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Bill Haisten: Owasso’s Fab Four includes destined-for-greatness freshman Jalen Montonati

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At the other end of the call was longtime friend Steve Bontrager, a former Oral Roberts basketball star, a former professional player and coach in the U.S. and Europe, and since the mid-’90s a provider of shooting-and-skills instruction for Tulsa-area players ranging from 7 years old to college age.

Bontrager’s instruction career began when Wayman Tisdale was a Phoenix Sun and had a hiccup in his shot mechanics. After a few sessions with Bontrager, Tisdale’s technique again was silky smooth.

The Bontrager call centered on an Owasso athlete: “He’s the best eighth-grade player I’ve ever worked with. He does everything well. You’ve got to see this kid. You won’t believe it.”

Intrigued, I attended a Bontrager session in a south Tulsa gym, noticed a tall participant with a Kevin Durant physique and asked, “That’s got to be him, right?”

Bontrager: “That’s him.”

Jalen Montonati is the “best eighth-grade player” ever to have worked with Bontrager, and now I can state unequivocally that Jalen is the best eighth-grade player I’ve ever actually seen in person.

Jalen averaged 28 points and 12 rebounds for an 18-0 Rams eighth-grade squad. Because most games were so one-sided, he rarely played more than a half. He turned 15 only three weeks ago, stands at or slightly taller than 6-foot-6, weighs 170 pounds, doesn’t have an awkward bone in his body and wears a size-15 shoe.

Jalen’s dad is Owasso coach and former Oklahoma State big man Brian Montonati, who as an eighth-grader also was 6-6 and 170 pounds. At OSU, Brian was 6-10 and 215.

Jalen will wind up being 6-10 and 215. Because his dribbling and passing are at a high level, he can run the Owasso offense while looking over the top of all defenders. He scores from every level: on 3-pointers, on mid-range attempts, on paint moves and on dunks in transition.

He just has that look about him — that he’s destined to be a McDonald’s All-American, a dynamic college player and wind up on an NBA roster.

Having graduated from the eighth grade only a few days ago, Jalen now officially is a ninth-grader. His first varsity exercise occurred on Tuesday. During 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 my whole life. I’m ready to start a new journey into high school and see where that takes me.”

For two years, Jalen has been running with Owasso varsity players, and Owasso has had quality varsity players like recently graduated big man Caden Fry (who signed to play at Rogers State).

Jalen as a 14-year-old occasionally would square up against a physical, skilled player like Fry. That alone would have been effective prep work for a higher level of basketball.

Both for varsity veterans and new personnel, summer games have tremendous value. Coaches can teach situational basics while tinkering with personnel combinations. The Kelley league is among the busier in 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 summer games are played simultaneously in two gyms within the same athletics complex. Considering that you can see parts of nine varsity contests in one evening, the $2 ticket is an extraordinary bargain.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who wanted a look at the younger Montonati’s skill set. For Owasso-Catoosa, there were twice as many spectators than for any other game that night.

Actually, Brian Montonati has more than just a gifted freshman son. Brian has a gifted incoming freshman class. He says Jalen, MJ Milton (the younger brother of former Owasso star and current Philadelphia 76er Shake Milton), Boden Williams and Koen Scott all are 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 who drove the Wolverines to the Final Four and a national-title loss to Duke.

Among those Wolverine freshmen was Jalen Rose, who had a nice NBA career and now does great work for ESPN. Jalen Montonati was named after Jalen Rose, Brian Montonati reports.

There were sequences on Tuesday when Brian Montonati had four Owasso freshmen on the floor. Point guard E.J. Lewis will be a senior and a 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 been playing his whole life and he’s been around the varsity team forever,” Brian Montonati said. “He’s played high-level AAU basketball. We were like, ‘Let’s run the first play for him,’ and he scored. No jitters. He got a layup on that one, and then he got a 3 on the next possession.”

Because of the involvement of his son, Brian was asked whether he felt butterflies before the Tuesday game.

“A little bit, yeah,” Brian said. “We talked about this for a long time, and not just about Jalen but that whole group. It’s a special group. I’ve been excited to get them into the gym and start coaching them. I only got to start coaching them last week.

“They’re just now starting on some light strength work. Their basketball IQ and where they are physically — they’ll be completely different six months from now.”

On Thursday night, Owasso was matched with Glenpool in a Kelley contest. This weekend, the Rams are involved in new Golden Hurricane coach Eric Konkol’s first high school team camp at the University of Tulsa. During that camp alone, Owasso will play eight games. On Saturday, Jalen and his 15-year-old friends are matched with Class 6A champion Edmond North.

By the end of June, Owasso already will have played 28 summer games. Jalen Montonati will have played 28 times against significantly more experienced high school players.

Having been groomed for basketball since he was toddler, Jalen seems to be built for this.

“I would say that,” he stated. “I’m more than ready.”

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Sports Columnist

I joined the Tulsa World in 1990. Prior to becoming a sports columnist in 2016, I was the only sports writer in Tulsa World history to have covered OU, OSU, the University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts sports on an everyday basis. Phone: 918-581-8397

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