Sidney Moncrief will be back in Vail for his Back 2 Basics basketball academy |

Sidney Moncrief will be back in Vail for his Back 2 Basics basketball academy

Why the NBA hall-of-famer chooses Vail for the only annual basketball camp he runs

Sidney Moncrief, a two-time NBA defensive player of the year and hall of famer, hosts one basketball camp every year — his Back 2 Basics All-Star Academy in Vail. The camp runs from July 24-27.
Vail Recreation District/Courtesy photo

If Sidney Moncrief could choose between a day on the slopes or time traveling back to the 1978 Final Four run he led for the Arkansas Razorbacks, he’d choose the former in a heartbeat.

“I’ll take skiing over basketball at this point in my life,” the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year said over the phone while watching his alma mater take on Illinois in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

It makes sense then that the 65-year-old NBA Hall-of-Famer only leads one annual basketball camp … in a ski town.

“It’s really the only camp that I do and that I’ve done for years because I just like Vail so much,” he said of his Back 2 Basics All-Star Basketball Academy and Sidney Moncrief Shooting Camp, both of which run July 24-27 at Homestake Peak School in EagleVail.

“I like the kids and the community and we just have the best memories of this camp.”

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Moncrief, who led the Milwaukee Bucks to a decade of deep playoff runs from 1979-1990 before closing out his career with the Atlanta Hawks in 1991, was in Denver for the 2005 NBA All-Star game when a friend suggested they go up to Vail to attend the National Brotherhood of Skiers summit taking place at the same time. He met Vail Town Council member Farrow Hitt, who introduced the former shooting guard to Joel Rabinowitz.

“We did an afternoon clinic at Red Sandstone with a bunch of elementary school students and then decided to do a yearly summer camp,” Rabinowitz, the Vail Recreation District sports director, stated of the event’s genesis. Over a decade later, the camp has become a huge hit. The Back 2 Basics All-Star Basketball Academy has already filled up but there are still open spots in the shooting camp. Rabinowitz did say in an email that he hopes by the end of this week there will be more room.

“We have always strived to bring in top-level coaches for all our VRD summer sports camps,” Rabinowitz said. “Sidney is the epitome of that, playing and coaching at the highest level while still being able to relate to the youth of today.”

In a basketball world transformed by Steph Curry’s deep bombs and Kyrie Irving-inspired ball-handlers happy to repeatedly counter-move the shot clock down, the disciplined all-around game that made Moncrief a star would seem — at least on paper — to be out of touch with the times. Even though Moncrief recognizes the constant evolution of the game, he believes many of the principles he and his family members instill at his camps are timeless.

“We always emphasize fundamentals from a skill standpoint,” he said.

“Not if you can take the ball through your legs, behind your back, combo dribble — but can you just dribble the ball correctly? Do you have the correct shooting form? Do you know the fundamentals of passing? Do you know how important being a team player is? Can you do things the right way?”

Moncrief focuses on the fundamentals of basketball at his camp, including shooting, passing, dribbling, footwork and defense.
Vail Recreation District/Courtesy photo

He said he’s always impressed by the eagerness and enthusiasm of Vail kids in embracing those core skills.

“They’re curious, they want to learn more,” he said. “It’s really fun when you’re teaching people that want to learn. Do they want to learn less than kids 15, 20, 30 years ago? No, not in Vail — maybe in some other places.”

The kids even influence him a little.

“They have the healthiest lunches I’ve ever seen in my life,” he chuckled. “We always laugh about that.”

Going back to Curry, he does sometimes fight the pro influence on youth when it comes to developing discernment in terms of shot selection.

“You definitely have to fight the fact that it took the great players many years of practice and competing to get to where they are,” he said, pausing to point out back-to-back undisciplined full-court passes from the Illini and the Razorbacks on his television.

“And don’t expect that you’re going to have a microwave career.”

Looking back on his own career, with his trademark on-court versatility and dependability, the 6-foot-4 guard — whom Michael Jordan and Larry Bird both praised for his nightly tenacious defense — feels it’s fairly easy to pinpoint the attributes of which he’s most proud.

“For me, it’s always the consistency and how I performed,” he said. “I was always subconsciously and somewhat consciously trying to make sure that it was well-balanced. Every day I played it was at a high level. Every day I practiced it was a certain level.”

Jordan once reportedly told an LA Times reporter, “When you play against Moncrief, you’re in for a night of all-around basketball. He’ll hound you everywhere you go, both ends of the court.”

“Moncrief does everything you’re supposed to do on defense and doesn’t take any shortcuts, plus he does it every night,” Bird said to Sports Illustrated in 1985.

Now, his energy is channeled into a professional development company, which he runs with his wife. Moncrief One Team provides experiences for adults in the area of team enhancement, leadership, career development and entrepreneurship.

“It’s easy for me to realize you can’t play basketball anymore,” he said. “That’s been decided for me, and so now the energy I have is me getting better at what I do developing people, and that brings me a lot of satisfaction.”

Moncrief works with a camper at his 2021 camp at Homestake Peak School.
Vail Recreation District/Courtesy photo

He does that very thing at his Back 2 Basics Academy, open to boys and girls ages 6 and older; the shooting camp is for 10-16-year-old athletes. Rabinowitz said one hallmark is Moncrief’s ability to group kids based on their age and ability.

“It makes it so every camper is leaving camp refining and improving their initial skill set as well as an opportunity to develop new skills,” he said. “I find Sidney to be down to earth and very approachable.” 

Former camper Monique Stevens would probably agree. The Battle Mountain alumna remembers getting to camp early so she could play “HORSE” with the coaches.

“Sidney really helped me develop my defensive abilities and his hammering the motion of the triple threat position changed the game for me,” she said. After attending the camp from age 6 to 17, she’s helped to coach the last couple of years.

“I cannot wait for my son to be old enough to attend,” she said.

One reason is that campers leave with more than just tools for success on the court.

“I love that Sidney and his team always weave in a life lesson theme each year at camp,” Rabinowitz said.

“Our camps are always about social-emotional learning and we want them to also understand how to do things the right way,” Moncrief added. “How to treat people, why empathy is important, why you need to have discipline and motivation, self-awareness — we want them to know all the things. Every day we talk about a concept outside of basketball that will make them become a better person and that’s important to what we do.”

“Over the years, in and out of basketball, these are things that have worked,” he continued. “Not just for me, but for other people, and that’s what causes me to emphasize those areas.”

Moncrief always emphasizes a life lesson during each day of his camp in Vail.
Vail Recreation District/Courtesy photo

Moncrief, who brings his four boys and their spouses for the camp, has done many of the Vail summer activities — from hiking to white-water rafting — when he’s not coaching. He enjoys grabbing Palisade peaches at the farmer’s markets, walking around the area by the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, and hitting up his favorite restaurants.

“I like the outdoor life in general,” he said. “I just like the beauty of the area. There’s so much energy — and the village — and it just puts you in a different mindset.”

As for shredding pow?

Moncrief, who started skiing two years after retirement, asked one final question before hanging up, his tone appearing to have a truly vested interest in the response.

“How much snow do you have right now?”

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