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BEWARE THE SLEEPER
GEORGE DOHRMANN
March 19, 2012
ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS A COACH WHO BUILT A FAIRY-TALE PROGRAM OUT WEST, THEN SEEMINGLY DISAPPEARED. NOW HE'S BACK TO BUST BRACKETS FOR ANOTHER CINDERELLA, LONG BEACH STATE
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March 19, 2012

Beware The Sleeper

ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS A COACH WHO BUILT A FAIRY-TALE PROGRAM OUT WEST, THEN SEEMINGLY DISAPPEARED. NOW HE'S BACK TO BUST BRACKETS FOR ANOTHER CINDERELLA, LONG BEACH STATE

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The 49ers play up-tempo, using their defense, which relies heavily on a version of the 1-3-1 trap, to create turnovers and get Ware out in transition, where he excels.

Though Ware might be unknown across much of the country, many big names in the sport are aware of his talents. Last summer he played in the Los Angeles--based Drew League for a team coached by his father, Casper Sr. The younger Ware shone against teams that frequently included NBA players, and he was named the Drew League MVP. After Ware scored 28 points in the 49ers' upset of then No. 9 Pittsburgh on Nov. 16, Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings, a Southern Californian who played in the Drew League, tweeted: Casper Ware is the Best College PG from Los Angeles.... I'm a Believer!!!

Reacting to the same performance, LeBron James tweeted, Casper Ware a problem out there!! And he got players around him to help as well!

Indeed, Long Beach State isn't a one-man show. All four senior starters have scored more than 1,000 points, and Robinson is one of only three active players with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Anderson was also Big West Defensive Player of the Year.

As he orchestrated the program's turnaround, Monson made sure to appreciate the milestones, such as senior night a few weeks ago, when he teared up while talking about the graduating class. "I took [the success] for granted before," he says. "It happened too fast, too easily. Now I'm able to recognize something special."

Monson has been removed from the Gonzaga program for so long that it's largely forgotten that he was once considered the brightest young coach in the country, going 52--17 in his first two seasons in the head job. The Zags, with their 13 straight NCAA appearances since his departure, have become so identified with his successor—Mark Few, a former assistant of Monson's—that Monson's role in their rise has drifted into the ether. "Honestly, I didn't know anything about him and Gonzaga," says Ware.

Monson's greatest contribution to Gonzaga's success may have been his decision to leave, which prompted school officials to evaluate their commitment to basketball. The school chose to go all in, upgrading the Bulldogs' facilities and increasing salaries for the coaching staff. Today Gonzaga is such an attractive spot that Few—who by 2003, only four seasons after Monson's departure, was pulling in approximately $500,000 a year—has spurned overtures from bigger programs, including Arizona and Oregon. "It is a great job now," Monson says, "but the year we made the Elite Eight, I earned $80,000."

It's no wonder, then, that Monson listened when Minnesota called in the spring of 1999. He was planning a summer wedding, and he and his future wife, Darci, had talked of the big family they would raise in the Pacific Northwest. Money, which Monson had never thought much about, was suddenly important. "Minnesota was telling me they would pay in two years what it would take me 10 years to earn at Gonzaga," he says. "I started thinking that it was a good move for my family, which was just me talking myself into it. I did it for the money, which is the wrong reason."

Internal and NCAA investigations into Minnesota's academic fraud scandal, which stretched over four years and involved at least 18 players, had resulted in Clem Haskins's exit as coach, but Monson was assured that Mark Dienhart, the athletic director who hired him, would stay on and that any NCAA sanctions would be light. In November 1999, Dienhart's contract was not renewed, and the NCAA penalties—including scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions—severely limited the program. "One thing I have learned about myself is that I am a better coach than an evaluator of jobs," Monson says.

The Gophers improved from 10th in the Big Ten in Monson's first season to sixth in 2001--02, but "we never really got that momentum going," Monson says. A crushing loss to Illinois in the final regular-season game of the '01--02 season—the Gophers led by nine with 3:15 left—cost the team an NCAA tournament bid, and that, Monson says, "was probably the turning point."

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