Archive for the ‘Basketball’ Category

The 1994 Razorbacks: National champions

Monday, January 30th, 2012

The evening of Monday, April 4, 1994, remains seared into the memories of University of Arkansas Razorback fans.

The national championship in basketball was on the line.

With less than a minute remaining in the game, 6-6 Scotty Thurman hit the most famous shot in Razorback basketball history. His three-point basket snapped a 70-70 tie against Duke. Arkansas went on to win the national championship that night, 76-72, against a Blue Devil team that was playing in its sixth Final Four in seven years and its fourth championship game.

Corliss Williamson, a Russellville native, was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

Williamson, Thurman, their teammates and their coaches will be honored Friday night when the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inducts its Class of 2012. This is only the second time in its history that the Hall of Fame has inducted an entire team. The 1964 national championship Razorback football team was inducted in 2010.

The man who coached Arkansas to the national championship in basketball, Nolan Richardson, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. Thurman was inducted in 2010, and Williamson was inducted in 2009.

Tickets for Friday’s banquet, which will be held at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

There also are 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Class of 2012.

The 1993-94 Razorback basketball team had the pressure of being ranked No. 1 in the country for 10 weeks during the regular season. Williamson was the team leader from start to finish in that campaign, averaging 20.4 points per game, shooting .626 from the field and making 70 percent of his free throws.

Thurman, meanwhile, didn’t save all of his last-minute heroics for the national championship game. He made a three-point shot with seven seconds left to give Arkansas a one-point victory at Tennessee and hit another three-point shot in the final 30 seconds to help the Hogs beat LSU in overtime in Baton Rouge. Thurman averaged 15.9 points per game that season.

Williamson and Thurman received plenty of help from Corey Beck, who led the team in assists. Beck and Clint McDaniel were regarded as the best defensive guards in the country as they took Richardson’s “40 minutes of hell” approach to heart. McDaniel could score from the perimeter. The fifth starter on the team, Dwight Stewart, also was a perimeter scoring threat.

Richardson took advantage of a deep bench. Al Dillard was a three-point shooting threat. He was the team’s third-leading scorer with an 8.9-point-per-game average even though he averaged playing just 12 minutes per game.

Roger Crawford, one of only two seniors on the team, also was a scoring threat. Crawford was injured early in the NCAA Tournament and didn’t play in the Final Four.

Coming off the bench on a regular basis were Darnell Robinson and Lee Wilson, both 6-11 centers. Others who saw significant playing time were Ken Biley and Elmer Martin.

Other members of the national championship team were forward Craig Tyson, guard Davor Rimac, guard Reggie Merritt, forward Reggie Garrett, guard John Engskov and forward Ray Biggers.

Richardson had gotten Arkansas close before. The Razorbacks reached the Final Four in 1990 and lost in the semifinal game to Duke. Kansas defeated Arkansas the next year in the Elite Eight.

In 1992, the Hogs fell to Memphis in the second round of the tournament. Arkansas made it to the Sweet 16 in 1993 before losing to eventual national champion North Carolina.

Duke, Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina — all members of college basketball’s elite.

Now, it was the Razorbacks’ turn.

The Hogs finished the regular season with a 24-2 record. A 13-game winning streak was ended by Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, but Arkansas still found itself seeded first in the Midwest Regional at Oklahoma City.

Williamson scored 24 points and had seven rebounds as the Razorbacks defeated North Carolina A&T, 94-79, in the first round.

Two days later in the second round, Williamson had 21 points and Robinson, as a surprise starter, added 13 points as the Razorbacks beat Georgetown, 85-73.

It was on to Dallas and the Sweet 16. The opponent was Tulsa.

Earlier in the season at Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane had taken the Razorbacks to overtime before falling, 93-91. Most people were expecting another close game in the Sweet 16 after Tulsa had posted victories over UCLA and Oklahoma State in the tournament’s first two rounds. It was, however, a blowout in favor of the Razorbacks. The Hogs won by 19 points, 103-84, as Williamson and Thurman scored 21 points each. McDaniel added 19 points.

The Elite Eight foe was Michigan. Its star player was Juwan Howard. Williamson was held to just 12 points, but Thurman answered with 20 points and the Razorbacks won by eight, 76-68. President Clinton was among those in attendance in Dallas.

The next stop: The Final Four in Charlotte, N.C.

The semifinal opponent was an Arizona team led by guards Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves. With Beck and McDaniel playing their best defensive games of the season, Stoudamire and Reeves hit just 11 of 43 shots. They were two of 22 on three-point attempts. Williamson scored 29 points and had 13 rebounds for the Razorbacks as they posted a solid 91-82 victory.

President Clinton was back in attendance for the national championship game, joining 3,000 of his fellow Arkansans who had made the trip to Charlotte.

Back home, hundreds of thousands of Arkansans were glued to their television sets.

Arkansas led 34-33 at the half, but Duke jumped to a 10-point lead in the first three minutes of the second half. Next, it was Arkansas’ turn to go on a run as the Hogs built a 70-65 lead.

Grant Hill hit a three-point shot for Duke to tie the game with 1:29 remaining. As the shot clock was running down, Thurman’s three-point shot was true with 51 seconds left in the game. Arkansas led by three, 73-70.

Two free throws by McDaniel and another free throw from Dillard sealed a 76-72 Arkansas victory and the national championship.

The president headed down to the court to embrace Richardson.

At 31-3, Arkansas had won its first national championship in basketball.

This Friday night, we get to salute that team again as it’s inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Dr. Margaret Downing: Hall of Famer

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Dr. Margaret Downing is a pioneer.

She’s not a pioneer in the traditional sense of clearing land and homesteading an area. But she’s certainly a pioneer when it comes to advancing women’s sports in Arkansas.

Downing became the head women’s basketball coach at what’s now Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia in the fall of  1965, a time when that sport wasn’t on the radar screen of most Arkansans. During her 19 seasons as the head coach of the Riderettes, she became a well-known sports figure in Arkansas.

Downing arrived in the pine woods of far south Arkansas at a school that had been founded in 1909 when the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 100, which authorized the establishment of four district agricultural boarding schools, one in each quadrant of the state. These schools were designed to give rural children access to a better education. Columbia County residents raised the funds needed to attract one of the four schools to Magnolia.

Buildings were constructed during 1910. In 1911, what was known originally as the Third District Agricultural School opened its doors a mile north of the city.

In those early days, the school’s men’s sports teams made a name for themselves. In 1912, the football team chose the Mulerider name. The football Muleriders had their first unbeaten season in 1919. Dolph Camp, who later would become the school’s president, played center on that team.

A 1925 legislative act changed the name of the two-year junior college to the State Agricultural and Mechanical College. It most commonly was referred to by Arkansans as Magnolia A&M.

