To Steve Keller, recruiting athletes to Minot doesn't seem particularly daunting.
Keller has been the men's basketball coach at the University of Montana Western in the two-stoplight town of Dillon, Mont., for the past five seasons.
"When I bring players in they say, 'Coach, you have no Walmart?' " Keller said. "I believe that if we can recruit to Dillon, Montana, we can recruit to Minot."
Steve Keller, shown here coaching at the University of Montana Western, was interviewed at Minot State University on Monday for the men’s basketball head coaching position vacated by Peter Stewart. Photo courtesy of UMW sports information.
Keller, who has a 98-63 record at UMW, is the first of at least three candidates to visit Minot State University this week to interview for head men's basketball coach.
MSU Athletic Director Rick Hedberg said the university is moving "fairly quickly" to make a hire in the wake of Peter Stewart's July 9 resignation, but applications are still being taken and more interviews may be scheduled.
Keller got the first crack at an on-campus interview Tuesday. The Custer, Mont., native met with Hedberg and MSU's coaching search committee, talked with about eight returning MSU players and appeared at a press conference in the MSU Dome.
Under Keller's guidance, UMW finished with 22 or more wins in each of the last three seasons, all of which ended in NAIA national tournament appearances.
Keller coached boys and girls high school basketball in Montana from 1978-2004, leading his teams to six state championships and earning a spot in the Montana Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Keller and his wife, Mary Kay, have five children. Sons Wes and Josh played basketball at UMW under a previous coach. Daughter Shandi is a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the Army, Hayley is a student at UMW and youngest daughter Nicole is entering her senior year of high school.
Keller's teams run a dribble-drive offense similar to John Calipari's University of Kentucky squads. Keller said he's primarily a man-to-man defensive coach but will play a little bit of zone.
"I'm not a guy that wants to score 100 and you score 95," Keller said. "I don't really consider that a win. It's a win, but it's just not good defense."
Keller said he needs to evaluate the returning Beavers, but is confident his offensive system would be popular with the players.
"The dribble-drive is not a hard thing to put in and it actually gives the players freedom and they like it," he said. "They're in attack mode."
He also shared a bit of his recruiting philosophy. At UMW, Keller was only allotted three scholarships for out-of-state athletes. MSU has 10 full scholarships for men's basketball.
"I think you look for athleticism and speed and quickness first," Keller said. "We gotta find some athletes that can run and jump and can hopefully shoot. We shoot 3s, but you gotta attack the rim, you gotta get to the free-throw line to win basketball games."
Keller said he has a list of about four assistants to choose from if he's hired. He also said a couple of his current players and recruits might be interested in following him.
"Obviously, they'd rather live in Minot than Dillon," Keller joked. "You guys have a Walmart."
Jason Henry, the coach at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, will be on campus today and Jamestown coach Matt Murken will visit Thursday. Hedberg said another candidate could interview Friday.