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Alley Oop! CHD sits down with Middle Tennessee State assistant coach Monte Towe

To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Middle Tennessee State assistant coach Monte Towe about inventing the alley-oop, going undefeated, and winning an NCAA title.  

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Your non-conference road schedule includes games against Florida, Mississippi, and Cincinnati.  Which of these three games do you feel will present your biggest test? Those are all good programs and will be great challenges for us. It is always hard to win in Gainesville, Mississippi returns a lot of good players from a team that made the NCAA tourney, and Cincinnati has been good for a long time. We will have our hands full with all three, but we have been a good road team the past two years. One of the reasons we play those games is because those are the kinds of teams you will face if you can get to the NCAA tourney.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season? I never know: we lost some really good leadership from last year’s team so we have some question marks, but we feel good about our current guys. We are concerned about how we guard and how tough we are, which we will find out about once we get on the court. We are just trying to build on our past success and we have a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

In 1973 you were the starting point guard on an NC State team that went 27-0, but your team did not make the NCAA tourney due to probation.  How were you able to stay focused for every single game that season knowing that you would not get to play for a title? That was a great team but it was too bad we did not get a chance to play for the title. We had a pair of senior starters who gave us great leadership. Tommy Burleson had a great sophomore year, as he led the ACC in rebounding. Today we might have lost a scholarship, but it would not have justified us missing out on the tourney. Our motto was to try to control the things that we could control during the regular season. We had a two-point in over Maryland on national TV in Cole Field House on Super Bowl Sunday when David Thompson tipped in a basket at the end. All we could do is play the schedule put in front of us, and we won every single game.

In 1974 you played second base on the Wolfpack baseball team that made the NCAA tourney along with teammate Tim Stoddard (who 9 years later became the only man ever to win an NCAA basketball title and a World Series).  Which sport did you enjoy the most, and what made Stoddard such an amazing athlete? I enjoyed both sports while playing for Sam Esposito, who was the head baseball coach in addition to being assistant basketball coach. I cannot emphasize enough how much of a good influence Coach Esposito was for both me and Timmy. I started at second base as a freshman, which I was very proud of. We beat Marquette on a Monday to win the basketball title…and two days later Timmy and I were at baseball practice! Timmy was a great competitor and a great teammate.

You and Hall of Famer David Thompson are credited with inventing the alley-oop.  How did you come up with it, and how did your opponents react the first time they ever saw it? David is a great player/person. As freshmen we practiced every day against the varsity, and once David caught the ball nobody could stop him. I remember the first time we did it like it was yesterday: David went backdoor and I threw a high pass that he caught in mid-air and laid it in the hoop. Coach Norm Sloan said it looked good and that we should add it to the playbook! David was very quick and had great balance in the air. Dunking was illegal back then, but the alley-oop for a lay-in was just a beautiful basketball play.

In the 1974 ACC tourney title game you scored 17 points in a three-point OT win over Maryland.  What are your memories of what is considered to be one of the greatest college games ever? Maryland was a great team and was playing great at the time. Even though we had beaten them three times the previous year and twice in 1974, we still had to beat them one more time in order to make the NCAA tourney because only the ACC champ would get a bid. Burleson was named ACC tourney MVP after getting 38 points and 13 rebounds. We were facing a team with John Lucas, Len Elmore and Tom McMillen, so we knew that we would have to play the best game of our lives.

Take me though the magical 1974 Final 4 in Greensboro.  How much of a home court advantage did you feel like you would have? We felt good about it because we had won a lot of games on that court, but it did not give us any distinct advantage. It definitely did not hurt us and were happy to be there because we had won the Big 4 tourney and the ACC tourney each of the previous two years on that court.

You scored 12 points while playing all 50 minutes in a three-point, double overtime win over UCLA.  How were you able to beat the seven-time defending champion Bruins after losing to them earlier in the season? They were outstanding but we were really good ourselves. We lost to them in St. Louis in December and felt that we could line up with them at every position. It was an exciting two-overtime game: they had us put away with two minutes left but we were able to cause a couple of turnovers en route to making our comeback. It was a big deal to beat a great team coached by the legendary John Wooden and the culmination of an outstanding two-year run.

You scored 16 points in a win over Marquette to clinch the title: what did it mean to you to win the title? A lot of people forget about that game because of the significance of the UCLA game. I grew up in Indiana watching Purdue’s Rick Mount and Billy Keller make it to the Final 4 and seeing Bobby Joe Hill’s Texas Western team beat Kentucky, so to be a part of it myself was unbelievable. I do not know if we could appreciate it at the time because we were in the fast lane and on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It was a great tribute to our players and the coaches that put our team together. Even the guys who did not play much during the games contributed every day in practice.

In 1975 you won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award as the best college player under 6’ tall, did you see your 5’7″ height as an advantage or disadvantage on the court? It really did not bother me: I just loved to play basketball. Coaching is great and I love it…but if I could play until I was 60 I would keep playing! I just considered myself someone trying to earn a spot on a team so I was fortunate to have coaches who gave me an opportunity. I dealt with it my whole career and was blessed to have the physical capabilities that I had.

After retiring you became an assistant under Coach Sloan at your alma mater and at Florida before spending five years as head coach at New Orleans.  What is the biggest difference between being an assistant and being a head coach? The head coach has a lot more things on his plate every day: academics, recruiting, planning practices, etc. I enjoyed being a head coach as well as an assistant coach: basketball has been very good to me. I owe a great deal of my career to Coach Sloan. Even when you are sleeping you are thinking about things you have to take care of! It is 24-7, but I enjoy working with young people because it keeps me young.

In 2011 you were named assistant coach at Middle Tennessee State: why did you take the job? I have known Coach Kermit Davis for a long time and he runs an excellent program. I just wanted to work with him and be a part of the Sun Belt Conference. I feel like I am a better coach now than I was two years ago. Kermit is a hard worker and his friendship is invaluable.

What has been the hardest part of switching conferences? We feel that C-USA is a step up in competition from top to bottom. The Sun Belt is good but we need to improve our recruiting a little and keep getting better: even the teams at the bottom of the C-USA can beat you on any given night. We won 27+ games each of the past two years, so we have gotten some respect.

JonTeitel