If you’re 6-6 at the high school level, you’re stuffed down into the low post and you can’t really work on your ball-handling and passing skills. He was obviously the exception to the rule and he’s done a phenomenal job working on those ball-handling skills at his size at the college level. It's a unique thing. —Matt Montague, of Kyle Collinsworth
PROVO — When Kyle Collinsworth became BYU’s all-time assist leader last Thursday night in Los Angeles, the man he eclipsed, Matt Montague, wasn’t able to watch Collinsworth make history.
Montague was in Denver attending a work-related function. But, of course, he heard about it that night.
“I had several text messages,” Montague said.
Not only did Collinworth break the school’s career assist record, eclipsing Montague’s total of 570 (from 1996-97, 1999-2002) in a win over Loyola Marymount, he also tallied a career-high 15 assists as part of his 10th career triple-double, an NCAA record.
The following morning, Montague reached out to coach Dave Rose and assistant coach Terry Nashif to congratulate Collinsworth on breaking the assists record he had held for 14 years.
Montague set the mark, surpassing Danny Ainge, in 122 career games while Collinsworth achieved the feat in 123 games. Collinsworth has a total of 582 assists.
As for dropping to second place in the record books, Montague knew it was inevitable.
“You think of the (BYU) scoring record. When Jimmer (Fredette) broke that, you thought Jimmer would hold that for a while,” Montague said. “Then Tyler Haws shortly thereafter breaks that record. For me, it was fun while it lasted. They always say records are made to be broken. To think of what Kyle’s done in his college career — the triple-double record is one that will last for quite some time. For someone to break (the career assists record), he’s a great one to break it.”
When Montague talked to Rose and Nashif, he couldn’t help but joke with them a little bit.
“I said, ‘There’s still a record I hold that Kyle's nowhere close to achieving,’” Montague said. “’It was that 1-25 record when I was a freshman.’ They had a good laugh about that.”
Yes, Montague has the dubious distinction of being part of the worst team in school history nearly 20 years ago in 1996-97. As a freshman with the Cougars, who underwent a midseason coaching change, Montague watched his team win one game and post an ignominious 1-25 record.
When he returned from an LDS mission in 1999, Montague started playing for coach Steve Cleveland and his consistency led him to overtake Ainge as the career assist leader at BYU.
Montague doesn’t remember much about the game in which he broke the record, which occurred in a loss against Wyoming in Laramie in 2002. He dished a pass to fellow senior Eric Nielsen — he was also part of that 1-25 team — who hit a jumper.
“I vaguely remember that assist because of a photo in a scrapbook,” said Montague, who now works in the financial services industry and lives in Orem with his wife, Natali, and their four children.
Montague had forgotten that the assist that pulled him into a tie with Ainge was significant on many levels.
The Cougars were trailing archrival Utah at home, 47-26, with 19 minutes left in a 2002 game in Provo when BYU mounted an amazing comeback, outscoring the Utes 37-14 the rest of the way.
Montague entered the game needing seven assists to pull even with Ainge.
With 25 seconds remaining, Montague slipped a pass to Nielsen, who knocked down a 15-foot jumper to give BYU its first lead of the game, 62-61. That proved to be the game-winning shot. On that play, Montague recorded his seventh assist and tied Ainge for the career assists record.
“I totally remember that pass to Eric at that juncture and he hits that jump shot,” Montague said. “I didn’t realize that was the play (that tied the record). It was fitting because Eric and I were on the 1-25 team. We were roommates on every road trip. That was cool.”
Not only did BYU defeat Utah that day, but the victory extended the Cougars’ nation-leading 35-game homecourt winning streak.
That’s one of the reasons why Montague is disappointed that the BYU-Utah basketball series is taking a hiatus.
“Those rivalry games, 10-20 years down the road, are the ones you remember,” Montague said. “Those in-state rivalries are some of the best games.”
While Montague and Collinsworth are the most prolific, in terms of assists, in school history, and are known for their ability to handle and pass the ball, there are obvious differences between them.
For starters, Collinsworth is 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, while Montague was listed as 6-0, 190 pounds.
“His physical presence, his height, is a huge factor in the game. It’s such a rarity,” Montague said of Collinsworth. “It speaks volumes about the gifts and talents he has. If you’re 6-6 at the high school level, you’re stuffed down into the low post and you can’t really work on your ball-handling and passing skills. He was obviously the exception to the rule and he’s done a phenomenal job working on those ball-handling skills at his size at the college level. It's a unique thing.”
To Montague, the different coaching styles and systems they played under at BYU highlight many of the differences between them.
“My high school team was similar to the way coach Rose plays. I was surrounded by amazing athletes. As a point guard, it was push, push, push,” he said. “With coach Cleveland it was more set plays and structured offenses. We ran the shot clock down a little bit more. Had Kyle been in coach Cleveland’s offense, he would have adapted. Under coach Rose, it’s pushing it up-tempo. The styles were different because of coaching styles.”
Rose was an assistant coach at BYU for Montague’s final three seasons. How would he compare the two point guards?
“Their approach is similar. They’re everyday guys, really consistent, they work on their game, they’re team players,” Rose said. “Their style is very different. Matt was a guy who kind of liked to get past people and pass through people on angles. Kyle is a guy who can get it about anywhere he wants and still deliver the pass because of his size and his ability to see things. But I think they both have the same effect on the game. They get their teammates the ball in situations where they can score.”
Collinsworth and Montague also rank 1-2 in career assists per game (4.71 and 4.67) and career 10-assist games (14 and 10). While Collinsworth recently posted his first 15-assist game last week, Montague did that twice. The single-game school record belongs to Mike May, who had 16 assists in 1976.
For now, Montague still holds BYU’s single-season assist record (217), although Collinsworth has 154 assists right now and is on pace to break that mark, too.