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September 21, 2007

Notebook: CAA could be two-bid league

Sidney Moncrief turns 50 today.

The leader of the famed Arkansas Triplets, who led the Hogs to the 1978 Final Four, says he applied for almost that many college head-coaching positions this offseason, too.

"I put in applications for almost every college job out there," Moncrief told Rivals.com. "Of the 60 or so jobs that were open, I probably sent 40 letters.

"Nobody wanted to give me an interview. They think of me as an NBA guy, which is disappointing. I coached one year in college and had a great year (as an assistant at Arkansas-Little Rock in 1999-2000), then went right to the NBA."

Moncrief said he won't give up. He runs camps and clinics under the heading of Back 2 Basics All-Star Basketball Academy (http://www.back2basicsbasketball.com) based in Texas, and would love to break into the college game.

"I feel like I have something to offer," said Moncrief, who was a five-time NBA All-Star with the Milwaukee Bucks and an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks from 2000-2003. "I feel like I deserve an interview not that someone should hand me a job but to talk about what I could do, what plan I'd have to take a program to an upper level."

He didn't even get an interview for the job at his alma mater despite the mess it wound up in when Creighton's Dana Altman took the job, was introduced, then pulled out and went back to Creighton.

"I put out some feelers, talked to people (around the Arkansas program) I hoped could put a word in for me," Moncrief said. "I couldn't quite get an interview. That surprised me. Initially, they said they were looking for a big-name coach from a big-name program. After that I don't really know. I didn't get a feeling for why (there wasn't an interview)."

It's hard to believe the greatest player in school history couldn't get a sniff from the Hogs. Moncrief still has fond memories of his time in Fayetteville, when he formed the Triplets with Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph. The 1978 team went 32-4 and ended its season in the Final Four.

The following year, without Brewer and Delph, Moncrief put the Razorbacks on his back and carried them to the Elite Eight, where they lost by one point to Larry Bird and Indiana State to finish 25-5.

"That was a special time because at that time Arkansas' program was just starting to gain some recognition," Moncrief said. "We rallied an entire state behind an athletic team.

"It went beyond winning games. We brought people together with a common interest. There were people talking who wouldn't otherwise have communicated."

Moncrief landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated on Feb. 13, 1978, under the headline "High on the Hogs." It shows Moncrief rising for a dunk with the ball in both of his hands cocked behind his head.

"We were coached, and I was brought up, to be modest, so I didn't think very much of it (the cover) at the time," Moncrief said. "I thought, 'Well, that's nice.'

"I didn't think that nearly 30 years later people would have them for me to sign. I still sign those covers, and some of them are in great condition."

Moncrief spent last season as the coach of the Fort Worth franchise in the NBA Development League, but that franchise will not operate this season. The Flyers finished 29-21, the fourth-best record in the 12-team league.

Moncrief believes he'll have opportunities to be an NBA assistant this season, but he'd like to head up a college program.

"What's my philosophy? Let the players within the system use their ability," Moncrief said. "I'm a matchup coach. I try to take advantage of matchups.

"I like to play steady defensively, not trapping or pressing, but solid principles. You cut down on penetration and limit second shots. You have to be a good rebounding team, and then you can get the ball out in transition and play up-tempo."

Now if only Moncrief can get a foot in the door.

"There are a lot of good candidates out there, but I just want an interview to get out my point of view," he said. "If you can't get in front of people, you can't even get to that point."

Colonial Confidence On the Rise

The progress mid-major programs have made in recent years is reflected in the goals George Mason coach Jim Larranaga is setting for next season.

"We want to put ourselves in a position to compete at the national level and to earn an at-large bid (to the NCAA Tournament) if we don't win our conference," Larranaga said.

Three years ago, that kind of statement would have seemed ludicrous. But since the Colonial Athletic Association has sent two teams to each of the past two NCAA Tournaments, it seems plausible.

George Mason, of course, landed the league's first at-large bid in 2006 and made a shocking run to the Final Four. Old Dominion followed suit after finishing as the league runner-up last season.

It looks as if the CAA has a solid chance to be a multiple-bid league again in 2008. Defending champ Virginia Commonwealth, which upset Duke and reached the second round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament, and George Mason return veteran-laden lineups. The Patriots bring back their top two players from an 18-15 team. Seniors Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas, who combined to average 27.2 points per game last season, were key parts of the Final Four run.

"We are likely to start three or four seniors, and we have a good junior class," Larranaga said. "That kind of experience and leadership creates confidence."

Washington Guard Makes Splash in Mediterranean

No Washington player may have benefited more from the team's trip to Greece earlier this month than guard Tim Morris. A five-game exhibition tour against teams from the Greek Professional League offered Morris the first chance to play with his teammates against real opponents. Morris, a fifth-year senior, transferred from Stanford a year ago with one season of eligibility remaining (he used a redshirt season at Stanford).

Expected to add some offensive firepower, the 6-4 Morris averaged 12.4 points a game in Greece, which ranked second on the team. The performance may have earned him an edge in the battle for the starting spot at shooting guard. Senior Ryan Appleby, a 3-point specialist, started 24 games there last season.

"Overall, I thought I played pretty well," Morris said. "I was trying to be aggressive on defense and rebound the ball."

Morris did have an edge over his teammates. He spent two months in Europe last summer with an Athletes in Action traveling team.

"I already had a feel for the European style of play coming in," Morris said. "It's different, especially underneath the basket. It's a lot rougher."

That apparently pleased junior power forward Jon Brockman, who led the Pac-10 with 9.6 rebounds a game last season. He put together double-doubles in the first three games in Greece and averaged a team-high 16.6 ppg.

"Jon is one of my favorite players of all-time," Morris said. "He just plays so hard. If I end up guarding him in practice, I usually end up fouling him or just getting out of his way."

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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