In front of a record-setting crowd last week at the Pyramid, Long Beach State played San Diego State to a tie at halftime before the 49ers got fatigued and the ranked, more talented team ended up winning by a healthy margin.
To coach Dan Monson, playing the Aztecs close was not a moral victory, but beyond disappointing.
“I don’t want them feeling good about that,” Monson said of his players. “That’s unacceptable.
“The slogan of our team is now. Now is the time.”
And by now, Monson means “NOW.”
That’s what’s printed on the wristbands his players are wearing this season. “N” stands for no excuses. “O” stands for outworking people. And the “W” stands for what Monson feels his team should have done with the San Diego State game despite being the underdog.
“Those are games you need to win and not lose by 16,” he said. “It’s frustrating we play that hard and then take shots out of context. We’ve been in those situations before.
“Until you can beat people physically better than you, you’re not a good team.”
Beginning today, Long Beach State plays three games in four days at the Paradise Jam, and expectations remain high considering the 49ers return their top three scorers from a 17-win team that came within one win of reaching the NCAA tournament.
They’ve certainly been battle-tested for the Big West given the way Monson has scheduled. Last season, Long Beach State beat UCLA and Utah State, played Kentucky to a tie at halftime and also played at Duke, Texas and Notre Dame.
But when it came time for the conference portion of the schedule, the 49ers disappointed by winning only half of their games.
The hope for Monson this season is that another year of experience has allowed juniors T.J. Robinson, Casper Ware and Larry Anderson to mature into more consistent leaders and the all-conference-caliber players to develop better chemistry.
At the same time, Monson doesn’t have a single player off the bench to turn to who has played major Division I minutes. On top of that, his prized recruit failed to qualify.
Forward Jacob Thomas, a Mr. Basketball finalist in Minnesota, is academically ineligible this season and unable to practice with the team. Two other guards were signed to national letters of intent but did not enroll.
“That’s been a huge part,” Monson said. “I haven’t talked about it much because that would be violating the NOW of our program, using excuses. The reality is, that has come into play.
“Hopefully, we can be a little bit deeper. Our team will be defined by players six, seven and eight.”
Monson thus far has gone to junior college transfers Edis Dervisevic and Tristan Wilson, who missed all of last season recovering from knee surgery. Really though, the entire team will have to step forward in Monson’s fourth year of rebuilding the program.
Monson, who signed a contract extension in the offseason, said he’s talked to his team about how the Gonzaga team he coached in 1997 beat fifth-ranked Clemson to win the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska, and touch off an era of dominance, with the Zags going to the Elite Eight the next season.
Clemson is Long Beach State’s opponent today in the U.S. Virgin Islands. For Monson, it’s all about changing the mindset of his players and letting them know that they too can reach great heights.
“We’re at a crossroads at our program,” he said.