With the upcoming NCAA basketball season right around the corner, the end of the Weber State Wildcats reign as bully of the block seems quite apparent. This is the first season in many years the Wildcats aren't expected to win the Big Sky Conference title in basketball. Instead, Weber State is picked to take second despite losing four of its starters from last season. The new predicted Big Sky Conference kingpin is the Montana Grizzlies. This pick by sportswriters will surely turn into an interesting debate, which I happen to question.
Last week I dared to name the Heisman Trophy winner and NCAA national champion for the 1980-81 football season. Let me go further out on the limb by saying, look for the Idaho Vandals to take the Big Sky Conference crown.
Coach Don Monson came to the Moscow campus in 1979 to coach a team which had gone 4-22 the season before. The Vandals went 11-15 that year. Idaho was picked to finish eighth in the 1980 Big Sky race but behold, Idaho finished second to Weber State with a 9-5 conference mark and 17-10 overall. Some opponents to be defeated along the way were Penn State, Nebraska, Weber State and Pepperdine.
Don Monson has constructed teams with traits like togetherness, consistency, ability to change tempo, toughness, flexibility and overall tenacity. His best player and only superstar, Don Newman has graduated. Newman was the last player cut by the Boston Celtics in October.
When Jud Heathcote coached at Washington State with Marv Harshman, they were firm believers that only teams which played sound basketball with a multiple tempo could win consistently. Monson joined Heathcote at Michigan State. They built a team that won the 1979 NCAA Championship at Salt Lake City, Utah. Monson became convinced, when the breaks are there, take them. The Idaho Vandals should do just that. Kibbie Dome basketball promises to be very fun and exciting to watch this season.
That's understandable when you look at the Vandals star studded line up. Guards are crucial in the fast break and the Vandals have them in Brian Kellerman and new comer Ken Owens, a New Yorker who transfered from Treasure Valley Community College. Owens is a quick, complete player that makes the big breaks. Idaho will need that with the graduation of Newman.
Then there's Gordie Herbert, a 6'5" senior who is out at the present time with a sprained right wrist. Herbert will be absent for four weeks, but when he returns look out. He's a great shooter and rebounder who is terrific at the wing position. Herbert will be a welcome sight when he returns to the squad. Senior Phil Hobson is improving on the boards and is lightening fast on the break. 6'5" Ron Maben led UI last season with 155 rebounds and goes well on breaks. Idaho has a bench consisting mainly of senior guard and forward Dan Forge, 6'11" center Mike Dow and former Coeur d'Alene Vikings superstar Ben Ross, who has been slowed by an allergy problem as of late. Former North Idaho College guard Al Williams is part of the team along with freshmen forwards Zane Frazier, Peter Prigge and guard Freeman Watkins. The Vandals are loaded.
Idaho Vandal basketball, before last season, went 35 years without a team with a winning record. Babe Brown's team won the old Pacific Coast Conference Northern Division in the 1945-46 season, but was defeated by the Southern Division champion, the California Golden Bears two games to one. Back then there was a two out of three game series which decided the PCC champion. Idaho lost out on an NIT bid by the skin of their silver and gold noses last year in the Big Sky Championship game, thanks to the Montana Grizzlies. The Vandals shouldn't lose that opportunity this year if given the same chance.
It has been said in the past, good things are worth waiting for and come to those who patiently wait. The Idaho Vandals have waited 35 years for their season to come and it seemingly has arrived. Move over Babe, it's time for one more legendary coach to work himself into Idaho Vandals basketball history with a team of blue chippers who will keep all of us on the edge of our seats game after game right into the NCAA Tournament.
Hey there. I'm Rick Coe and thanks for stumbling on to my blog which contains columns I wrote while working for the now defunct Kellogg Evening News which was located in Kellogg, Idaho.