University of Washington

Once a Husky, Martin Breunig leads Montana against Washington

Montana's Martin Breunig (12) shoots in front of Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer, left, and Domantas Sabonis. Breunig is second in the Big Sky Conference with a scoring average of 20.6 points per game.
Montana's Martin Breunig (12) shoots in front of Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer, left, and Domantas Sabonis. Breunig is second in the Big Sky Conference with a scoring average of 20.6 points per game. The Associated Press

Andrew Andrews and Martin Breunig came to the University of Washington in the same recruiting class, each arriving in the summer of 2011.

They were roommates, so they spent a lot of time together. Andrews remembers playing against Breunig in games of 1-on-1 after many practices.

“Just a strong, really, really athletic, competitive kid,” Andrews said.

Or, as coach Lorenzo Romar describes him: “Martin was — I’m sure still is — a hard worker, but (also) an outstanding human being.”

For whatever reason, though, it never clicked for the 6-foot-8 forward at UW, and so he left Washington after appearing in just nine games and scoring exactly one point his sophomore season.

Breunig, a native of Germany who prepped at St. John’s Northwest Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, decided to transfer to Montana. And look at him now.

As the Grizzlies face off against the Huskies on Saturday, 3 p.m., at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Breunig is their leading scorer and rebounder, with averages of 20.6 and 8.9, and he is expected to be in the Big Sky Player of the Year conversation at season’s end.

Those are not the kind of numbers Romar likely thought Breunig would produce after he left UW in the spring of 2013.

“If you would have told me he would be averaging 20 points a game and nine rebounds and shooting close to 70 percent (69.3), I would say, ‘I don’t know,’ ” Romar said Friday. “I do know he had tremendous ability when he came in. He was very athletic. There were times when he would do things in practice (that were), like, jaw-dropping.

“… We’ve had a number of people transfer over the years. I don’t know if I could be more proud of someone and how well they’re doing right now.”

When Breunig transferred, Romar was “disappointed that we couldn’t get him over the hump mentally so that he would give himself a chance,” he said.

“But right now, he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”

After sitting out the 2013-14 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Breunig scored 16.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game for Montana last season. He was named first-team all-conference, and won the Big Sky’s Newcomer of the Year award.

And he’s playing a different role than what Romar envisioned for him at Washington. Romar wanted Breunig to be “more like a versatile 4-man,” similar to the way he wants 6-foot-9 freshman Marquese Chriss to play on this year’s team.

But at Montana, Romar observed, “he’s pretty much around the basket (and) very effective.”

According to the basketball analytics website Hoop-Math.com, 54.7 percent of Breunig’s field-goal attempts come at the rim. He makes 78 percent of those, and has attempted only three 3-pointers in seven games this season.

He is far removed, then, from the frustrating practice sessions in which Romar tried to encourage Breunig to be more assertive when he caught passes near the hoop.

 ‘You’re so athletic,’ ” Romar recalls telling him. “ ‘Catch it, don’t mess around, just jump over people. They’re not going to get to your shot.’ That’s what he’s doing now. That’s exactly what he’s doing now. He’s really cleaned up his game. They’ve really helped him in that regard.”

When Breunig felt discontent toward the end of his time at UW, Andrews said, they would sit together in his room and talk about what he might do next. Andrews wasn’t surprised when Breunig chose to transfer, “because during the course of the year, he was just really unhappy. … And then once he decided to leave, I just saw the fire in him to get better and try to do as best as he could.”

Andrews said he talked with Breunig on Friday morning — “just kind of keeping up on him, keeping tabs on him a little bit,” he said — and that he’s happy for what his former roommate has accomplished since leaving UW.

“He definitely had flashes when he was here,” Andrews said. “I think he just needed to be at a place where he was a little bit more in control of his own destiny. I feel like here, he couldn’t do what he wanted to do in the time he needed to do it in. So I think going to Montana really helped him out a lot.”

HUSKIES GAMEDAY

Washington (6-2, 0-0 Pac-12) vs. Montana (3-4, 0-0 Big Sky)

3 p.m., Saturday, Hec Edmundson Pavilion

TV: Pac-12 Networks. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM

All-time series: UW leads the series 43-9

PROJECTED STARTERS (statistics for 2015-16)

MONTANA

5  Walter Wright, G (5-10, jr.): 11.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg.

10  Michael Oguine, G (6-2, fr.): 8.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg.

12  Martin Breunig, F (6-8, r-sr.): 20.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg.

20 Fabijan Krslovic, F (6-8, so.): 5.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg.

34 Brandon Gfeller, G (6-4, jr.): 8.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg.

WASHINGTON

0  Marquese Chriss, F (6-9, fr.): 12.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg.

4  Matisse Thybulle, G (6-5, fr.): 4.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg.

5  Dejounte Murray, G (6-4 1/2, fr.): 13.6 ppg, 7.3 pg, 4.3 apg.

12 Andrew Andrews, G (6-2, r-sr.): 22.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.8 apg.

15 Noah Dickerson, F (6-8, fr.): 8.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg.

Scouting report: After coming within one win of an NCAA tournament berth last season, Montana was picked to win the Big Sky conference championship in the 2015-16 preseason media poll (though the coaches’ poll picked Weber State as the winner, with Montana second). The Grizzlies tied with Eastern Washington for the league title last season, then lost to the Eagles in the Big Sky tournament championship game. … Montana returns four starters from last year’s team, including ex-Husky Martin Breunig, who currently ranks second in the Big Sky in scoring with 20.6 points per game. Montana did lose leading scorer Jordan Gregory, but didn’t lose anyone else who averaged more than 6.6 points per game. … The Grizzlies have beaten Boise State, Carroll College and San Francisco this season, and have lost to San Jose State, North Dakota State, Pepperdine and, most recently, Gonzaga. That game went down to the wire, with the 20th-ranked Bulldogs winning 61-58 in Spokane. … Three-point shooting has not been a strength for Montana so far — the Grizzlies have made just 36 of their 141 attempts from beyond the arc, a 25.5 percent clip. … UW coach Lorenzo Romar said he figures Montana will try to slow the Huskies, who prefer a fast-paced style of play. “That would be our guess,” Romar said, “that they’re going to try to be very deliberate and making sure they’re taking good care of the basketball, and not allowing us an opportunity to really get out and run.” … Ken Bone, the former UW assistant and former head coach of Washington State and Portland State, is in his second year as an assistant under Montana coach Travis DeCuire.

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