By Kevin McPherson
The incomparable Sidney Moncrief — an Arkansas icon who as part of the famed “Triplets” helped put the Razorbacks on the national college basketball map — was honored Saturday during the Arkansas-LSU men’s basketball game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville for his recent induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. “Super Sid” was recognized with a pre-game video tribute and a presentation during the game.
Moncrief’s induction was part of the 2018 class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame that was honored on Nov. 18 in Kansas City, Mo. The seven other 2018 inductees were: Arizona’s Sean Elliott (player), Houston’s Otis Birdsong (player), North Carolina’s Sam Perkins (player), Morgan State’s Marvin Webster (player), USC’s Paul Westphal (player and coach), Charleston’s John Kresse (coach), and Oregon Tech’s Danny Miles (coach).
Moncrief, who played his high school basketball at Little Rock Hall before signing with Eddie Sutton’s Razorbacks in 1975, became the third Hog to be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, joining Sutton (selected in 2011) and Nolan Richardson (selected in 2008). All three Arkansas legends, as well as Arkansas great Corliss Williamson, have a banner hanging in the rafters of Bud Walton Arena to honor and recognize their achievements and impact on Razorbacks basketball. Moncrief’s No. 32 Arkansas jersey was originally retired in a ceremony at Barnhill Arena in March of 1990, and it was commemorated and raised to the rafters at Bud Walton Arena in a ceremony during the 2015-16 season.
“It’s an honor,” Moncrief said of his most-recent Hall of Fame induction. “I think as you get older, obviously it means more. I never really thought a lot about the Hall of Fame when I played … As you get older, you become less relevant. You sometimes need something to remind you that you were an impact player back when you played. I’m in the Arkansas Hall of Fame, the Wisconsin Hall of Fame, the High Shool Basketball Hall of Fame.
“So I’m in a number of hall of fames, BUT what we accomplished at Arkansas and being in the Men’s College Basketball Hall of Fame, that means a lot because I just felt that my four years here — and I didn’t do it by myself — but in four years if you look at our record, and what we accomplished, and how we did what we did, it’s pretty amazing. So it makes me feel very good, individually … and collectively it makes me feel good what we accomplished those four years.”
Moncrief talked more about his second celebration ceremony at Bud Walton Arena in the last five years.
“I don’t know, they’re all different,” Moncrief answered when asked to compare Saturday’s ceremony with the one five years ago when his jersey-banner was raised to the rafters of BWA. “Different type of honors. The banner was special because my teammates were on the court with me … Tonight was a great honor. To be back here and representing the University of Arkansas in this environment was really special. I have a trip — Ron (Brewer), Marvin (Delph), and myself — we have a trip scheduled tomorrow morning to see Coach Sutton, and we’re looking forward to seeing him.”
Moncrief took time to talk about Sutton’s legacy as a coach at Arkansas.
“He set a standard,” Moncrief said of his college coach. “The standard of excellence. Competition. I always like to say the thing I loved about our teams was we competed … We went out there every ball game, and we didn’t have many bad nights where we just didn’t compete. And that was mostly because of Coach Sutton. That was his minimum standard, was effort, then sharing the basketball, being discipline, making the right play. Those were all principles he instilled in us as players, and it made a tremendous difference throughout the years here at Arkansas.
“Basketball was not a big deal, it was football and football still is a big deal … but Coach Sutton had the vision and foresight, and he knew that basketball — you can turn a basketball team around with two or three talented players very quickly, where football it takes a little bit more than that — and he focused on getting the right players in the program. He was patient where he didn’t rush recruiting players that wouldn’t fit his style. He was lucky to get Ron, Marvin, and myself in at the same time. And from that, he just created a beautiful program here.”
The Sutton family weighed in Saturday with praise for Moncrief.
“Sidney Moncrief is a beloved player and person to the Sutton family,” said Oklahoma State assistant coach Scott Sutton, who as a child was around Moncrief and the Razorbacks when his Dad, Eddie, was guiding the program to previously unreached heights in college basketball. “He’ll always be remembered as one of the greatest Razorbacks of all time. He did everything with style and class, and helped put Arkansas basketball on the map for good.”
In this current era of basketball and the constant talk of “positionless” hoops, fans would appreciate what the 6-foot-4 Moncrief brought to the court as an all-around player. He could rebound, score, and defend in and around the paint like a forward, and he could lead or run the break, shoot and score, and even run a team from the backcourt. Defensively, Moncrief set a standard not seen before in basketball. And his mental toughness, intensity, and acrobatic aerial grace will forever be etched in the minds of Arkansas basketball fans who saw him play.
Along with “Triplets” teammates Brewer, Sr., and Delph, Moncrief helped lead Arkansas to the 1978 Final Four in St. Louis. He also led two Elite Eight appearances (1978 and 1979). The Razorbacks’ 1978 national semifinals run included a final 32-4 overall record that marked the first of five total 30-or-more-win seasons in program history. A consensus first-team All American in 1978-79, Moncrief remains the only first-team All American in school history. As a junior in ’77-78, Moncrief was named second-team All American by United Press International (UPI), which at the time was the coaches’ version of the national rankings and All American teams. He was named All Southwest Conference in each of his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons. He was also named to the 1978 NCAA Tournament All-Regional West Team and to the 1979 All-Regional Midwest Team.
