile of the other recruits. He was a solid low post no nonsense player. Haroldson landed him by giving his high school coach an assistants job on the Bobcat coaching staff.
Career – Tryg was not fancy but he got the job done, and that was his strength. Walter got all of the preseason accolades and all Tryg did was win the starting center spot his freshman year and beyond. Johnson put on weight and became a very succeful Big Sky center. I believe he is the only one of the group to be named to a Big Sky all Conference team in his career.
This group of guy’s / players will always have a special place in my basketball heart, so I admit I am a little bias. Two of them lived on my dorm floor and I got to watch many of NBA finals with and or late night poker game. Another lived a couple floors up and I also got to know somewhat. They were good people and great Bobcats. So no matter how you judge them these guys were my Favorite Bobcat recruiting class.