Sutton, Moncrief finalists for 2019 Naismith Hall of Fame class

By: Matt Jones
Published: Friday, February 15, 2019
Sidney Moncrief (left) and Eddie Sutton embrace following a game between UALR and Oklahoma State on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 1999, in North Little Rock.
Sidney Moncrief (left) and Eddie Sutton embrace following a game between UALR and Oklahoma State on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 1999, in North Little Rock.

— Two giants of Arkansas basketball are finalists for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Former Razorbacks coach Eddie Sutton and former player Sidney Moncrief are among the 13 finalists for this year's Hall of Fame class. Sutton is a finalist for the sixth time and Moncrief for the second time.

This year's Hall of Fame class will be announced during the weekend of the Final Four in April.

Other finalists this year include: former players Chris Webber, Ben Wallace, Marques Johnson, Bobby Jones, Jack Sikma, Paul Westphal and Teresa Weatherspoon; coaches Bill Fitch, Leta Andrews and Barbara Stevens; and referee Hugh Evans.

"I'm so inspired and honored by these individuals on the stage," Moncrief said while surrounded by hall of famers at the unveiling of finalists Friday in Charlotte, N.C. "Thank you all for setting the trend for us."

Sutton and Moncrief helped turn Arkansas into a basketball juggernaut in the late 1970s. The Razorbacks played in the Final Four in 1978, Moncrief's junior season, and lost in the Elite Eight the following year.

Moncrief signed with Arkansas during Sutton's first year coaching the Razorbacks. In their four years together from 1975-79, Arkansas had a combined record of 102-20 and won at least a share of three Southwest Conference championships.

Moncrief and Sutton both have banners with their names hanging in Bud Walton Arena, and Moncrief's college jersey No. 32 is the only in the Razorbacks' history to be retired.

In 1976-77, Arkansas went 16-0 in SWC play - its first undefeated conference season in 36 years, and most recent to date - but the Razorbacks were upset by Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to finish with a 26-2 overall record.

The following year the Razorbacks finished 32-4, setting a school record for single-season wins that was tied by the 1995 team that finished national runner-up. Arkansas was ranked No. 1 for the first time on Feb. 13, 1978, the same day Moncrief was featured dunking the ball on an iconic cover of Sports Illustrated.

Following a Sweet 16 upset of UCLA, Arkansas advanced to the 1978 Final Four with a win over Cal State Fullerton. The Razorbacks lost to Kentucky in the Final Four, but defeated Notre Dame in a consolation game.

Arkansas went 25-5 in 1978-79, Moncrief's senior season. His final game was a 73-71 loss to Indiana State, led by Larry Bird, in the Elite Eight.

Moncrief finished his college career with 2,066 points, a school record at the time. He is one of four Razorbacks to score more than 600 points in two separate seasons.

Moncrief is sixth at Arkansas with a career scoring average of 16.9 points per game, second in field goal percentage (.606) and holds the school record for career rebounds (1,015), free throws made (588) and free throws attempted (752).

He led the NCAA in field goal percentage (66.5 percent) during his freshman season and was a first-team All-American as a senior.

Moncrief was drafted fifth overall and went on to have a successful NBA career, playing 10 of 11 professional seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks. He was a five-time NBA all-star (1982-86) and twice won the league's defensive player of the year award (1984-85).

In 1990, Milwaukee retired Moncrief's No. 4 jersey.

Sutton left Arkansas for Kentucky following the conclusion of the 1984-85 season. In 11 seasons with the Razorbacks, Sutton had a 260-75 record, won or shared five SWC championships and went to nine NCAA Tournaments.

He resigned under pressure from Kentucky in 1989 amid an NCAA investigation that found the Wildcats guilty of breaking multiple NCAA rules. Kentucky's NCAA penalties included a two-year postseason ban and one-year TV ban.

Sutton was hired at Oklahoma State, his alma mater, in 1990 and found his greatest coaching success there. He won 368 games in 16 seasons as head coach of the Cowboys, and went to the Final Four in 1995 and 2004.

The court at Oklahoma State's Gallagher-Iba Arena is named for Sutton.

He resigned in 2006 following a car accident in which he was cited for driving under the influence. The incident came nearly two decades after Sutton admitted himself to the Betty Ford Clinic to treat alcoholism.

Many believe Sutton's off-court transgressions have kept him out of the Naismith Hall despite having on-court accolades deserving of the honor. Sutton finished his career with 804 wins, a .710 winning percentage and three Final Four appearances. He took four programs - Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State - to the NCAA Tournament.

There has been a recent push for Sutton, who is 82 and in poor health, to be inducted into the Naismith Hall. A documentary that includes several notable names lobbying for Sutton's induction, Eddie, is in the final stages of post-production.

"It's awful that we judge him based upon one or two bad moments," said Doug Gottlieb, a former Sutton player in a trailer for the documentary. "The man is an alcoholic. The man is a great basketball coach. These two things can coincide and be true."

Moncrief has been among the most vocal supporters for Sutton to earn election to the Hall of Fame.

“It is a shame he's not there, but he will get there," Moncrief said in 2017. "There's no doubt. I just can't imagine him not making it to the Hall of Fame one day.”

If elected, Moncrief, 61, would be the first former Arkansas player inducted in the Naismith Hall of Fame. Former Razorbacks coach Nolan Richardson was elected in 2014 and is the only inductee with ties to the Arkansas program.

The Naismith Hall of Fame, located in Springfield, Mass., includes individuals and teams from all levels of basketball, and induction is considered to be the sport's highest individual honor.

Moncrief, Sutton and Richardson all have been inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Mo. Moncrief was elected to that hall of fame last year.

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