Reflecting on MSU’s golden basketball history

Sometimes history gets lost in the shuffle of the present, but reminders of glory live on all around us. We may not remember the deeds, but the past glory still lives. Places like Romney Gym, Brick Breeden Fieldhouse and Worthington Arena are all named after these Bobcat legends. Each landmark is an ode to a team of basketball stars that changed the way basketball is played. In the late 1920s Bozeman was the capital of college basketball deploying what was called “racehorse basketball” when Montana State College claimed the 1929 National Championship. Coaches and players on this team were not only known for their skills on the court but what they contributed to the state of Montana.  

 

The 1928-29 National Championship “Golden Bobcats” had a record of 36-2. They scored more than 60 points per game, beat All-American John Wooden’s Purdue squad and beat Nebraska 61-30. Boasting three All-Americans the team was voted by the Helms foundation as the top team for the first half of the century (1900-1950). At their five-year reunion they beat the Harlem Globetrotters. But perhaps their greatest legacy of all is the quality of men they produced.  

 

In 1922 MSU President Alfred Atkinson hired a coach from Billings High School by the name of Art Romney. Romney came with an impressive resumé — he graduated from Utah University at the age of 19 with not only a bachelor’s degree but a master’s as well. He then spent a year at Harvard’s Business School before coming to Montana State for a second bachelor’s degree and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. Romney’s brilliance manifested itself with a unique style at the time of pushing the pace, man-to-man defense and a full-court press. This stifled teams at a time when there was no three point line, the clock ran continuously and, oddly enough, after each  basket there was a jump-ball. During his six years as head coach he amassed a record of 151 wins and 21 losses. But it wasn’t just his style of play that made MSU successful, it was Romney’s ability to recruit talent to match that style. After his first couple successful seasons, Romney convinced a now famous recruit  — commonly known by his nickname of “Brick” — to stay in town and make a name for himself.

 

John “Brick” Breeden was a 6’ 2” guard known for his defense. Breeden not only played for the basketball team but was also on the football team. After his playing career was over he went on to coach the basketball team from 1935 to 1954 and became the winningest coach in history with a record of 283-196. Breeden also served as athletic director for two years and long time administrator.  He then moved on from sports to become a State Senator from 1972-74. A year after Brick joined the team, the final piece of the “Golden Bobcats” — a freshman by the name of Max Worthington — was added from Billings.

 

Worthington joined the Bobcats after having taken Billings High School to the National Championships in Chicago. He won two state championships in basketball and one in football during his time in Billings. Worthington was known for being quick-footed and was a deadly combo with Breeden. After he finished his playing career at MSU he went on to coach in both Shelby and Helena winning state championships at both. In 1946 he returned to MSU as an assistant coach for the football team that made their first bowl appearance. Worthington stepped away from coaching in 1948 to run the Alumni/Public Service Office. However, his coaching wasn’t quite done, as he stood in for his former teammate Brick Breeden as basketball coach during the 1951 season, going 18-9. After that season Worthington continued his service to MSU sitting on every major campus council and committee and chairing projects such as the construction of the “Brick” Breeden Fieldhouse, Bobcat Boosters and the Renne Library. In 1963, he was appointed as the first dean of student affairs and activities.