Midway through a mid-November practice in preparation for his team's matchup with North Carolina later in the week, Long Beach State coach Dan Monson halted a drill to tear into Keala King for his lack of effort.
Monson needed King to go all-out crashing the glass as a member of the scout team to help prepare the rest of the roster for North Carolina's vaunted offensive rebounding prowess. The highly touted Arizona State transfer clearly didn't appreciate the criticism, sniping back at Monson, then making a show of mockingly counting out loud every time he got a rebound the rest of practice, sometimes even when he merely picked the ball up after an opposing player made a basket.
That scene I witnessed at the lone practice I attended last season surely only scratches the surface of the behind-the-scenes issues that plagued Long Beach State, but it does help illustrate why Monson apparently felt his program needed a makeover. King, former DePaul transfer Tony Freeland and rising sophomore Deng Deng will each not be allowed to return to the team next season, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported on Sunday.
It's a shame for Long Beach State that King and Freeland couldn't behave well enough to remain part of the program because both were talented enough to help the 49ers become a mid-major power on the West Coast. Monson recruited King, Freeland and Jennings to help replace the five ultra-productive seniors who led Long Beach State to a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament in 2012.
King, who was averaging a team-high 13.7 points as a sophomore at Arizona State when Herb Sendek sent him packing, has an explosive first step to the rim and excellent size and length for a combo guard. Freeland, a bouncy 6-7 forward who once erupted for 24 points at Georgetown and 25 at Syracuse, had natural ability rarely seen from a forward in the Big West.
Those two teamed with Jennings, standout point guard Mike Caffey and high-scoring wing James Ennis to lead the 49ers to a Big West regular season title and an NIT bid, but the season apparently was never a smooth ride.
Monson frequently publicly questioned his team's attitude and practice habits during the course of the season. The Press-Telegram story also painted a picture of a team that never found a way to mesh the newcomers and the returners, leading to tension, if not outright dissension in the locker room.
The problems were most visible on the floor late in the season as Long Beach State finished with five losses in its final seven games. Among those were a 71-51 rout at Pacific, a maddening Big West semifinal loss to middling UC Irvine and a non-competitive 112-66 meltdown in the opening round of the NIT at eventual champion Baylor.
Even before last season began, Monson appeared to have an inkling his transfer-heavy roster had a boom-or-bust quality to it.
"Our goal is to always challenge in the Big West, and I think the talent is there," Monson told Yahoo! Sports last summer. "There's a lot of individual talent, but is there a team? When you have that many transfers, they came for themselves. They left for personal reasons, they come to you as individuals and they've got to buy into what makes the team successful. So I know there's enough talent to contend and now it's my job to get them on the same page."
Monson wasn't as successful as he hoped to be in accomplishing that goal. Now he's pushing the reset button and hoping to build around Caffey, Jennings and promising incoming class going forward.
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