On the other end of the call was longtime friend Steve Bontrager, former basketball star Oral Roberts, a former professional player and coach in the United States and Europe, and since the mid-1990s, a provider of shooting instruction and skills for Tulsa. – area players ranging from 7 years old to college age.
Bontrager’s instructor career began when Wayman Tisdale was a Phoenix Sun and had a hiccup in his shooting mechanics. After a few sessions with Bontrager, Tisdale’s technique was silky smooth again.
Bontrager’s call centered on an athlete from Owasso: “He’s the best eighth-grade player I’ve ever worked with. He does everything well. You have to see this kid. You won’t believe it.
Intrigued, I attended a Bontrager session at a south Tulsa gym, noticed a tall participant with a Kevin Durant physique, and asked, “That must be him, right?”
Bontrager: “That’s him.”
Jalen Montonati is the “best eighth grader” to ever work with Bontrager, and now I can say unequivocally that Jalen is the best eighth grader I have ever seen in person.
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Jalen averaged 28 points and 12 rebounds for an 18-0 eighth-year Rams team. Because most games were so one-sided, he rarely played more than one half. He turned 15 just three weeks ago, is 6ft 6in or slightly taller, weighs 170lbs, has no awkward bones in his body and wears a size 15 shoe.
Jalen’s father is Owasso coach and former Oklahoma State big man Brian Montonati, who as an eighth grader was also 6-6 and 170 pounds. At OSU, Brian was 6-10 and 215.
Jalen will end up with 6-10 and 215. Because his dribbling and passing are at a high level, he can lead Owasso’s offense while looking above all defenders. He scores at all levels: on 3-pointers, on mid-range attempts, on paint moves and on dunks in transition.
He just has this look on him – that he’s destined to be a McDonald’s All-American, a dynamic college player and end up on an NBA roster.
Graduating from eighth grade just days ago, Jalen is now officially a ninth grader. His first university exercise was on Tuesday. In a summer league opener at Bishop Kelley, he scored 17 points as the Rams defeated Catoosa 69-64.
“I’m ready to go,” Jalen said. “My dad has coached and guided me all my life. I’m ready to start a new journey to high school and see where it takes me.
For two years, Jalen ran with college players from Owasso, and Owasso had quality college players like recently graduated big man Caden Fry (who signed to play at Rogers State).
Jalen, at the age of 14, occasionally faced a physical and talented player like Fry. That alone would have been effective prep work for a higher level of basketball.
For both college veterans and new staff members, the summer games hold tremendous value. Coaches can teach the basics of the situation while tinkering with the staff combinations. The Kelley League is among the busiest in the state and involves Bishop Kelley, Bixby, Berryhill, Booker T. Washington, Edison, Webster, Rejoice Christian, Jenks, Tahlequah, Memorial, Union, Sapulpa, Holland Hall, Glenpool, NOAH, Beggs, Hale, Broken Arrow, Rogers, Owasso, Catoosa, Victory Christian, East Central and Kiefer.
Kelley’s summer games are played simultaneously at two gymnasiums in the same athletics complex. Considering you can see parts of nine college contests in one evening, the $2 ticket is an amazing bargain.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who wanted to take a look at young Montonati’s skills. For Owasso-Catoosa, there were twice as many spectators as for any other game that night.
In fact, Brian Montonati has more than a gifted first-grade son. Brian has a talented freshman class. He says Jalen, MJ Milton (younger brother of former Owasso star and current Philadelphia 76er Shake Milton), Boden Williams and Koen Scott are all destined to play college basketball.
Owasso has a Fab Four class of 2022-23 ninth graders, just like Michigan 30 years ago had a Fab Five class of freshmen that led the Wolverines to the Final Four and a national title loss against Duke.
Among those Wolverine freshmen was Jalen Rose, who had a great career in the NBA and is now doing great work for ESPN. Jalen Montonati was named after Jalen Rose, reports Brian Montonati.
There was footage on Tuesday when Brian Montonati had four freshmen from Owasso on the floor. Point guard EJ Lewis will be a senior and fourth-year starter. Returning starter Brandon Mann totaled 15 points on Tuesday.
Otherwise, the Rams are rebuilding with inexperienced players and the Fab Four collection of rookies.
“Jalen has played his whole life and he’s always been on the varsity team,” Brian Montonati said. “He played high-level AAU basketball. We said to ourselves: “Let’s play the first game for him”, and he scored. No jitters. He got a layup on that one, then he got a 3 on the next possession.
Due to his son’s involvement, Brian was asked if he smelled butterflies before Tuesday’s game.
“A little, yes,” Brian said. “We talked about it for a long time, and not just about Jalen, but about this whole group. It’s a special group. I was thrilled to get them into the gym and start training them. I only started training them last week.
“They have just started light strength work. Their basketball IQ and where they are physically – they will be completely different in six months.
On Thursday night, Owasso was paired with Glenpool in a contest from Kelley. This weekend, the Rams are participating in new Golden Hurricane coach Eric Konkol’s first team camp at the University of Tulsa. During this camp alone, Owasso will play eight matches. On Saturday, Jalen and his 15-year-old friends are paired with Class 6A champion Edmond North.
By the end of June, Owasso will have already played 28 summer matches. Jalen Montonati will have played 28 times against much more experienced high school students.
Having been groomed for basketball since he was a toddler, Jalen seems to be built for it.
“I would say that,” he said. “I’m more than ready.”