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Eastern Washington University Basketball

Focused on new ‘family’ at EWU, Dan Monson pays homage to old ‘friends’ at Gonzaga

At first, Dan Monson misinterpreted the question.

Midway through an introductory news conference at Reese Court on Monday afternoon, Eastern Washington’s 20th basketball coach was asked if he’d given any thought to putting his former team on the Eagles’ schedule this season.

“I wouldn’t mind it,” Monson said. “We’ll go play whoever.”

On second thought, Monson decided, yes, he’d be fine with playing one of his former teams.

But that former team? Maybe not just yet.

“I thought you were talking about Long Beach State,” Monson said. “I have a problem playing Gonzaga. I want to beat Gonzaga and I don’t want to just go play them. I’m not sure we’re ready for that, so I’m not going to sit here and pop off to the media, ‘Yeah let’s go, we’re going to go beat Gonzaga.’ We’re not at that level yet, but we want to get there.”

Monson, who accepted the head coaching position at EWU last week after 17 years at Long Beach State, has been in frequent contact with the man who succeeded him at Gonzaga two-and-a-half decades ago.

A nonconference game/series between Monson’s program at EWU and Mark Few’s at Gonzaga is possibly the only thing that hasn’t come up in recent conversation between the longtime friends and coaching colleagues who met in the late 1980s while working the University of Oregon basketball camps held by late GU coach Dan Fitzgerald.

“There’s plenty of room for both programs and Mark and I were on the phone for two hours yesterday going through candidates and players and everything else,” Monson said. “It’s in my blood and we’re in each other’s weddings. His dad married us both. So that’s family, too, but this is my family now. We’ll use each other for resources, but playing friends is no fun.”

Monson’s two-year stint at Gonzaga (1997-99) represents a small sliver of a head coaching career that spans 27 seasons, but the now 62-year-old coach spent 10 seasons prior as an assistant coach in Spokane and moves back to the Inland Northwest with countless connections to the school that gave him his coaching start.

When Monson received a formal job offer from EWU AD Tim Collins via phone Friday afternoon, he was out at nearby Silver Lake watching daughter Mollie and Gonzaga’s varsity rowing team compete against Seattle U.

“If you’ve ever been to a regatta (rowing race), you’ve got about five seconds to watch before they go by,” Monson said. “He called just about when they were coming by.”

Last month, while he was filtering through text messages and voicemails congratulating Monson for winning the Big West Conference Tournament roughly a week after he was terminated by Long Beach State, the coach came across a video message from Few’s wife, Marcy.

“(She was) videoing Mark and her boys watching the last 30 seconds of our championship game of our tournament,” Monson said. “And Mark yelling at the TV and the kids couldn’t watch. Seeing how much they were invested into Long Beach State basketball because they knew how invested my family was.”

Since his last coaching stint in the Inland Northwest, many of Monson’s coaching philosophies and ideas have changed or evolved, and the new EWU coach suggested he’ll have to continue to adapt to an ever-changing college basketball landscape.

But Monson’s also held tight to many of the values he instilled while guiding Gonzaga’s 1998-99 team – a group that consisted of numerous redshirts and nonscholarship players – to an Elite Eight berth in the NCAA Tournament.

EWU, he believes, will have to employ a similar blue-collar approach if it wants to build on the program’s recent success.

“This program’s still going to have to get kids from this region that are hungry, that have an edge to them … and want to get better,” Monson said. “… I’m not going to beat Gonzaga, Gonzaga, Gonzaga into these guys’ heads. We’re Eastern, Eastern, Eastern. But there are some core values I can bring with.”