Last fall zoology Professor David Becker called Arkansas Coach Eddie Sutton with news about the team's star guard, and Sutton feared the worst. "Sidney Moncrief..." Becker began. "Is failing," Sutton thought. "...is the hardest-working athlete I've had in 17 years," Becker continued.
Moncrief (above) is not the most spectacular player at Arkansas. He does not shoot as well as leading scorer Marvin Delph, a 19.7-point-a-game forward, or pass as well as Guard Ron Brewer. Indeed, unless you watch the Razorbacks carefully, you may not notice Moncrief tipping a wayward pass to an open teammate. Or boxing out for an offensive rebound. Or moving into position for a steal. But when the action is over, Moncrief has done more than anyone on the floor. His best move is a slither to the hoop for lay-ups and tip-ins—teammates call him the Smiling Snake.
Astoundingly for a guard, Moncrief led the nation in field-goal percentage (66.5%) as a freshman and was second as a sophomore (65%). "It all comes from his intensity," says Sutton. "He plays every practice like a national championship."
This summer Moncrief went into overdrive. In June and July he worked eight hours a day for a gas company, then taught basketball at a clinic for underprivileged kids, then spent a few hours practicing. Later he helped the U.S. win a gold medal in the World Student Games. By the time Moncrief returned to school, he had greatly improved his outside shot, his only real weakness.
Like Moncrief, the other Arkansas players are quick, intense and tough on defense, but he is the indispensable Razorback. The only time he fouled out last year, Arkansas (26-2) blew a 13-point halftime lead and lost its first-round NCAA game 86-80 to Wake Forest. "Depth is a bigger problem this year," says Moncrief. "Our younger players have to develop quickly."
The 6'4" Moncrief also led Arkansas in rebounding in 19 games. This speaks well for him, if not for his taller teammates. For an all-round big man, there is 6'11" Steve Schall, that's all.
These shortcomings should not prevent Arkansas from repeating as the SWC champion. But the NCAAs? The Razorbacks are already preparing by playing tense games among themselves. In one-on-one to 21 points, Schall and Moncrief were recently deadlocked at 18-all in the rubber game. "I love pressure," said Moncrief. Whereupon he blew three points to lose.
A dark cloud over Arkansas basketball? Fear not, Razorback fans. They were playing Ping-Pong.