Don Monson To Be Honored Friday

Dec. 1, 2004

SPOKANE, Wash. - Gonzaga University in conjunction with Northwest Sports & Entertainment will honor Don Monson on Friday night with the "Battle in Seattle Award" at the Seattle Red Lion on Fifth Avenue.

Monson, who included Pasco High, the University of Idaho and the University of Oregon among his coaching stops, will receive the award at a special reception beginning at 6:30 p.m. The Red Lion is located at 1415 5th Avenue in Seattle.

The award is presented to someone who has demonstrated a lifelong contribution to basketball in the Pacific Northwest. Former Pacific Lutheran University, Washington State University and University of Washington head coach Marv Harshman was the inaugural recipient last year.

This year's award is being presented in conjunction with the second Battle in Seattle between Gonzaga and the University of Massachusetts on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Seattle's KeyArena. Gonzaga edged the University of Missouri 87-80 in overtime in the inaugural event last year.

Tickets for the reception are $20 and can be reserved by calling Northwest Sports at (480) 635-8720.

Northwest Sports officials also said tickets in the four price levels ranging from $18-$65 are still available for Saturday's game. Tickets can be purchased through any Ticketmaster outlet or online at

With an intense personality, Monson would not let his teams play poorly. If they did, he'd yell, pull his hair out and go through all kinds of fits and contortions. He was as often entertaining to watch as the teams he coached. But when all was said and done, teams under coach Monson knew how to play the game of basketball

In the late 1970's newly appointed Idaho athletic director Bill Belknap's first priority was to hire a basketball coach. This was following back-to-back years that saw the University win 5 games in 1977 and only 4 in `78. Belknap disregarded the list of finalist put forth by the search committee, and pursued the former Idaho graduate (1955) Monson. Don came to Idaho from Michigan State where he served under Jud Heathcote. Monson was given credit to recruiting Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who would lead the Spartans to the national title in 1979. When Don Monson arrived back in Moscow in 1978, the Idaho Vandals seemed about as far removed from the nation's elite as they could possibly be. This, however, is something that would soon change.

The dramatic nature of Idaho's basketball turnaround became apparent quickly when Idaho won an amazing 17 games in Monson's second season (1979-1980). The following season saw the Vandals win their first 10 games, which included victories over Nebraska, Washington State, and Gonzaga. Idaho went on the post a 12-2 Big Sky conference record and then proceeded to win the post-season tournament, earning a bid to the NCAA tournament.

The season ended in a heartbreaking loss to Pittsburg 70-69, but with a record of 25-4 the Vandals broke into the top 20 rankings. Don Monson warned Idaho's fans not to expect another year like the one that they had just witnessed to happen again, but he was wrong.

Idaho started the 1981-82 basketball season by going 16-0. Early in December, the Vandals throttled Washington in Seattle 86-61. A few days later, Idaho came back to the Palouse to defeat a strong George Raveling-led Washington State squad in Pullman 68-48. National notice however didn't come until the prestigious Far West Classic in Portland, Ore., just after Christmas. Idaho defeated Iowa State, then 15th ranked Oregon State, and finally dumped Oregon to win the title. Overall Idaho was 4-0 against the Pacific-10 with an amazing average victory margin of 21.5 points. The following week Idaho entered the national polls, getting ranked 18th by the AP and 13th by UPI.

After Idaho rose to the 8th in both polls Sports Illustrated jinxed the team by writing a great story, but causing the first loss of the season to Mike Montgomery's Montana team 53-51 on a tip-in at the buzzer. Idaho would recover from the loss to eventually rise to the highest ranking ever at No. 6 in both polls. After another win in the Big Sky Conference the Vandals secured their second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

After a first-round bye, Idaho was set to play the 16th ranked Iowa Hawkeye's in the friendly surroundings at Friel Court on the campus of Washington State. On March 14, 1982, a game for Northwest ages took place in front of 12,350 fans. Idaho took an early lead but Iowa fought back and tied the score at 57-57 at the end of regulation. In overtime the Vandals and Hawkeye's went back and forth. With a tie game at 67 and the clock winding down, Brian Kellerman took a shot with three seconds left. It bounced three times on the rim and fell through the hoop as the buzzer sounded to the roar of the crowd. The Idaho Vandals had made it to the Sweet 16.

The season ended for Idaho against Ralph Miller's fourth-ranked Oregon State University Beavers in Provo, Utah, 60-42. However, Monson lead Idaho to a 27-3 record, the best in the history of Idaho basketball. The season also earned coach Monson NCAA Division 1 coach of the year, an award voted on by his coaching peers.

Monson, the father of former Gonzaga and current University of Minnesota head coach Dan Monson, would go on to coach one more season at Idaho, reaching the NIT in 1983. He also won an amazing 100 games in five years, and led the Vandals to 43 straight home victories during that tenure.

The following season Monson took over the University of Oregon program and marched the sidelines in Eugene for nine seasons. During that time he recorded 116 wins, two trips to the National Invitational Tournament, and coached future NBA players Anthony Taylor, Blair Rasmussen, and Terrell Brandon.



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