Commentary:

Past time for Arkansas greats to get Naismith call

By: Nate Olson
Published: Thursday, April 13, 2017
UALR coach Sidney Moncrief, left, talks with Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton during a game Tuesday, Nov. 23, 1999, at Alltel Arena in North Little Rock. Moncrief played for Sutton at Arkansas in the 1970s.
UALR coach Sidney Moncrief, left, talks with Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton during a game Tuesday, Nov. 23, 1999, at Alltel Arena in North Little Rock. Moncrief played for Sutton at Arkansas in the 1970s.

Two of Arkansas’ greatest basketball figures can’t punch a ticket to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Last week the Hall of Fame announced that Sidney Moncrief, a finalist for the 2017 class, would not be inducted this year. Moncrief’s coach Eddie Sutton, who guided two different programs to Final Four appearances, also has missed out on induction after multiple times as a finalist.

I’ve been concerned with Sutton’s snub recently. I have been irritated with the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame much longer than that. I’ll get to Sutton and Moncrief and their case, but first a bigger issue.

What has troubled me for many years is that the Naismith Hall of Fame includes too many different honorees under one roof. You have bona fide NBA stars being inducted with “contributors” and sometimes women’s players and coaches.

Why can’t basketball do what football and baseball have done and have a pro hall of fame. That would magnify the National Collegiate Hall of Fame, which is located in Kansas City, Mo., in case you wondered. That honor is diminished because the Naismith Hall of Fame is a more prestigious honor and receives more attention.

When former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson was inducted in to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014, the class included former NBA players Alonzo Mourning, Mitch Richmond, Sarunas Marciulonis; former NBA Commissioner David Stern and longtime Indiana Pacers broadcaster Bob “Slick” Leonard.

That is a hodgepodge, and in that class there weren’t women inductees. Marciulonis, who averaged 12.7 points per game in seven NBA seasons, was elected by the International Committed based on his accomplishments in Olympic play with the Soviet Union, which won gold in 1988, and Lithuania, which won bronze in 1992.

This only fuels my argument that the Naismith Hall is too broad. All of these guys are considered Hall of Famers, but their accomplishments don’t match up.

It is comparable in football if former Nebraska running back Ahman Green was in a Hall with Walter Payton. Payton was one of the NFL’s greats. Green was one of the best college running backs of all-time, but he wasn’t as dominant in the pro ranks. How can you compare Mourning, an NBA legend, with Marciulonis, or even Richmond, Marciulonis’ teammate at Golden State?

So, I would think most agree there is a fundamental problem with the Hall in the first place. That’s not even to mention the voting and nomination process, which doesn’t include the media and is much different than its peers.

With that out of the way, why do Moncrief and Sutton belong? There is clear evidence.

First, Moncrief, who starred with the Milwaukee Bucks and ended his career with a season with the Atlanta Hawks. He was one of the NBA’s most feared defenders in the 1980s. The five-time NBA All-Star was a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and four-time first-team All-Defensive Team selection. He was selected to the second team once. He was also a member of the All-NBA First Team in 1983 and four other times selected to the second team.

NBA star Michael Jordan said in a Los Angeles Times article, "When you play against Moncrief, you're in for a night of all-around basketball. He'll hound you everywhere you go, both ends of the court. You just expect it."

The No. 5 pick of the Milwaukee Bucks in 1979, Moncrief’s number is retired with the club. He's a member of state halls of fame in Arkansas and Wisconsin.

There are several players in the Naismith Hall that are comparable to Moncrief, one of which is the aforementioned Richmond. He played for four teams in 15 seasons and was an All-Star six times. He was not a defensive standout like Moncrief. He did average 21 points per game compared to Moncrief’s 15, but Moncrief’s defensive prowess should count for more.

Then, there are also Moncfrief’s college accolades, which count toward Naismith status. He was a first-team All-American as a senior in 1979 as well as the Southwest Conference Player of the Year that season. He led Arkansas to the Final Four in 1978.

Adrian Dantley, Bernard King and Alex English come to mind as players from Moncrief’s era that were inducted with similar credentials.

Hopefully, Moncrief will get in. He deserves it.

Sutton’s baggage may be keeping him out. More on that in a second. First, the credentials.

Sutton finished his career with a 806-326 (.712) record. He guided Arkansas and Oklahoma State to Final Fours and earned conference coach of the year honors eight times in four leagues. He was the National Coach of the Year twice.

The ugly part of the ailing Sutton’s resume is a recruiting scandal at Kentucky and a documented substance abuse problem, most prevalent at Oklahoma State at the end of his career.

And despite being one of only 11 coaches with 800 or more wins, he doesn't have a national championship to his name.

Still, the Hall has inducted Kentucky’s John Calipari, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and North Carolina’s Roy Williams, who all have had different levels of scandal that have tainted their careers.

Sutton is a College Basketball Hall of Famer and one of the all-time great college coaches. That becomes more apparent the longer he is out of the game.

Sutton is 81 and it would be great for him to be called a hall of famer while he is still with us.

Arkansas has one legend in the Naismith Hall of Fame, but deserves to have two more. Time is overdue for their names to be called.

Nate Olson is a contributor for WholeHogSports

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