During that magical run to the Final Four in 1978, Moncrief, Brewer, and Delph would guide the Hogs past Weber State (73-52, Round of 32), UCLA (74-70, Sweet 16), and Cal State Fullerton (61-58, Elite Eight) before falling to Kentucky in the Final Four national semifinals. The Wildcats would go on to defeat Duke for the 1977-78 national championship, and the Hogs would defeat Notre Dame, 71-69, in the last national third-place consolation game ever played in the Final Four. In Arkansas’s 5 NCAA tournament games in 1978, Moncrief averaged 36.2 minutes, 14.2 points (on 52.2% field goals and 63.9% free throws), 5.8 rebounds, and 1.2 assists.
Moncrief’s legendary career at Arkansas ended in the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight on March 17, 1979, against basketball icon Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores. Moncrief — he averaged 38.6 minutes, 22.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists as a senior at Arkansas — played all 40 minutes against Bird and the Sycamores, finishing with 24 points (10-of-16 field goals and 4-of-4 free throws), 8 rebounds, and 2 assists. But Bird’s game-high 31 points and 10 rebounds paced Indiana State as reserve guard Bob Heaton would make a buzzer-beater in the paint for a 73-71 win following a controversial traveling call on Arkansas guard U.S. Reed when it appeared Reed has been tripped. Bird and Indiana State would eventually lose to another basketball icon, Magic Johnson, and Michigan State in the 1979 NCAA championship game in what is still the highest-TV-rated college basketball championship game ever.
Moncrief finished his career at Arkansas as the top scorer in program history at the time, tallying 2,066 points from 1976-79 (surpassed only by Todd Day’s career total of 2,395 points from ’89-92). Moncrief had 600-plus points in each of his last two seasons in Fayetteville, and he’s one of just four Razorbacks to score more than 600 points during two separate seasons. His statistical impact can still be seen in Arkansas basketball record books: In addition to his scoring, he ranks first in career rebounds (1,015), free throws made (588), and free throws attempted (752); he ranks second in career points (2,066) and career field goal percentage (60.6%); and he ranks sixth in career scoring average (16.9 points per game).
“I thought I was Sidney Moncrief,” said Joe Johnson Arkansas Hawks chairman Bill Ingram, who ended up a three-year starter at Little Rock Parkview in both basketball and football but was playing in the Little Rock Parks and Recreation League as youth when Moncrief was starring at Arkansas. “But all the kids in Little Rock thought they were Sidney Moncrief on the basketball court. He was like a folk hero to us back then. Everybody wanted to be Sidney Moncrief.
“If anybody deserves Hall of Fame recognition, it’s Sidney. He’s the original Little Rock hero. It’s crazy that he’s not in the Naismith Hall of Fame yet. But to the kids in Little Rock, Sidney was like God and the Razorbacks were IT. We didn’t really know other teams existed. I think Sidney Moncrief was the first mega-star that made every kid in Little Rock and Arkansas want to play for the Razorbacks. I used to sneak and stay up late to watch Sidney and the Razorbacks on tape-delay (10:30 p.m.) when I was supposed to be in bed, and I know all the kids did that. We’d come to school the next day talking about the game and trying to reenact what Sidney did.”
Moncrief was selected fifth overall in the 1979 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, where he spent his first 10 NBA seasons before retiring briefly following the ’88-89 season. After a one-year hiatus from the NBA, Moncrief played one more season and finished his career with the Atlanta Hawks in ’90-91. Moncrief was just the second Razorback in school history to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, and he remains as the only Hogs alum to be drafted in the top five.
While in Milwaukee and prior to chronic tendonitis in both knees cutting short his brilliant pro career, Moncrief was arguably among the top 5-10 NBA players in a 5-year span in the 1980s, earning All NBA first-team honors once (1983) and second-team honors four times (1982 and ’84-86). The five-time All-Star was also named to the NBA’s All-Defensive first team four years (1983-86) and second team in 1982, along with earning NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors twice (1983 and 1984).
During his 11-year NBA career, Moncrief averaged 15.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Not revered for his scoring prowess, Moncrief finished his career as the Bucks’ all-time leader in career offensive rating (119.7), he averaged 20-plus-points four consecutive seasons (’83-86), and he shot 50.2% field goals and 83.1% free throws for his career. The Bucks, who had the NBA’s third best record in the 80’s (behind only the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics) with “Super Sid” leading the way, retired Moncrief’s No. 4 jersey in 1990 and rededicated it in January of 2008 with Moncrief in attendance.
Moncrief appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice, once as a Razorback and once as a Buck. The SI cover that captured his soaring, in-flight attack on the rim against Texas at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville in 1978 remains once of the top-rated SI covers of all-time.
“We are very proud of Sidney and it’s an opportunity for us to recognize a great Razorback,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said Friday during his press conference, a day before Moncrief’s ceremony. “We always talk about those Triplets and what they meant to the program. Obviously I consider him the son of Arkansas basketball. I had the chance to visit with him (Thursday) and he’s excited about having the opportunity to come and be recognized. That’s a big, big honor, the Hall of Fame which he is to be inducted. I got to go to that particular ceremony.”
Perhaps nobody summed up what Moncrief meant to the Hogs — as well as the entire state of Arkansas — better than the late, great Paul Eells of KATV Sports, who was the long-time voice of the Razorbacks.
“Before Sidney Moncrief and the Triplets, what was basketball here?” Eells rhetorically quipped to a reporter during Super Sid’s retirement ceremony inside the Hall High gym in 1989. “He didn’t just make Arkansas fans wake up to basketball, he made them live it with a fervor.”
Linked below are a few of YouTube highlight videos from Moncrief’s playing days at Arkansas (from his final home game against the Houston Cougars) and Milwaukee, including a spot-on breakdown of why Moncrief deserves to be honored with a selection to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame (he was a finalist in 2017 but ultimately was not selected) …