I was at the scrimmage when Murray went up for a layup and was knocked hard to the ground. He injured his wrist and his hip in the fall and was down on the court for several minutes. He reinjured his wrist a couple of weeks ago in a game. He is a warrior who tried to tough it out and play for LB this year but was not able to play at the level he played last season. I believe the two injuries affected his shot mechanics this year. He is on the bench now strongly cheering the team on. He is the kind of athlete we need at LB State and sets an example for the other players. I hope he gets a pro contract somewhere next year and has a great pro career.
I confess, a couple years ago, I thought Monson was done. He seemed to have struggled several years in a row. His teams had developed a habit of fading in the second half of BW play and seemed to often quit on him down the stretch. Frankly, since Coach Couch got sick, the program had not been the same. I have been highly critical of Fee for the extension he gave Monson, even calling it reason for firing Fee.
Last year, Monson seemed to hit on something that worked. The fundamental thing that seemed to change was the culture. Monson noted it in a post game video when he said that guys were playing to win instead of playing to pad their stats. Monson credited Colin Slater, Joel Murray and Aboubacar Traore as the great attitude guys that really made a difference. The result was 1st place in the regular season and a heartbreaking last second loss in the BW final.
This year, the beginning of the year presented some challenges. We only returned 4 scholarship players from last season (including difference makers A Traore, Murray and Jones), so there was the challenge of integrating a bunch of newcomers. This was made even more challenging because almost all of the new comers were either new to D1, or had limited playing time. AJ George sat last season with an injury and had no experience at this level. Hunter, Stroud and Polynice are JC guys. Lassina Traore had a year at St louis under his belt, but played only 148 minutes total in his first year.
The one experienced player we had was 4th year junior (thank you covid) Marcus Tsohonis. Tsohonis had a very strong first two years at Washington, averaging 10.4 ppg in 20 minutes of play. But, after transferring last year to VCU, he striggled to find a place on the team. He averaged only 5.1 ppg in 14 minutes.
To add to the challenge of all the new players, we started out the year with key players banged up. On this board it was noted that Murray hurt his wrist in October. He missed the Biola exhibition to kick off the season but got back for the UCLA game. Unfortunately, he wasn't the player he had been. Much of his game seemed fine (assists and turnovers were better than last season), but his shooting was clearly not right. Murray had been a solid three point shooter and a good FT shooter last year. The season, he put up a 3 point shooting percentage of .227 and Ft of .673. Both by far the worst of his career and not even close to last season. His last game was the first one against UCI, after which he was clear he could not play and opted for season ending surgery. It is worth noting that Murray was the preseason pick for BW POY and was clearly the best player we had returning. What other team in the BW could lose their best player and get better?
But hey, we still had Jones and A Traore too. Except, Jones has missed 6 games this season due to two key injuries. he hurt his shoulder and later his ankle. Even when he played, like Murray he has played hurt. Like Murray, it has impacted his game. Jones' two strengths are his defense and outside shooting. This season he is .303 overall from three (well off the .371 of last year) and for much of the year, he has not looked like the same defender. FWIW, I thought Jones looked like the player from last year last night against UCI for the first time all year.
So suffice it to say, this means we are depending on a crew of players with limited experience at this level to compete this year. It has not surprised me one bit that we struggled early. Everyone was learning on the job. But, for the second straight year, we see the team coming together. As the players get some experience, and some success, their play has improved. We currently are on a 6 game win streak. The team has shown toughness under adversity (like the game at UCSD, where Murray, Jones, Stroud and Polynice were out), and you can just see the buy in, the defense and the overall game improving every game.
A head Coach, as I see it, has some key responsibilities. Foundationally, the first is to recruit, the second is to develop those players, and in service to the first two, to put together a staff that can impact the fist two.
I don't know about any of the rest of you, but I think Monson has done a hell of a job recruiting players the last couple years. I love the guys on this team, as I did the guys on last year's squad. I think what Monson said about playing to win, and not worrying about overall stats is spot on. These guys are buying in, playing as a unit, never quitting, always playing hard and are plain fun to watch.
In terms of development, the game-to-game progress of this team is obvious. What is scary on the upside is that with Murray done for the year, everyone on this team can return next year, and the core of starters is mostly sophomores.
Now, it is reasonable to note that the assistants have a hand in recruiting and development. But, Monson has to select the staff and develop them. he has to decide who is to do what and be sure they have the knowledge and resources to get her done. I hear that Coach Caveness has been in charge of the defense, who selected him to be part of the team and put him in that role? Monson. Bottom line, if the assistants are not doing their jobs, the head Coach gets the blame, and earns the credit if they do.
Bottom line, there has been much bashing of Monson on this board for years. Some of it by me. IMHO, I think much of it was justified. Monson had a pretty long stretch of poor years. I personally thought his best years were behind him. I still think 1 tourney appearance in 16 years is about 1/3 of the minimum I would want to see and his post season record in the NCAA/NIT games is horrid.
But, I think he and the staff had done a very good job developing last year's team and getting the program back to the top of the conference. let's face it, being in a position to be replacing 9 guys makes it a real challenge for a staff. Finding and developing and teaching a system to that many players at once is really hard and I am blown away at the fact that we are again contending for a championship and frankly, I think no one in the league is player better than LB at this time. Kudos to Monson and an apology to Fee. Credit where it is due. Now, get this team to the NCAA tourney and I will be calling to extend Monson (won't that piss of most of you)
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