College student enrollment exceeded that of high school students for the first time in 1931 at Magnolia A&M, and by 1937 the high school classes had been abolished. In 1951, the Legislature renamed what was by then a four-year liberal arts college Southern State College.

The success of the men’s teams continued at Southern State as Coach Elmer Smith’s Mulerider football squads won back-to-back Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championships in 1951-52 and Coach W.T. Watson’s men’s basketball teams won back-to-back AIC championships in 1966-67.

Margaret Downing soon made women’s sports matter in Magnolia.

Her women’s basketball teams would win eight championships during the next two decades, competing at the state level in what was at first the Arkansas Women’s Extramural Sports Association (AWESA) and was later the Arkansas Women’s Intercollegiate Sports Association (AWISA). Nationally, her teams competed in AAU tournaments.

By the time Downing retired from coaching, the AIC had added women’s basketball to its roster of sports.

Downing didn’t just coach basketball. She served as the head swimming and diving coach from 1966-68 and again from 1969-73, claiming an AWESA championship in 1967 and an AWISA title in 1969. Her swimming and diving squads finished second in the conference on two other occasions.

Downing also won an AWISA championship in softball in 1980. She coached volleyball for three years from 1973-75, winning an AWISA championship in 1974 and placing second the other two seasons.

In recognition of her accomplishments, Margaret Downing will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on Friday, Feb. 3. Tickets for the annual induction banquet at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

Downing is among 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Class of 2012. The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship men’s basketball team.

Downing attended Arkansas State Teachers College (now the University of Central Arkansas) and graduated from there in 1953. One of the people who influenced her the most at the school was Dr. Betty Mae Swift, who was hired in 1949 as a physical education instructor and remained there until she retired in 1983. It was Swift, a no-nonsense instructor who demanded that her students and players live up to strict standards in the classroom and in athletics, who coined the name Sugar Bears for the women’s sports teams at the school.

Swift, who died in 2000 at age 78, joined forces in later years with Downing to convince the AIC to add women’s sports in 1983, signifying their acceptance as a full partner with the men’s programs.

Downing says Swift was a mentor who “taught all of us to just roll up our sleeves and do the job ourselves. She definitely was a good adviser, teacher and friend. I will always carry in my heart the numerous things she taught us, both in and outside the classroom, along with the intangibles of loyalty, honor and dedication to duty.”

Swift would spend many hours outside of class preparing students to take tests that would qualify them to officiate various sports even though there was little demand for women’s officials in those days.

Downing, taught by Swift and others to achieve her full potential academically as well as athletically, went on to receive her master’s degree from the University of Tennessee in 1960 and her doctorate from Texas Woman’s University in 1973.

Downing made a number of coaching stops before settling in Magnolia. She coached at the high school level in Monticello, Texarkana, North Little Rock and at the Tennessee School for the Deaf. She coached collegiately at Connecticut College for Women, Central Connecticut State College and Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia.

Her Ouachita teams were nationally ranked, laying the foundation for the success experienced by Carolyn Moffatt at Ouachita from 1965-84 as Moffatt’s teams went 213-162. Moffatt was a posthumous inductee last year into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

At what’s now Southern Arkansas, Downing’s first basketball team captured an AWESA championship. AWISA was founded in 1969 and her teams won seven of the first eight titles — 1969-70, 1970-71, 1971-72, 1973-74, 1974-75, 1975-76 and 1976-77. Her 1972-73 squad placed second, and the 1976-77 team shared the championship with the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Downing retired from coaching basketball with a record of 223-163 at the school.

The first time AWISA awarded a coach of the year award — following the 1977-78 season — it went to Downing.

Downing was not only known statewide as a leader in the field of women’s athletics but was recognized nationally and internationally. She was the manager of the U.S. women’s basketball teams twice in the Pan-American Games. She also served as the president and treasurer of the U.S. Olympic Committee for Women’s Basketball, as the president of AWISA and as the president of the Southwest Region of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

Downing served at one time or another on the AAU’s national basketball rules committee, the U.S. National Basketball Committee and the International Basketball Committee.

She was just as successful in the classroom as she was as a coach. Downing was named the Southern Arkansas University honor professor for the 1987-88 school year and is remembered fondly by thousands of former students as one of the best instructors to serve the university.

When SAU established its Hall of Fame for athletics, Downing was in the inaugural class of 2003. Downing already had been inducted into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 1987.

Through the years, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame has honored many of the pioneers of women’s athletics in the state. Hazel Walker, an 11-time All-American AAU basketball player who later managed and played with her own professional team, was in the first induction class in 1959. A member of the Class of 1966 was Quinnie Hamm Toler, who once scored 114 points in a game at Sparkman and 1,245 points for the season. Joan Crawford of Van Burean, a 13-time AAU All-American basketball star, was a member of the Class of 1978.

Now, Margaret Downing has earned her rightful place with such luminaries of the past.

U.S. Reed and The Shot

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

It has been more than three decades, but there’s not a week that goes by that someone doesn’t mention The Shot to former University of Arkansas basketball star U.S. Reed.

If not The Shot, it’s The Call they remember.

His was a four-year college career filled with highlights, but longtime Razorback fans still best remember the Pine Bluff native for two unforgettable moments — one is remembered fondly, one not so fondly.

The first occurred in March 1979 during the NCAA Tournament.

During Reed’s freshman season the previous year, the famed Triplets — Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph — had led Arkansas to the 1978 Final Four. Arkansas finished third, losing to Kentucky in the semifinals and defeating Notre Dame in the consolation game.

Brewer and Delph graduated. As a sophomore, Reed joined forces with Moncrief as Arkansas made it all the way to the NCAA Midwest Regional finals in Cincinnati before losing to an Indiana State team led by Larry Bird.

With the score tied 71-71 — and no shot clock in those days — Arkansas was holding the ball for a final shot. Reed was tripped at the 1:02 mark but was called for traveling, a call that still angers the Razorback faithful.

Bob Heaton scored at the horn for a 73-71 Sycamore win. Indiana State lost in the finals that year to a Michigan State team led by Magic Johnson.

“It was not a walk,” Reed now says. “I was tripped by Carl Nicks. That might have been the worst call in the history of the NCAA Tournament. People still bring me T-shirts to sign that say, ‘He was tripped.'”

Two years after The Call, however, there was The Shot.

It was March 14, 1981, in Austin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when Reed launched a shot from 49 feet with one second left on the clock. His basket gave the No. 20 Razorbacks a 74-73 victory over No. 12 Louisville. The Cardinals were the defending national champions.

In 2009, Sports Illustrated listed Reed’s shot as the second-most historic event in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

I was sitting on press row that day in Austin. I can remember it as if it were yesterday.

