At 36 years old, Shad is an unlikely professional basketball prospect. A severe injury to his hand while playing at a junior college ended his athletic career prematurely. Nevertheless, the plumber from Stevensville Montana didn't let his dream of playing professional basketball fade away.
When Ryan Wetzel, a long retired Montana basketball standout, saw the 6 foot, 11-inch Shad playing in the local amateur league, he knew Shad wasn’t just another rec player. Shad’s speed and agility for such a tall player is uncommon and he might just have what it takes to play professional basketball internationally. With Ryan’s encouragement, Shad dedicates himself to training and rekindles his dream of playing professionally.
Somehow, against all odds, Shad receives an invitation to the Las Vegas Overseas Combine where coaches from all over the world come to scout players to sign for their international pro teams. With the support of his family, and all of his savings, Shad lays it all on the line to see once and for all if he has what it takes to play professional basketball
When a career and passion merge, it’s often the beginning of something great.
At least, that’s what happened a couple short years ago when Ryan Wetzel, Northwest College alumnus and former Trapper basketball player (‘99-01), first saw 36-year-old Shad Blair on the court and asked, “Who is this guy?”
Wetzel—a prevention specialist for Western Montana Mental Health, personal basketball trainer and motivational speaker—understands the importance of helping people persevere when life throws its unexpected curveballs.
For Wetzel, being at the right place at the right time was only the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime shot. Not only did he see this moment as a chance to train Blair and help him achieve his lifelong dreams of playing basketball professionally, but it also was an opportunity to share a story.
Directed by Devon Riter, Wetzel and Blair starred in the recently published documentary “Never Too Late,” which tells the story of Blair’s journey to compete against the best of the best.
While the process of creating the documentary was unforgettable, Wetzel explained that the final day of filming was truly memorable. “I remember asking the director if he thought film would be a hit, and the smile he gave me was something else.”
“When [the documentary] played at the Wilma Theater in Missoula, Montana, the entire theater was filled to around 600 people,” Wetzel noted. “I was shocked. At the end, the film received a standing ovation, and they had Shad and I come down on stage to speak to the jubilant crowd. People were crying and hugging us and star struck—it was absolutely crazy.”
Though this award-winning story of training, triumph and perseverance was recently shown at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, Wetzel’s experience with basketball and lending a helping hand to others is far more extensive.
“The personal basketball training business started years ago when a mother approached me after a camp I held at the YMCA in Billings, Montana,” Wetzel recalled. “She asked if I would work with her son on his game.”
Since 2006, he has worked with more than 1,000 children. He has even watched some go on to play basketball professionally. “It’s crazy when I really think about it,” he added.
Even as Wetzel continues to help many people fine tune their basketball skills, he still reflects fondly on his Northwest College experience.
“Take pride in being a Northwest Trapper,” he said. “Enjoy every minute of your time there. It is a solid institution with amazing history, and you get to continue that history by carrying on the legacy long after you are finished there. All these years later, I am still sharing my love for NWC!”