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In Bigfork, a Basketball Powerhouse Emerges
New coach has guided Bigfork to undefeated league record
Bigfork High School head basketball coach Paul La Mott, center, addresses his team during a timeout. Bigfork beat Ronan 66-42. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
BIGFORK – It’s been a long time since this basketball program has been the top dog.

The gymnasium walls are bare under the “boys basketball” section, awaiting championship banners. There have been too many losing seasons and early playoff exits in recent memory. But now, back in Class B and with a new coach, the tide has shifted.

The Vikings are the boys to beat in District 7-B and, at this rate, one of the teams to beat in Class B statewide. They believe they can play with anybody. With a 9-1 record, including 5-0 in the conference, nobody is disputing that belief.

Senior captain Lael Richmond, a 6-foot-5 post, said the team’s rise to the top begins with coach Paul La Mott, the Vikings’ first-year coach. La Mott is a tough, no-nonsense coach with years of basketball experience across the globe.

“I give 100 percent of it to our coach,” Richmond said. “We’ve never had a coach who believed in us like him and who pushes us so hard. We’ve never been the team to beat.”

La Mott played collegiate basketball at California Lutheran University before joining a professional league in Australia in the late 1990s. Following his professional career, La Mott coached basketball at multiple levels, from young kids to grown men in city leagues. He ran a 2,500-person basketball association in Australia and has college coaching experience.

Because he has family in the Flathead Valley, La Mott has visited the area for years and has grown to appreciate it. So when the Bigfork job opened up, he jumped at it. La Mott is in the real estate business, but is considering going into teaching after he finishes up his Master of Business Administration degree.

With his family in the Flathead, the Bigfork job made sense for La Mott and his wife. After he was accepted for the position, they packed their bags and moved from Orange County, Calif.

“We said, ‘Let’s take that as a calling,’” La Mott said. “We saw it as a unique opportunity to move up here and do this.”

La Mott’s coaching philosophy revolves around defensive pressure. Solid defense disrupts offensive schemes and, in turn, creates offensive opportunities for the aggressor. Turnovers lead to easy baskets and La Mott is preaching this to his players. He wants his players to understand the game of basketball, not just play it.

“I want to increase their basketball I.Q.,” La Mott said.

So far this season, the Vikings have embraced La Mott’s defensive mindset, though not as consistently as they need to, said Keenan Evans, a 6-1 senior forward. Bigfork routinely holds opponents to 30 or 40 points, but Evans said there are still holes in the defense.

“We have lapses,” Evans said.

La Mott runs a tight ship. He preaches respectful behavior both on the court and off. He expects his players to work hard in practice and in games, and to treat opposing teams courteously.

“My way is hard,” La Mott said. “I know that hard work yields results. We don’t tolerate disrespect. We don’t tolerate trash talking.”

The Vikings have largely cruised through their schedule, with their only loss coming to Missoula Loyola. In their two most recent league games, the Vikings blew past Plains 69-48 and Troy 59-34.

“They’re seeing the results of their hard work,” La Mott said.

Richmond and Evans lead a balanced offensive attack that has several players who can put points on the board. La Mott said the players are still learning his formula, but once they get it down, the system is designed to promote individual freedom on offense.

The players, Evans said, get along well this year, a vital component of the team’s chemistry. Without egos interfering with the game plan, the team has been able to totally buy in to La Mott’s system, and trust each other. Evans and Richmond believe the sky is the limit.

“We don’t have any plaques up there,” Evans said of the bare gymnasium walls where the school’s championship banners hang. “Something needs to go up there for basketball.”
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