In 1984 when he came out of East High School, Reid Monson was one of the state's hottest commodities. An all-stater who averaged more than 20 points a game, he received letters from all over the country. He turned down a solid offer to play for Jerry Pimm at Santa Barbara and, after an in-state recruiting battle between Utah, BYU and Utah State, he settled on the Utes. At 6-foot-8 with a good outside shooting touch, he seemed destined to be a solid collegiate player someday.
. . . Five years later Monson is about to play his final regular-season games in a Ute uniform when Utah plays Colorado State tonight and Wyoming Saturday. But don't look for his No. 20 to be retired or anything. He hasn't made the Utah all-time scoring or rebounding lists. In fact he's never started a game and isn't even close to getting 100 points for his entire career.
Monson's career simply hasn't turned out the way it was supposed to. He's played in fewer than half the games and sparingly when he did. Yet he's able to look back at his years at Utah with few regrets and little bitterness."Maybe it didn't turn out the way I anticipated coming out of high school," says Monson, "but I'm not saying that's bad. It's not easy to sit. I've learned a lot about myself that I didn't know because of the experiences that I've had. I've had a tremendous experience with the guys on the team. In the last five years I've made the greatest friends in the world."
Utah Coach Lynn Archibald, whose decision it's been not to play Monson, can't say enough good about him.
"He's never, ever complained," said Archibald. "His attitude and support for the program is great. All he's ever asked is how he can improve."
After being redshirted his first year, Monson greeted a couple of freshmen named Mitch Smith and Jimmy Madison the following year. Ever since then, they've been ahead of Monson on the depth chart, along with Boo Singletary who came in last year. This year, Josh Grant, one of the best freshmen ever to play at Utah, has also taken some time away from Monson. You could say Monson has been in the right place at the wrong time.
"Timing has a lot to do with it," said Archibald. "He's been playing behind some great players like Mitch and Jimmy. If he was back next year, he'd probably play a lot."
Monson realizes that and holds nothing against Smith, Madison and Singletary. "They're so talented - I might hold a grudge if they weren't such great guys," he said.
While Monson's contribution to the team hasn't shown up in the box score, it has in other ways.
"He's made a really big contribution to our team. Reid's been instrumental in our success," said Smith. "He works his tail off in practice every day. I know he kicks my butt every day. He can score nine out of 10 times on me. If he could just get confidence in games he could be a great player."
That's been a lot of Monson's problem - confidence. While he could play on the same level as his teammates in practice, he often looks flustered when he gets in the game. Until this year, he would rarely look at the basket when he'd get the ball and instead would quickly pass off like the ball was a hot potato.
But it's the old Catch-22 for Monson. He needs playing time to get confidence. But he needs confidence to play well and get more playing time.
You could call Monson the consummate team player. He leads the way in conditioning drills in practices. He's usually first in line for layups before games. On the bench, he'll lead the cheers. He's been voted most inspirational player by his teammates. The only thing he hasn't done is get the minutes.
"I feel I could have contributed," says Monson. "But the coach has so many minutes to work with, and he has to honestly evaluate the team and play who he thinks he can win with. That's his job. I might not have always agreed on what he's decided, but I've always respected his decision. I don't look back with any bitterness."
After playing in eight preseason games this year, Monson never got off the bench once WAC play started. For 12 straight games he sat . . . and sat . . . at sat. Then suddenly last Thursday at Air Force, with Smith in foul trouble and Singletary hurting, Archibald sent Monson into the game for the last six minutes of the first half. He helped the Utes overcome a 10-point deficit and they eventually won by one.
"What he did against Air Force is hard to do. He hadn't played in six or seven games (actually 12), and he came in and played good defense, got a key rebound and a basket," said Archibald.
"When he does come in a game, he always helps us," says Smith. "Like he tips one in against Air Force and we win by one."
Although he has some possibilities of playing in Japan, Monson figures it will be time to go on to other things when he graduates in political science this summer. He's a talented musician, as a trumpet player and as a singer, and he's looking forward to pursuing skiing - something he's never been able to do as a basketball player - and water skiing. While Monson may not be remembered by the average fan, he'll definitely be missed by his teammates and coaches.
"Every coach would love to have a player like Reid Monson, who plays hard every day and never misses practice," says Archibald. "He's always been enjoyable for me to coach. You just can't find players like Reid Monson."