Kelton Talford and the Great Falls Red Devils are off to a great start this season. Coach Jimmy Duncan’s team is 7-1 and ranked No. 4 in the state’s 1A classification. The talented Red Devils start three sophomores, one junior, and one senior, with the first player off the bench also a 10th grader. There are five total sophomores on the roster.
One of them is 6-foot-5, 170-pound post player Kelton Talford. Talford is averaging a double-double of 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds, and he had a stretch of six straight games with double-digit points and rebounds. He is shooting 60 percent from the field and 71 percent from the free throw line.
Talford and his teammates have been glued to late night TV airings of the NBA’s Denver Nuggets in recent weeks. They’re staying up late to watch former Great Falls Red Devil star Torrey Craig, who after a long and winding pro basketball journey has reached the NBA as a 27-year old. He’s started several games in recent weeks after several short stays with the Nuggets’ G League affiliate, the Sioux City Skyforce.
It’s pretty amazing for a town as small as Great Falls to produce an NBA player. It’s no surprise that the current Red Devils are making great efforts to watch Craig compete with the best players in the world.
“Everyone thinks it’s cool,” said Duncan, who purchased an NBA League Pass subscription so he can watch Craig play on TV. “My wife is a counselor and they all tell her they want to play pro ball. I tell them that the percentages of kids that make it are small.”
Watching Craig on the tube makes those percentages feel a bit bigger if you’re from Great Falls. It’s been a surreal experience for Great Falls natives of all ages, including Talford.
“To think that I could be like him and make it from Great Falls to the NBA, it’s exciting to see that somebody from my small school made it all the way,” Talford said.
Duncan said Talford is skinny for a post player but he has time to fill out his frame, has good footwork, great upside, and works hard. The same things were said about Craig.
Even while playing varsity football this fall, Talford traveled to Columbia on the weekends to play with some of the Midlands’ best players. Duncan said that Talford has a good relationship with his teammates, and they deserve a lot of the credit for feeding him the ball. It is hard for a high school post player to get enough touches to average almost 19 points a game without his teammates helping him.
Great Falls is a tradition-rich program that won numerous state titles under John Smith, the all-time winningest coach in the history of South Carolina high school basketball. Craig, who won the 1A state player of the year award his senior year, was one of the best players Smith coached. Craig went on to USC-Upstate where he was honorable mention All-American and the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year in 2012. Craig was not drafted into the NBA in 2014, but has plugged away in professional ball, with a particularly stellar stint in Australia helping him attract NBA attention. He used dominant G-League performances this season to earn two call-ups to the Nuggets.
Craig’s appearance at a Great Falls High alumni game over the summer helped the girls’ and boys’ programs net a couple thousand dollars, which was then used to buy new uniforms and warm-ups. Forty to 50 alumni turned out to play and 700 people paid to watch.
“We all talked to him before his game,” Talford said. “It was exciting because he was going to play in the Summer League with the NBA.”
Duncan said it was an eye-opening experience for the current Red Devils to see the 6-6, 215-pound Craig play, especially Talford, who leads a Great Falls team that has an eye on a deep 1A playoff run.
Duncan said Talford lifts five times a week but needs to pack on some pounds. Talford will get a real test in an upcoming Lewisville tournament, where he will match up against some much heavier big men.
He’s working on his basketball I.Q. and learning from his dad, Marlon, who assists Duncan and played on some of Smith’s best teams. Marlon Talford was a dominant player with great size on three straight state title teams that won over 60 consecutive games. The Talfords watch plenty of NBA games together, including the Nuggets’ contests.
Kelton Talford tries to push the floor like Craig.
“We go,” Talford said. “We’re both long and lanky.”
“He was lanky,” Duncan interjects about Craig.
It’s hard to quantify the impact that watching Craig on the TV has on the Great Falls players, like Talford. Could he make the NBA, like Craig? Not necessarily. But did anybody think Craig would? Given that, it would be foolish to discount Kelton Talford’s dreams.
Marlon Talford told his son that Craig lived on a road with few other houses nearby. Craig could often be seen shooting on his basketball goal by himself.
“I go in the yard and just shoot by myself all the time,” Kelton Talford said. “I would like to go to college and play basketball.”
And from there, who knows?