In recognition of his accomplishments, Reed will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on Friday, Feb. 3. Tickets for the annual induction banquet at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

Reed is among 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Class of 2012. The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship basketball team.

Reed played on a state championship high school team at Pine Bluff and hoped to be offered a scholarship to Arkansas.

“I idolized the Triplets,” he says. “I wanted to play with them. But it was not as easy as I thought it would be.”

A scholarship offer from Arkansas was not immediately forthcoming. There were offers from other schools such as Louisiana Tech, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Ouachita Baptist University. Finally in early August — just a few weeks before school began — Arkansas assistant coach Pat Foster visited practices for the annual high school all-star game and offered Reed a scholarship.

“I had visited Fayetteville earlier in the year and played in pickup games with the players there,” Reed said. “I had laryngitis that weekend and couldn’t even talk to anyone. I was probably headed to Louisiana Tech if I had not gotten the late offer from Arkansas.”

Reed was determined to prove himself.

“I had played against older guys all my life,” he says. “When I was in high school, I would take part in pickup games with UAPB players from places like Chicago. I knew I could play at that level.”

Reed came off the bench as a sixth man for that 1977-78 team that went 32-4 and advanced to the Final Four.

By his sophomore season, Reed was starting. Arkansas wasn’t expected to return to the Final Four with the loss of Brewer and Delph, but Moncrief, Reed, Scott Hastings and other members of the team overachieved as Arkansas put together a 14-game winning streak late in the season.

Indiana State was unbeaten and No. 1 at the time of its game against Arkansas, yet the Hogs might have advanced to the Final Four if not for The Call. As it was, the Razorbacks finished 25-5.

During Reed’s junior season in 1979-80, Arkansas went 13-3 in the Southwest Conference and 21-8 overall, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

In Reed’s senior season, Arkansas won the Southwest Conference title at 13-3 and finished 24-8 overall. That afternoon in Austin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament is the day people still talk about. Each year at tournament time, The Shot can be seen again on ESPN.

As Arkansas was warming up for its game against Louisville, Reed began taking long shots. His teammates wondered what was going on.

“They all wanted to know what I was doing,” he told Dana O’Neil of “I had never done that before. Never. It was like I was preparing or being prepared for something big — almost as if I had a premonition.”

“I’m not sure if you asked him to take that shot five times, he’d hit one,” Arkansas head coach Eddie Sutton would later say. “But he hit it when it counted.”

O’Neil wrote: “Some sort of divine intervention might offer the best explanation. There is no logical way a 49-foot, buzzer-beating, game-winning heave goes in. Yet that is exactly what happened for the Razorbacks and Reed on March 14, 1981.

“It is a shot that remains a classic, right alongside Bryce Drew’s miracle for sheer impossibility. … People don’t forget. In fact, they stop to tell you where they were that day you made history. ‘I think it’s amazing that people still remember something that happened so many years ago,’ Reed said. Honestly, though, if you saw it, you couldn’t forget it.”

Arkansas, which had led for most of the game, was down by a point with six seconds remaining when Sutton called for time. Louisville’s press had stymied Arkansas down the stretch. Reed was unable to get the ball down low to Hastings.

“Given how little time was on the clock, I knew that I would have to be the one to take the shot,” Reed says.

“So from two strides behind half court, Reed took his shot,” O’Neil wrote. “Whether it was muscle memory from those crazy pregame shots or sheer happenstance, Reed remembers actually taking the shot like a legit shot. This wasn’t just a heave-ho. He elevated, squared, shot and prayed. Who knows? Maybe at that point the basketball gods decided to do him a favor. Two years earlier, Reed had the ball in a tie game when he fell over Indiana State’s Carl Nicks. He fell to the ground — Sutton and Reed both insist he was fouled — and when he got back up, he was whistled for traveling. … So maybe a little pixie dust came into play.”

Sutton said this of The Shot: “It looked like it was going to at least hit iron. And then when it went in, I thought the Louisville coaches were going to have a heart attack.”

Rather than celebrating with his teammates, Reed came over to press row and began shaking hands with those of us sitting there.

“It was a miracle,” he says. “That was just a reaction on my part to shake hands. I was so happy that I wanted to shake every hand in the arena. It was a moment of gratitude.”

Reed finished the game with 19 points, six assists, three steals and six rebounds. Arkansas lost the next week to LSU but was ranked No. 20 in the final Associated Press poll.

During his senior season, Reed had 416 points and 131 rebounds, becoming the 11th Razorback to score more than 1,000 points in a career. In his college career, Arkansas made the NCAA Tournament four times and posted a record of 102-25.

Reed was selected in the fifth round of the NBA draft by the Kansas City (now Sacramento) Kings. He played for one season in the Continental Basketball Association before an injury ended his playing career.

“I was glad I had my degree,” he says. “I was able to move on with my life after basketball.”

Reed, an ordained minister, lives in Pine Bluff and is involved in the real estate business. He never tires of talking about The Shot.

Each spring, he watches the NCAA Tournament on television, enjoying games that end with last-second shots.

“I know exactly how they feel — how everything slows down in that moment and then when it goes in, everything speeds up again,” he told O’Neil. “It’s one of those moments where you feel like the whole world is watching you. Those are moments that come around very few times for very few people. I wish I could tell those kids, ‘Cherish it. Just cherish it.'”

Former Razorback Lee Mayberry: Hall of Famer

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Lee Mayberry and former University of Arkansas head basketball coach Nolan Richardson go back a ways.

Way back, in fact.

Mayberry, a Tulsa native, began attending Richardson’s basketball camps at the University of Tulsa when he was in junior high and Richardson was the Tulsa head coach.

Mayberry’s older sister, Kim, was dating Richardson’s son, Nolan III. They later married.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Mayberry went to Arkansas to play basketball for Richardson, though Mayberry is quick to note it wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

Mayberry went on to score 1,940 points during his Razorback career and helped lead Arkansas to the 1990 Final Four in Denver, where the Razorbacks lost to Duke in the semifinals. He was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the 1992 NBA draft, the 23rd overall pick. He played from 1992-96 for the Bucks and from 1996-99 for the Vancouver Grizzlies.

In recognition of his accomplishments, Mayberry will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on Friday, Feb. 3. Tickets for the annual induction banquet at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

Mayberry is among 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Class of 2012. The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship basketball team.

Like other residents of Tulsa, Mayberry was thrilled by the exciting brand of basketball Richardson brought to town. Richardson, a 1998 Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee, came to Tulsa in 1980 after winning the national junior college championship at Western Texas Junior College. Mayberry was 10 years old at the time but already loved basketball.

