That was my reaction to the news Wednesday that Sidney Moncrief was named to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s great to hear that Sidney and his era of Razorbacks basketball is finally getting its due on the national level.
No, the Razorbacks didn’t win a national title during Moncrief’s four years on campus, but they were in the hunt in 1978 and 1979, and he, his head coach Eddie Sutton, fellow Triplets Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph, and the the rest of the Razorbacks and staff of that era were a big part of special time for college basketball on the national scene and in our state.
The late 1970s and early 1980s is when college basketball came into its own as a sport as sport that became meaningful to the masses. A lot of that had to do with television paying more attention to the NCAA Tournament and in response, the NCAA growing its field from 16 to 64 in a relatively short time span. More games meant more cash for both the networks and the NCAA.
Certainly, television exposure was a catalyst for the explosion of the sport’s popularity, but if the entertainment the networks and the NCAA were serving hadn’t been tasty then it never would have grown, and it was players like Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird, and, yes, Sidney Moncrief among many others who added all that maddening flavor.
At the time, Arkansas, Sutton and his Triplets were collectively the hot new brand making waves on the college basketball scene. Playing three 6-foot-4 guards at the same time was revolutionary because it blurred the line of the established positions. Sutton’s Three D’s of “Defense, Discipline, and Dedication” became a hallmark for Arkansas’ program, and no Razorback before or since has exemplified that motto like Moncrief.
He was an All-American talent who busted his tail like a walk-on giving his all just to make the team.
No Hog played with the intensity, grit, and hustle that Sidney did.
Thanks to the three-pointer, Todd Day surpassed Moncrief as Arkansas’ all-time leading scorer against Ole Miss at Oxford, Miss. in 1992, but Moncrief remains second on the list by a decent margin with 2,066 points to Day’s 2,395.
Had Corliss Williamson stayed for his senior year, he could have surpassed Moncrief on the scoring list, but when you compare the pace at which Sutton’s teams played to that of Nolan Richardson’s, there were so many more scoring opportunities for Day and Williamson than there were of Sidney, particularly in his first three seasons.
At 6-4, Moncrief is the best rebounder in Arkansas history. The best. He still holds the record for most rebounds with 1,015 boards. It may be a record that stands the test of time because future Hogs talented enough to surpass it will likely head to the NBA before having the chance to accomplish it.
Moncrief is one of the most beloved Razorbacks players in history because he was as kind, respectful and as appreciative of the fan’s support off the court as he was tenacious on the court. He became known as Super Sid, and Jim Robkin, leader of the Hog Wild Band, began to play the open notes of the theme from 1978’s “Superman: The Movie” when Moncrief was introduced during his senior year.
The Sports Illustrated cover of him going in for a two-handed, gorilla slam dunk against Texas with his teeth gritted is a thing of beauty. I have a framed copy on a wall in my home, just like so many other Razorback fans. It’s considered to be one of the magazine’s best covers by SI magazine collectors, not just Hog fans.
During Moncrief’s playing days, every kid in the state that cared anything about basketball — black or white — wanted to be like Sidney. I’m sure more than a few grown men did, too. Just as the Razorbacks were a binding and bonding force in our state, so was Sidney.
One of the reasons, I and many others respect Moncrief’s game so much was how the Little Rock native changed his offensive game from his junior to senior year out of necessity. When playing with Brewer and Delph, Moncrief basically roamed the baseline doing most of his work inside the paint. He abused smaller guards taking them inside and posting them up, and he dribbled around and past bigger forwards.
Sidney always seemed to jump high enough to score over big men or hang long enough to draw contact and a foul. He was the king of “and-ones” before the word became popular.
What Sidney wasn’t was a pure shooter or a great ball handler easy in his carer. He’d played the post in high school because of his height and jumping ability. However, as a senior, who had lost three of his four fellow starters from the previous year trip to the Final Four, Moncrief improved his jump shot and his handle in the offseason for his senior year and did, well, basically everything for a young but talented team.
As a senior, Sidney averaged 22 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists, while still being one of the best defensive guards if not the best in all of college basketball.
Moncrief put the 1978-79 Razorbacks on his shoulders and came oh, so close to carrying them back to the Final Four. His leadership and play that year is like nothing I’ve seen as a Razorback fan in any of the three major sports.
In a classic game, recognized as one of the best in NCAA Tournament history by many, Larry Bird’s undefeated Indiana State Sycamores just topped the Razorbacks, 73-71, in the 1979 Midwest Regional Final thanks to a suspicious traveling call when the Sycamores guard Carl Nicks tripped Razorback guard U.S. Reed.
Reed lost the ball when he went to the floor, but alertly retrieved it. When he gathered the ball back in, he was immediately whistled for traveling. How can a guy travel if he didn’t have control of the ball? It was a nauseatingly bad call that gave Indiana State the ball with around a minute to play. Without a shot clock, the Sycamores held for the last shot.
Sid the Squid put the clamps on Bird as he had done for much of the second half, but role-player Bob Heaton got the roll on an awkward, off-balance shot to win the game.
For fans it was an awful way to watch Sir Sid to end his illustrious career with the Razorbacks. Fans felt the officials robbed the Hogs.
Of course, after being selected fifth in the NBA Draft, the highest of any Razorback, Moncrief went on to a fantastic 10-year, NBA career primarily with the Milwaukee Bucks. He was a five-time All-Star and a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
With all due respect to everyone who has worn the Cardinal and White, Moncrief simply stands as the greatest Razorback basketball player of all time. Nobody did it like Sidney, and as said before, it’s about time for him to join Sutton and Richardson in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
Hopefully, Corliss will get his name called more quickly.
Here’s the Arkansas-Indiana State game from the 1979 Midwest Regional Final, if you can bear to watch it: