The state of Oklahoma lost one of its coaching legends on May 23 with the passing of former OSU head basketball coach Eddie Sutton.
Sutton racked up more than 800 wins during his career, 368 of those victories came while he roamed the Cowboy sidelines from 1990-2006. Sutton took a previously downtrodden OSU program to 13 NCAA tournament berths, three conference tournament titles (Big Eight in 1995, Big 12 in 2004 and 2005) and two Final Four appearances (1995 and 2004).
While many admired Sutton for his coaching success, a relative few knew the recently-named Naismith Hall of Famer as well one of his former players and current Owasso head coach Brian Montonati.
Montonati played at OSU from 1997-2000, during the peak of Sutton’s transformation project in Stillwater.
Sutton, who died at age 84, was known as a coach who preached discipline and brought a hard-nosed approach to basketball and life. It was a mantra Montonati said was sometimes difficult for a college kid to understand, but has continued to serve him well two decades later since leaving OSU.
“He was not an easy coach to play for,” Montonati said. “He was difficult at times. But just seeing myself mature in the time I played for him. Coach would say if you could play for him, then there’s nothing you couldn’t do. It was just a confidence you took away from him.”
Following his time at OSU, Montonati, a Michigan native, played professionally nine seasons in Europe and was part of three championship teams. Personally Montonati began his family overseas with the birth of his first child Mya in Sicily, Italy.
Montonati remained close to Sutton through it all.
“The reason I had such a long career in Europe was because of coach,” Montonati said. “He was the most demanding coach I ever played for. He instilled a confidence and belief in you. When you played for him, you knew you were prepared … I still talked with him once a week or at least a couple of times a month when I was there. He and Mrs. Sutton were real close to my kids when they were younger. When Mya was born, he sent her a hand-written letter and a pair of Baby Jordan’s. He would ask about family every time you saw him. He cared about you more than just as a player.”
Now in the midst of his own coaching career, Montonati said he has remained heavily influenced by Sutton while leading the Ram boys program.
“You learn to grit and grind through practice with coach. There are days when you’re not going to play great but you just got to grind,” Montonati said. “More importantly, you know you’re not there just to coach basketball. (High school players are) at an age where a coach can have a huge impact on their life. We want to leave them with the tools I learned, to be disciplined and accountable and being a good student. That’s what we pride ourselves on … There’s not a shortcut to get to where we want to get to. I only know one way. I don’t know another way. And that’s because of coach.”