Richardson’s first Tulsa team in 1980-81 went 26-7 and won the NIT championship. That was followed by records of 24-6 and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, 19-12 and an NIT bit, 27-4 and an NCAA Tournament bid and 23-8 and yet another NCAA bid.

“He turned that program around,” Mayberry says of Richardson. “It wasn’t hard to get excited about college basketball when Coach Richardson was in Tulsa. I have three brothers, all of whom also played basketball. I remember that we couldn’t wait to watch his television show. Coach Richardson’s style was a fun way to play.”

During his senior season, Mayberry led Will Rogers High School to the 1988 state championship.

Richardson had gone to Arkansas following the 1985 season at Tulsa. His 1985-86 Razorback team was 12-16 followed by records of 19-14 and a 1987 NIT bid and 21-9 and a 1988 NCAA bid.

In November 1990, Mayberry told Hank Hersch of Sports Illustrated that at first he hadn’t been keen on following Richardson to Arkansas because “the team wasn’t winning, and the fans there were really dogging Coach Richardson.”

Hersch wrote at the time: “For his part, Richardson wasn’t keen on recruiting this quiet kid who used to play on the living room floor with young members of the two families. ‘I’m a grandfather and his dad’s a grandfather of the same child,’ says Richardson. ‘I really didn’t need all that pressure.’

“But Nolan III, a former assistant coach in the CBA who is a volunteer coach at Arkansas, and Richardson’s other assistants kept insisting that Mayberry was worth the risk. Still, Richardson wasn’t convinced until he watched Mayberry lead undersized Rogers High to the 1988 Class 5A state championship with 26 points and five rebounds in the title game.”

“Whatever Lee had to do, he did,” Richardson said of the state title game. “He was the one head controlling the whole team.”

Mayberry now says his top three college choices coming out of high school were Arkansas, Arizona and Oklahoma.

“All of those programs were having a lot of success,” he says. “I wanted to go to a successful program, but I also wanted to go somewhere I could play right away. Coach Richardson was late in recruiting me. He felt it would put too much pressure on me if he came after me hard and everybody assumed I would choose Arkansas.”

Though he wanted significant playing time as a freshman, even Mayberry was surprised when Richardson named him a starter. Mayberry was the Southwest Conference Newcomer of the Year as the 1988-89 Razorbacks went 13-3 to win the conference and finished 25-7 overall, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

It was during Mayberry’s sophomore season that the Razorbacks reached the Final Four, going 14-2 to again win the Southwest Conference while posting a 30-5 overall record.

As Mayberry was beginning his junior season, the November 1990 Sports Illustrated story started this way: “You have descended into the Hades of College Basketball: Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville. This is where the Razorbacks create and perfect the torture sessions that Coach Nolan Richardson fondly calls 40 minutes of hell.

“Arkansas attacks opponents at both ends of the floor with a two-platoon, perpetual-pressure system that’s as dizzying as Richardson’s polka-dot shirts. Last season that scheme propelled the Hogs into the Final Four; this season, its strength still lies in the dynamic talents of two players who are as tenacious as Cerberus — Lee Mayberry and Todd Day. Mayberry, a 6-2 junior point guard, plays with the grim mien of an undertaker. Don’t be deceived, though, by his quiet manner.”

Arkansas won a third consecutive Southwest Conference title that season, going 15-1 in SWC play, and advanced to the Elite 8, finishing the season with a 34-4 record. The season ended with a 93-81 loss to Kansas.

The Razorbacks were 13-3 as new members of the Southeastern Conference in Mayberry’s senior season, winning the SEC West. Arkansas went 26-8 overall and advanced to the second round of the 1992 NCAA Tournament.

Mayberry says there were too many big games during his four-year college career to single out just one. For instance, there was the famous “Strollin’ Nolan” game on Feb. 4, 1990, at the Erwin Center in Austin. Disgusted with the officiating, Richardson left the bench and went to the dressing room with the game still in progress. Mayberry hit a 28-foot shot to send the contest into overtime, prompting Richardson to return to his courtside seat. Arkansas won, 103-96.

“There were a number of games that were big for us,” Mayberry says. “I’ve never had any doubt that I made the right decision by going to Arkansas. It was a special time for me.”

The 1990 semifinal loss to Duke by a final score of 97-83 still smarts. UNLV beat Georgia Tech in the other semifinal game and then blew Duke out in the finals.

“I thought we were as good as any team in the country that year,” Mayberry says. “But, you know, I really think the team that lost to Kansas my junior year was even better. We again felt we had a team that was good enough to win a national championship.”

At Arkansas, Mayberry:

— Was the 1991-92 scoring leader, averaging 15.2 points per game

–Was the 1991-92 steals leader with 75

— Was the 1990-91 steals leader with 100

— Led the team in assists as a sophomore, junior and senior

— Finished his college career with 723 field goals

— Made 78 percent of his free throws

— Made 218 three-point baskets

Richardson won his first NCAA title two years after Mayberry graduated. Mayberry is being inducted into the Hall of Fame on the same night as that 1994 team.

“I know all of those guys,” he says.

Mayberry compiled a remarkable record of playing in 328 consecutive NBA regular season games. He didn’t miss a game until his fifth season in the league.

“I didn’t know what to expect going into the NBA,” Mayberry says. “You just never know how it will turn out. I was lucky early in my career to stay away from injuries.”

Mayberrry averaged 5.1 points per game during his NBA career.

He’s back living in Tulsa, scouting for the Golden State Warriors of the NBA.

“It’s a great feeling,” he says of his induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. “I was a skinny kid out of Tulsa who was just happy to have a chance to play at Arkansas.”

Mayberry is being modest, of course. He was much more than that. He was, quite simply, one of the best college basketball players in the state’s history.

Top 10 sports stories of 2011

Monday, December 19th, 2011

On the “Sunday Buzz with Bill Vickery” on KABZ-FM, 103.7, I unveiled my list of the top 10 sports stories in Arkansas in 2011.

I’ve been asked to post that list.

Let me know what you think.

What should be added?

What should be deleted?

Which ones should be moved higher or lower?

1. The University of Arkansas football team wins 10 regular season games for a second consecutive season, moves as high as No. 3 in the polls at one point and receives a Cotton Bowl invitation.

2. John Pelphrey is fired and Mike Anderson is hired as head basketball coach at the University of Arkansas.

3. Gus Malzahn is hired as head football coach at Arkansas State University.

4. Hugh Freeze’s Arkansas State Red Wolves go 10-2, win the Sun Belt Conference championship and receive a bowl invitation.

5. The University of Arkansas locks in head football coach Bobby Petrino with a long-term contract with unprecedented buyout provisions and also breaks ground on a $30 million football operations center.

