Team Monaghan clicking at Minnesota State
Athletes are frequently cautioned to make college decisions based on the school and program and not relationships with the coaches.
Zach Monaghan was in a different situation when he decided to leave the South Dakota State basketball program after his freshman season. The Fremd graduate and 2011 Daily Herald Cook County All-Area captain had absolutely no trust issues with one of the coaches at Minnesota State University in Mankato.
Especially since Monaghan's brother Pat had just finished his first season as an assistant coach at Minnesota State. But it also put Pat Monaghan in a more challenging recruiting situation than some might expect.
"It was tough, honestly, it was," Pat said. "South Dakota State went to the NCAA tournament Zach's freshman year. But when he said he wanted to come and explore his options, I told him, 'Obviously it's up to you.'
"I wouldn't put him in this situation if I didn't feel he could be successful in it."
It is safe to say it has been a very successful change for Zach Monaghan during his three seasons at Minnesota State. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound guard is averaging 15.5 points and a Division II-leading 8.1 assists a game as he prepares for the program's third straight NCAA tournament berth this weekend.
"There are some good days and bad days, but at the end of the day it's pretty cool when you look back on it," Zach said of being coached by his brother. "It's cool because I was always around his teams when he was playing and I was always the water boy.
"Playing for him, he handles some of the guard stuff, so he pushes me a little bit. It's worked out."
Zach averaged 2.2 points and 7.7 minutes a game as a freshman at South Dakota State and still believes he could play at the Division I level. But the prospect of biding his time for another year behind star guard Nate Wolters, who has played 79 NBA games the last two seasons with Milwaukee and New Orleans, wasn't very appealing.
Zach's brother Pat was making his climb up the coaching ladder after playing at Fremd, Harper College and Lewis University. Pat spent two years as a graduate assistant at Wayne State (Neb.), two years as an assistant at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College and a year as Loyola's Director of Basketball Operations before joining the Minnesota State staff.
Pat's first year at Minnesota State was a losing season after seven straight NCAA trips. But Zach knew it was just a blip in the program's success under head coach Matt Margenthaler.
"He was always super supportive," Zach said of Pat. "But I found my own love for the school and made some friends on the team. I was able to visit with them on weekends and I fell in love with it right away.
"What caught my eye was having a chance to play for a national championship. That's what is kind of a dream for me."
Since Zach was transferring to a Division II school he didn't have to sit out a year and could play immediately. He averaged 11.8 points and 5.6 assists as a sophomore for a 28-5 finisher and as a junior upped the numbers to 15.4 points and a Division II-best 8 assists a game on a 30-5 team.
Zach said Margenthaler has given him the freedom to play the game with more passion and emotion. Pat has been vital to his success as well.
"He's helped with my ballhandling and the way I read defenses," Zach said. "He's helped me with another aspect that I knew was there, but he opened my eyes to it, and at the same time he allowed me to learn on my own."
But there have been occasions where it's not all brotherly love between Pat and Zach.
"At times we butt heads and want to lay the gloves down," Zach said, "but at the end of the day we understand at practice that it's a 100 percent player-coach relationship."
Margenthaler has made sure the relationship never gets too contentious. Pat said he's been cognizant of allowing Zach to enjoy being a college student.
"I let him do his own thing and try to stay away from a lot of things," Pat said. "Being an assistant coach, it's as if he was somebody else on the team. That's how I've approached it.
"If he needed coaching, I coached him. If he needed a pat on the back, I gave him a pat on the back."
Zach's career likely won't be ending with his final game at Minnesota State. He wants to play professionally overseas and Pat said there will be a good market for a 6-3 point guard with his passing and shooting abilities.
Zach said he knows he can succeed overseas with the combination of his experience at Minnesota State, learning the intricacies of the pick and roll from Wolters and going on a 10-day trip last summer to Belgium, Holland and England with a group of Division I and II players.
But that's something he'll worry about later. Right now his focus is on the postseason, which begins Saturday night when Minnesota State (24-7) tries to avenge a second-round NCAA loss from last year against Northwest Missouri State (23-6) in Sioux Falls, S.D.
And Zach and Pat Monaghan hope their brother-player-coach relationship continues for a few more weeks.
"To have a front row seat to watch him for three years," Pat said, "and develop into one of the best players in the country at the D-II level is pretty special.
"To coach my brother for three years, looking back, it's probably the best three years of my career. Obviously part of it is we've won, which helps. But it's been a great three years to see how he's grown as an individual and continued to grow as a person."