GUEST COLUMN/Everette Hatcher: Could lightning strike twice for UALR in NCAA Big Dance?
Coach Mike Newell in the 1986 NCAA Basketball Tournament led his 14th-seeded University of Arkansas at Little Rock Trojans to a 90-83 victory over the No. 3-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish coached by Digger Phelps, who is now a college basketball analyst for ESPN.
Next, the Trojans took the North Carolina State Wolfpack, coached by Jim Valvano, to double overtime before eventually being eliminated from the tournament.
Again, as in 1986, both Notre Dame and UALR will be in the NCAA Tournament, and it appears they have a good chance of being paired up again, according to various websites. Could lightning strike twice?
There are two reasons I have been having fun with this bit of speculation. I am fan of UALR, my hometown team, and I have several good friends who are longtime Fighting Irish fans.
My son Wilson, 14, and his friend Kahry Wright attended the Sun Belt Championship game with me in Hot Springs on Tuesday night. My son Rett, 24, warned us about the potential for storms and lightning in the area, but we were determined to make it to Hot Springs. Besides, we personally know one of the basketball players for UALR and wanted to support him.
Logan Quinn is a red-shirt freshman guard who led the Arkansas Baptist High School Eagles to a state championship in 2009, and that game was also played in Hot Springs. Logan has many brothers and sisters that have played ball over the years at Arkansas Baptist. My son Rett played both football and basketball with his brother, Lancer, in 2004-5.
Logan’s former coach at Arkansas Baptist, Steve Miller, congratulated him by phone after the game on Tuesday night. Miller noted that now Logan can say he was a member of two teams that won championships on that same floor. Miller is now head basketball coach and athletic director at Trinity Christian Academy in Wichita, Kan., and he watched the game on ESPN2. He said he got a kick out of seeing a former player in the huddles on the sideline.
Let me now tell you about my longtime Notre Dame Fighting Irish friends. Tim, Pat and Jim Monahan are brothers and have been running Monahan Inc. of Arcola, Ill., for many years. They sell handles and broomcorn, and since here at Little Rock Broom Works (my business) we need those items to make brooms, we have been a customer of theirs for many years.
Two of Tim’s sons have actually played football for Notre Dame. Both fit the “Rudy” description. Out of high school they received many offers to play at the small college level, but they chose to walk on at Notre Dame. Tom Monahan got some playing time his senior year as a blocking back in 1986, and Mark Monahan did the same as a defensive back in 1995. Former Arkansas Coach Lou Holtz coached both players.
Why did they walk on at Notre Dame? Probably it had something to do with how far back the Monahan family goes with the Fighting Irish. These boys’ grandfather Tom Monahan played for Knute Rockne from 1928 to 1931.
The Monahans still have in their possession a letter dated Aug. 2, 1929, from Rockne encouraging Monahan to put on 10 to 15 pounds. He went on to write, “I think you have the potentialities to make a good center with a little more experience, and you will get that this fall.” (Unfortunately, Rockne’s life was cut short at age 43 in a plane crash in 1931.)
On Tuesday, it looked bad for my UALR Trojans when we trailed North Texas by 7 points with less than 90 seconds left in the game. However, after stealing the ball a few times and making our foul shots, we were able to cut the lead to one point with 48 seconds left.
Then Josh White seemed to close the door on UALR for good when he hit a 3-point shot with 25 seconds left to give North Texas a 4-point lead.
A thunderstorm was raging outside at the time, and I don’t know if lightning ever struck outside the building, but it sure did inside! In the final seconds, UALR’s Matt Mouzy and Solomon Bozeman each made 3-point shots to steal the win from the Mean Green of North Texas.
The next day I heard UALR assistant coach and former NBA player Joe Kleine on the radio. Kleine said that the coaches have been telling the players all year long to keep focused on what the prize is.
Kleine said he went to four NCAA tournaments as a college player and “there is nothing like it. We just kept selling the dream to these players. We told them that they will never forget their experience in the NCAA Tournament.”
UALR head coach Steve Shields and assistant coach Kleine are men of unusual size. Shields is a short guy and Kleine is a 7-foot-tall former NBA center. In 1998, KIeine played for NBA Champions the Chicago Bulls.
In 1986, the Monahan brothers saw me at a convention, and they all three shared the same basic thought: “We took the Arkansas Little Rock game for granted, and they just beat us.”
Can lightning strike again in 2011? We will just have to wait and see.
Contributing columnist Everette Hatcher is the president of Little Rock Broom Works, which has been manufacturing brooms since 1900, and he writes a political blog at www.HaltingArkansasLiberalswithTruth.com. Everette and his wife, Jill, live in Alexander and have four children and two grandchildren.