6. UALR makes the NCAA Tournament in both men’s and women’s basketball by winning its conference tournament, one of the few schools in the country to do so.

7. The six NCAA Division II schools in the state begin competition in the new Great American Conference after leaving the Gulf South Conference; Ouachita Baptist University wins the first GAC football championship but Henderson State University wins the Battle of the Ravine in a game that comes down to the final play.

8. The University of Central Arkansas makes the FCS football playoffs for the first time since moving from NCAA Division II to Division I.

9. High school football: Pulaski Academy goes undefeated while receiving national attention for its unorthodox style, while Fayetteville upsets nationally ranked Bentonville in overtime to win the Class 7A state championship.

10. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals and the Arkansas Travelers both win a half of the division title and advance to the Texas League playoffs; the Travelers defeat the Naturals in the playoffs before losing to San Antonio in the championship series.

More on the Hall of Fame Class of 2012

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

No one who knows Arkansas can dispute that one of the most recognizable voices in our state is that of Terry Wallace, who retired from the track announcer’s booth at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs this past spring after 37 consecutive seasons of calling the races there.

Terry is part of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2012, which will be inducted during the organization’s annual banquet at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock on the evening of Friday, Feb. 3.

Terry was known for trademark lines such as “here they come into the short stretch of the mile run” and “picking ’em up and laying ’em down.”

He set a record for consecutive race calls at a single track that may never be broken. Terry hit the 20,000 race mark with his call of the third race on March 25, 2010. He ended his streak at 20,191 calls following the fourth race on Jan. 28 of this year.

Through the years, Terry called the races of such greats as Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Curlin, Azeri, Cigar, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, Sunny’s Halo and Temperence Hill.

Larry Collmus, the track announcer at Gulfstream Park and Monmouth Park, said: “When someone says Oaklawn, the first thing that comes to mind is Terry Wallace.”

In addition to Wallace, those being inducted from the regular category are former University of Arkansas basketball star Lee Mayberry, former Newport High School head football coach Bill Keedy, former Razorback basketball star U.S. Reed, former Razorback football standout “Light Horse” Harry Jones and Little Rock native and former Oklahoma State University head football coach Pat Jones.

The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 Razorback national championship basketball team.

Last week, we briefly profiled the other inductees from the regular category.

This week, let’s take a look at the three inductees from the senior category and the two inductees from the posthumous category:

Senior category:

Margaret Downing — Downing, among the true pioneers in the history of women’s basketball in Arkansas, was the head coach at Southern Arkansas University from 1965-84. Her Riderettes won eight Arkansas Women’s Intercollegiate Sports Association titles. She also coached teams to several state Amateur Athletic Union championships in the years before AWISA.

The Waldo native was an innovator and a promoter of women’s basketball, serving on committees and associations at the state and national levels. She was associated with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the U.S. Girls Basketball League and the U.S. Junior Olympic Basketball Committee through the years.

Bob Ford — As a center and linebacker, Ford helped guide Wynne to the state championship in 1950. He was awarded a football scholarship to what’s now the University of Memphis and was the team’s most valuable player as an end in 1954.

After serving in the U.S. Army from 1956-58, Ford joined the staff of fellow Arkansas native Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama and served on Bryant’s staff for three seasons. Ford coached at the University of Georgia during the 1961 season and was the defensive coordinator for the University of Kentucky in 1962.

After spending the 1963 season as a player personnel employee for the Dallas Cowboys, Ford coached in 1964-65 at Kentucky, in 1966 at Mississippi State University and in 1967-69 as the freshman coach under Frank Broyles at Arkansas while also obtaining his law degree.

Ford began practicing law in Wynne in 1970 and also spent 25 years as a part-time player scout for the Dallas Cowboys.

Elmer “B” Lindsey — Old-timers in east Arkansas will tell you that perhaps the best high school backfield in the state’s history was the one in 1957 at Forrest City that included “B” Lindsey, Sonny Holmes, Dan Wilford and Clinton Gore.

Forrest City was a powerhouse in high school football in those days, going 77-36-7 from 1954-64. Lindsey played on an undefeated team in 1957, scoring 22 touchdowns as a halfback despite a broken hand.

Lindsey scored 44 touchdowns in a high school career that saw the three teams on which he played post a combined 30-2 record. He also starred in basketball, baseball and track at Forrest City.

Lindsey was Frank Broyles’ first football signee at Arkansas but chose instead to sign a baseball contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. His signing bonus was believed to have been more than $50,000, the most ever offered to an Arkansas player to that point.

Lindsey played in the Cardinal organization for six seasons. After those six years in the minor leagues, he returned to St. Francis County to operate his family’s farming interests.

Posthumous category:

Raymond Bright — He excelled as a football and track coach at Conway High School and the University of Central Arkansas. After playing on UCA’s 1947 championship football team, Bright began his coaching career in 1949 at Conway Junior High School and was later the athletic director, head football coach and head track coach at Conway High School.

Bright went to work at what’s now UCA in 1958. He was the head football coach at the school from 1965-71. His 1965 and 1966 teams earned shares of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championship.

Bright left coaching following the 1971 season. He later served as UCA’s director of housing. Bright previously was inducted into the Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame and the UCA Sports Hall of Fame.

Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton — Born in 1876, Clayton moved with his family to Pulaski County when he was 10. He attended school while working as an errand boy to earn extra money for the large family.

Clayton left home at age 12 in 1888 to live with his older brother, Albertus, a jockey in Chicago.

“Lonnie” Clayton was soon working as an exercise rider at stables owned by racing legend E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin. Clayton became one of only two 15-year-old jockeys to ever win the Kentucky Derby. Aboard Azra, he came from behind in the stretch to win the Kentucky Derby by a nose in May 1892.

Clayton was second in the Kentucky Derby in 1893, third in 1895 and second in 1897. To provide for a family that included eight siblings in Arkansas, Clayton bought property and built a home in what’s now North Little Rock in 1892. The home, located at 2105 Maple St., still stands.

At the peak of his career in 1895, Clayton posted 144 wins and was in the money in 403 of 688 races.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inducted its first class in 1959. Andrew Meadors of Little Rock is the organization’s president, and Ray Tucker serves as the executive director.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Museum on the west side of Verizon Arena is open each Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. It includes an 88-seat theater with a video highlighting the careers of Arkansas sports greats along with a touch-screen kiosk with a database of all Hall of Fame inductees.

Members of the Hall of Fame vote each year on inductees. Membership dues are $50 annually. Membership forms can be obtained by going to the organization’s website at

Hall of Fame Class of 2012

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

You remember that night of Monday, April 4, 1994, don’t you?

The national championship in basketball was on the line when a 6-6 junior named Scotty Thurman hit the most famous shot in University of Arkansas basketball history with 51 seconds left.

Thurman’s three-point shot snapped a 70-70 tie against Duke.

Arkansas went on to win the national championship, 76-72, over a Duke team that was amazingly playing in its sixth Final Four in seven years and its fourth championship game.

We all cheered when Russellville native Corliss Williamson was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

I was home alone that night. My wife and son had gone to south Texas to visit relatives. I was the political editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette at the time, obsessed with the second year of the Clinton administration and the coming midterm elections. Watching the game on CBS provided a nice respite from politics.

It was a warm night in Little Rock. I can remember going out onto my back deck to listen to the radio postgame coverage once the television coverage had ended. I could hear the cars honking up on Cantrell Road. Over at Reservoir Park, they were setting off fireworks.

Thurman, Williamson, their teammates and their coaches will be honored Feb. 3 when the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012 is inducted during the annual banquet at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.

This is the second time in its history that the Hall of Fame has inducted an entire team. Arkansas is still a football state, so it was probably to be expected that the first team to be inducted would be the 1964 national championship Razorback football squad. It was inducted in 2010.

It was a no brainer, however, for the second team to be the Razorback basketball champions from 1994. The man who coached that team, Nolan Richardson, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. Thurman was inducted in 2010, and Williamson was inducted in 2009.

There also will be 11 individuals inducted as part of the Class of 2012.

One of them is Lee Mayberry, who joined with Todd Day to lead Arkansas to the 1990 Final Four in Denver, where the Hogs lost in the national semifinals to Duke. Day was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.

The Class of 2012 will consist of six people from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category.

In addition to Mayberry, those being inducted from the regular category are former Oaklawn Park track announcer Terry Wallace, former Newport High School head football coach Bill Keedy, former Razorback basketball player U.S. Reed, former Razorback football player “Light Horse” Harry Jones and Little Rock native and former Oklahoma State University head football coach Pat Jones.

Those being inducted from the senior category are former Forrest City star athlete Elmer “B” Lindsey, former college coach and NFL scout Bob Ford of Wynne and former Southern Arkansas University women’s basketball coach Margaret Downing.

Those being inducted from the posthumous category are former University of Central Arkansas head football coach Raymond Bright and 1892 Kentucky Derby winning jockey Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inducted its first class way back in 1959. Here’s a short look at some of those in the Class of 2012:

— Harry Jones: The Enid, Okla., native lettered for the Razorback football team from 1964-66. He was an All-Southwest Conference selection in 1965 and developed a national reputation for his breakaway runs on offense, earning the nickname “Light Horse.”

Jones played safety on the 1964 national championship team, ending the season with 44 tackles and two interceptions. During the 1965 and 1966 seasons, Jones rushed 166 times for 974 yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught 29 passes for 598 yards and five touchdowns.

He was the first Razorback to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated following Arkansas’ 1965 win over Texas. Jones was selected in the first round of the 1967 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles and played for the Eagles from 1967-70.

— Pat Jones: The future coach developed an interest in football while growing up in Little Rock. He was a lineman for the Forest Heights Eagles in junior high, a guard for the Hall High Warriors in high school and a linebacker and nose guard for the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys in college before transferring after his freshman season to the University of Arkansas.

Jones was the head coach at Oklahoma State from 1984-94 after having served five years as an assistant at OSU under Jimmy Johnson. His teams compiled a 62-60-3 record and went 3-1 in bowl games. During the five-year stretch from 1984 through 1988, the Cowboys were 44-15 with records of 10-2 in ’84, 8-4 in ’85, 6-5 in ’86, 10-2 in ’87 and 10-2 in ’88.

Oklahoma State won the Gator Bowl after the ’84 season, the Sun Bowl after the ’87 season and the Holiday Bowl following the ’88 season.

Jones coached nine All-America players at Oklahoma State and later was an assistant coach for the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders under Johnson, Dave Wannstadt and Norv Turner.

— Bill Keedy: A Newport native, Keedy attended Arkansas State University and is still a member of the radio broadcast team for Red Wolf football games. Keedy had a successful run as the head football coach at Paragould High School in the early 1970s. Following the 1975 season, he went to Sylvan Hills. After just one season as the head coach there, Keedy returned to his hometown of Newport in 1977. He compiled a 175-48-3 record at Newport before retiring. His overall record as a high school head coach was 199-55-4.

Keedy was the district coach of the year 17 times, and his teams reached the playoffs 19 times. Newport won state championships under his leadership in 1981 and 1991. Greyhound teams also reached the championship games of 1988 and 1989. Newport made it as far as the semifinals eight times.

Keedy, who was a member of the high school all-star coaching staff 10 times, was later inducted into the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

— Lee Mayberry: Nolan Richardson recruited Mayberry out of Will Rogers High School at Tulsa, where he had led his team to the 1988 state championship. Mayberry would wind up scoring 1,940 points during his college career at Arkansas.

Mayberry, one of the best point guards in school history, was an All-Southwest Conference selection in 1990 and 1991 and an All-Southeastern Conference selection in 1992. The four teams Mayberry played on at Arkansas had a combined record of 115-24 and made the NCAA Tournament all four seasons. The Razorbacks were 25-7 his freshman season, 30-5 his sophomore year, 34-4 his junior year and 26-8 his senior season.

Mayberry was selected in the first round of the 1992 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. He played from 1992-96 for the Bucks and from 1996-99 for the Vancouver Grizzlies.

— U.S. Reed: If Thurman made the most famous shot in Razorback basketball history, the second most famous shot was almost certainly made by U.S. Reed. He hit a shot from just past the half-court line at the horn in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Austin in 1981 as the Razorbacks defeated the defending national champions from Louisville, 74-73.

I was sitting at courtside that afternoon in Austin, covering the game for Arkadelphia’s Daily Siftings Herald. I’ll never forget it. Abe Lemons, then the head basketball coach at the University of Texas, came out of his office after the game and led the Arkansas pep band in calling the Hogs. What a day.

You can still watch the shot (and hear Paul Eells’ radio call of “Arkansas did it, Arkansas did it, Arkansas did it”) by going to YouTube.

Arkansas lost its next game in the tournament to LSU at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans (I was at that game also), but Reed’s shot in Austin will always live in Razorback lore.

Reed had helped lead Pine Bluff High School to a state championship in 1977 and was part of the Razorback team that made it to the 1978 Final Four. Reed, a guard, was a starter by his sophomore year. The Razorbacks made the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament in 1979, losing to an Indiana State team led by Larry Bird.

In 1979, Reed also played on the U.S. team that won a gold medal at the World University Games. The four Razorback teams on which Reed played went 32-4, 25-5, 21-9 and 24-8, making the NCAA Tournament all four seasons.

We’ll take a look at the other members of the Class of 2012 in a later post.

Race and the Razorbacks

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

They honored Darrell Brown on Saturday night at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

It was another smart move on the part of University of Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long.

Like so many in this state, I grew up thinking that Jon Richardson was the first black football player at Arkansas.

I never knew the story of Darrell Brown.

If you have time to read a lengthy story, I urge you to look up Dan Wetzel’s feature on Brown for Yahoo Sports. It’s a fantastic piece of writing.

Here’s a taste: “The first time Darrell Brown went to receive a kickoff during a practice many thought he had no divine right to participate in, he naively believed it was his big chance.

“‘I thought they were trying to see how good I was,’ he said.

“It was the fall of 1965, and Brown was college football’s most improbable player, a non-recruited, inexperienced black man trying to break a regional color barrier. He was one of just a dozen black students at the University of Arkansas and wasn’t interested in trying to change the world by sitting in at a segregated lunch counter.

“No, Darrell Brown was trying to crash the hallowed roster of Frank Broyles’ Razorbacks and in the process integrate college football in the South all by himself.

“His fellow black students thought he was crazy. Many whites were stunned he would even consider it. It wasn’t just Arkansas that was still all white and happy to keep it that way; it was the entire Southwest, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences.

“Here was Darrell Brown at practice, though, a walk-on with the legendary Broyles, fresh off his 1964 title, perched up on some scaffolding at the adjacent varsity field, capable of seeing it all.

“And here, Brown figured, was his opportunity. Catch the kick, race his powerful 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame around some defenders and there could be no denying him. Even amid the craggy hills of Fayetteville, that practice field was presumed to be level.

“‘I didn’t know any different,’ Brown said. ‘I didn’t think to even notice.’

“He failed to recognize this was a full-contact ‘drill,’ one that called for 11 players on the kick team and just one on the return: him, the black guy.

“Until he fielded the kick and began to run up the field, Brown failed to realize no blockers stood in front of him, he hadn’t a prayer in the world.

“This was kill-the-man-with-the ball, 11-on-1 violence assured.

“‘They were good at gang tackling,’ he said. ‘Especially me.’

“When the pile eventually relented, Brown did what he had learned to do in the face of any setback growing up in little Horatio, Ark. He did what his proud schoolteacher mother and janitor father had taught him. He did what his hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, preached at the time. He did what came naturally to a man whose trailblazing life would come to be defined by superhuman determination.

“He stood up. And said nothing.”

The story of this Horatio native who tried to integrate college sports in the South is compelling.

Brown, 63, lives back on a farm in Horatio these days. He told Wetzel: “For the university to finally acknowledge I tried and for a particular reason I didn’t get the opportunity, it’s a major thing. All these years later, it’s a major, major thing.”

Moves such as this one — recognizing what Brown tried to accomplish — make me appreciate Long’s leadership.

If you ask Razorback fans about Long’s most important achievement since becoming athletic director almost four years ago, most of them likely will say it was the hiring of Bobby Petrino as head football coach.

I think it’s the hiring of Mike Anderson as head basketball coach regardless of how Anderson’s teams perform on the court (and I think they’ll perform well).

Let me explain.

Prior to Anderson’s hiring, a wound still existed in our state — a wound caused by the events that followed Nolan Richardson’s departure from the university. The mere act of giving Anderson the job helped heal that wound.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m working on an Anderson profile for the November issue of Arkansas Life magazine.

Here’s part of that story: “In a place where love of the Razorbacks has always transcended sports, Anderson inherits a far better situation than he had inherited at Missouri. Arkansas has tradition, a fan base that understands and appreciates basketball more than the fans at any SEC school outside Kentucky and one of the finest arenas in the country.

“‘We just might surprise a few folks this season,’ Anderson says as he walks briskly from his office for a photo shoot downstairs in the Razorback dressing room.

“While Anderson won’t describe himself as a healer, he doesn’t mind noting that he’s a tie that binds the basketball program’s past to its future.

“‘The fans recognize me as one of their own,’ he says. ‘I’m a tie to the former players. I’m a tie to Coach Richardson, who was my mentor. We can now bring all of that back together.’

“Indeed, Anderson has reached out to former players, and they’ve agreed to support the program financially and otherwise. Anderson also has kept up a heavy travel schedule across the state since March in an effort to reignite the basketball flames. When he saw 5,000 people in the stands that Saturday morning when his hiring was formally announced, he knew he had made the right decision.

“‘It showed just how passionate Razorback fans are,’ he says. ‘They were greeting us with open arms. It told me I was in a place where they love college basketball. I had told my assistants how special Razorback fans are. This proved it. I’m not going to be content until we have 20,000 of them back in here for every home game.’

“Crowds at Walton Arena fell to an all-time low of 12,022 last season, down from the 20,134 the school averaged during its national championship season.

“Even though Anderson is an Alabama native who attended college at the University of Tulsa, there was a lot of talk that day about ‘coming home.’

“‘Welcome home’ said the signs that were sprinkled throughout the arena.

“‘When a Razorback wants to come home and the university wants him to come home, it’s a match made in heaven,’ said David Gearhart, the chancellor of the Fayetteville campus.”

Anderson is a native of Birmingham. Ala., and proud of it. Little Rock had been ground zero for the civil rights movement in 1957, but Birmingham took on that role for much of the 1960s.

It was a Sunday — Sept. 15, 1963 to be exact — when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed in Birmingham.

Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Frank Cash and Robert Chambliss were members of the United Klans of America. They placed a box of dynamite with a time delay under the steps of the church.

The bomb exploded at 10:22 a.m. as 26 children were walking into a basement assembly room. The explosion blew a hole in the church’s rear wall and destroyed all but one-stained glass window, which showed Jesus leading a group of children.

Four black girls were killed — Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Welsey, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair were their names.

Twenty-two others were injured. It marked a turning point in the civil rights movement and helped galvanize support for what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Mike Anderson was only 3 years old when that bomb exploded in his hometown.

He was only 13 when Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor, the segregationist strongman who had ruled Birmingham from 1937-52 and 1957-63 as commissioner of public safety, died.

Anderson, however, grew up steeped in the history of the civil rights movement. No, he doesn’t carry the anger that had burned in Nolan Richardson since Richardson was raised in the barrio of El Paso. But Anderson understands what made Richardson seethe.

Growing up in Birmingham gave Anderson a strong foundation — a sense of history and place. He won’t talk much about it, but that sense of history allows him to grasp his current role in healing festering wounds in Arkansas.

Having been Richardson’s loyal assistant for 17 years, he understands the past and how it affects the present. He’s a son of the deep South who is at home now in the Ozarks.

Anderson, who led a Hog call on the field last Saturday night as 72,000 of his closest friends joined in, would understand Darrell Brown’s feelings better than most.

Anderson admitted to me when he visited last week that he had hoped to be chosen to replace Richardson “because of what had taken place here and all the time I had spent here. No one knew the program better than I did.”

He then hastened to add that “deep down my gut told me it wasn’t going to happen.”

It didn’t, but things worked out. He had the chance to go home to Birmingham and experience success at UAB before his next stop at Missouri.

Now, Jeff Long has brought him to a place he also considers home.

There’s still work to be done in healing certain wounds, but Mike Anderson is indeed the tie that binds. Like Jeff Long, he’s the right man at the right time for Arkansas.


Why I like Mike (Anderson that is)

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Mike Anderson wasn’t hired to heal a whole state.

But less than a week after he was named the new head basketball coach at the University of Arkansas, don’t you get the sense that he has done just that?

The quotes from Nolan Richardson’s bizarre news conference of Monday, Feb. 25, 2002, remain seared on our brains.

— “I know for a fact that I do not play on the same level as the other coaches around this school play on. I know that. You know it. And people of my color know that. And that angers me.”

— “When I look at all of you people in this room, I see no one who looks like me, talks like me or acts like me. Now why don’t you recruit? Why don’t the editors recruit like I’m recruiting?”

— “Do not call me ever on my phone, none of you, at my home ever again. Those lines are no longer open for communications with me.”

— “Ol’ granny told me, ‘Nobody runs you anywhere, Nolan.’ I know that. See, my great-great-grandfather came over here on the ship. I didn’t, and I don’t think you understand what I’m saying.”

Sports Illustrated would describe that Monday news conference as a “bewildering self-immolation.”

In his 2010 book “Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson,” Rus Bradburd writes: “How was it possible that this pioneering coach, winner of the national championship, whose style of play had altered the way college basketball was played, was going to be most remembered for a press conference?”

It indeed was a bizarre period in our state’s history.

And, make no mistake, there was history being made. To understand Arkansas is to understand how deeply ingrained Razorback sports are in our culture. It’s about more than football and basketball. It’s about a state’s pride, its inherent inferiority complex, its passion, its priorities.

“I could not avert my eyes from the train wreck Nolan Richardson’s career had become, and I read as much as possible about his fantastic fall,” Bradburd writes. “Nearly every piece said that Richardson had brought on his own firing. The coaches I talked to — the white ones, anyway — wanted to know what a guy making that kind of money had to complain about.

“Richardson seemed unable to move beyond 1968, determined to fight a war most Americans believed had ended long ago. To understand Richardson’s mindset, I knew I’d have to seriously examine the two most influential people in his professional career. Both of these men were icons in the world of college athletics, but they couldn’t have been more different.

“One, Don Haskins, was Richardson’s own basketball coach, who accidentally began the avalanche that was the desegregation of college basketball teams. The other, Frank Broyles, was Richardson’s boss at the University of Arkansas.”

Richardson was fired on March 1, 2002.

A whole state seemed to choose sides.

There was the Frank Broyles camp.

There was the Nolan Richardson camp.

Listening to sports talk radio, the calls often broke along racial lines.

“Instead of a rousing debate about whether the struggling Razorbacks need a new coach after 17 years, too many of us got dragged into an argument over Nolan Richardson’s skin color — just the way he wanted,” an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial stated at the time.

As the battle played out, no one heard much from Mike Anderson. Sure, Anderson served as the interim coach for two games after Richardson was fired. Yet his voice never entered the debate.

Though liked by those in both the Broyles camp and the Richardson camp, Anderson had no realistic opportunity to replace his mentor.

After all, he had been Richardson’s assistant at Arkansas for 17 years. The wound was raw, and people assumed Broyles would dictate a clean break with the Richardson era.

That’s just what happened.

Stan Heath was the hot young coach that year, and he was hired at Arkansas.

Thus began the Razorbacks’ nine years of wandering in the college basketball wilderness (it only seems like 40).

I’ll resist the temptation to get carried away with the analogy by painting Mike Anderson as Moses, leading Arkansas to the basketball promised land.

It’s yet to be seen how Anderson will do as the head Hog.

Long before his first team takes the floor, however, it’s evident that he has won a huge victory. Just his mere arrival has closed a wound that had festered far too long in our small state.

It became evident that something special was happening as I read the various Facebook posts the day of Anderson’s hiring.

It became even more evident during the combination news conference/pep rally Saturday morning at Bud Walton Arena.

That event almost had the air of a religious service at times. Grown men and women had tears in their eyes that gray March morning.

Outsiders might consider it strange, but they don’t understand how important Razorback sports are to our sense of self in Arkansas. That might be a good thing or a very bad thing depending on your perspective, but it’s the way things are here.

The head football coach and the head basketball coach at the University of Arkansas are every bit as important as the governor. I worked in the governor’s office for a decade, and I know that to be true.

A message is sent whenever a new coach is hired.

With the hiring of Mike Anderson, the University of Arkansas sent this message: Those events of 2002 are truly in the past. We’ve grown up. We may not have forgotten, but we’ve forgiven.

We’ll celebrate the good days of the Richardson era — and there were many — while letting go of the hurt.

We’ll look to the future as another African-American coach — a man who was not born in Arkansas but considers this home — hopefully returns us to the upper echelon of college basketball.

Bradburd ends his book this way: “Other coaches of color of his era had terrific teams, but what distinguishes Nolan Richardson is the nature of his trailblazing career, as the first black coach to go into the old Confederacy — and the embers of racism — and have astonishing success. Richardson — outspoken, passionate and righteous — is the most important African-American coach America has known.

“Despite his garden full of statues of children at play, he could not freeze time. Memory, though. Memory endures because Nolan Richardson, as relentless as 40 minutes of hell’s full-court pressure, won’t let us forget. He has begun to fulfill his former chancellor’s request to be happy, even if he’s still an outsider, on the wrong side of the fence at the university where he won the championship. The basketball court where he finally returned belongs to him — although you won’t find his name on it. Regardless, Richardson’s shadow and history remind, admonish and exhort Arkansas.”

Mike Anderson has come home.

Now, Nolan Richardson can feel at home again in Bud Walton Arena, cheering on his beloved Razorbacks.

We have Frank Broyles Field at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

That’s as it should be.

Let’s also have the Nolan Richardson Court at Bud Walton Arena.

We’re a big enough state and a big enough people to celebrate the accomplishments of each of these Arkansas sports titans — Broyles and Richardson.

You see, their differences are not our differences.

The azaleas and dogwoods are starting to bloom. As Easter approaches, there’s a hint of redemption in the Ozarks air.

Thanks, Mike. Welcome home.