Mike Irwin on Difference Between Archie Goodwin and Malik Monk Situations

Here’s part two of Arkansas sportscaster Mike Irwin’s jeremiad for the ages against the circumstances Malik Monk’s decision to attend Kentucky instead of Arkansas. He delivered it on The Forum with radio talk host John Nabors, and it didn’t take too long for him to start talking about the last Arkansas prep star to head for Kentucky – Archie Goodwin….

That whole situation didn’t use people like this one did. He didn’t move to some other part of the state. People didn’t get jobs. There wasn’t a guy running an AAU program that was getting favors from everybody to try and keep his AAU thing going. There wasn’t all that stuff… How long did Marcus work with the basketball program? A year?

There wasn’t that with Archie Goodwin. You’re going to come on and take a position with the staff for a year to give you something to do, and give you more credibility at a school that you went to and graduated from, and then at the end of that, you’re going to look all those people in the eye and say, ‘Thanks for all the help, but there was too much pressure.’ I’m sorry. But if you think that people are going to grin about this and go, ‘Oh, well, yeah. Okay. Cool.’

Ronnie Brewer is tweeting out, “Come on, have some class.” Okay, Ronnie. You didn’t do this. Nobody did this to you. Put yourself in Mike Anderson’s position. You’re doing everything within the NCAA rules, because you understand the need and the pressure to get an in-state kid into your program, and you do all these things, and this is what happens? Not only is it an insult that it happened, but he went to the one place that is just unacceptable, which is ‘I’m a one and done.’ Okay. Stand up two years ago and announce that you’re a one and done. Do that. You better move because, look, I know how this stuff works. I’ve seen it.

I had a brother-in-law that was a number one running back in this state 25 years ago. He went to Baylor when Arkansas recruited the fool out of him. And when his NFL career went to crap, he moved back here and tried for three years to work, and he got nothing. And he ended up having to move to Texas. That’s what I told him one day. He was moaning to me about all this stuff. I said, “Go ask Baylor for help. That’s where you went to school.”

John Nabors: That’s’ the thing that I feel like a lot of people overlook and kind of minimize, in a way. There’s truth to be said about going to the University of Arkansas and having that type of defense*, and having the type of protection as your career goes on, because not everybody can make it in the NBA. Not everybody can have that elongated career. A lot of things can happen. Heaven forbid something does happen. When those things happen, look at Greg Childs for instance. He battled injuries. His NFL career is still yet to take off. He’s been going through a lot, but the fact that he is a Razorback, if he came back to the state, people are going to welcome him with open arms.

It always gives you opportunities. I think that’s really what this is about. 

It’s important to note that although what John Nabors is saying here is generally accepted wisdom in Arkansas, there are a significant number of former Razorbacks who do not feel this way. If you’re interested in the topic of life after pro football for star Hogs, make sure you read this in-depth piece I wrote. 

This was the second of a two-part piece. Click here for the first at my more regularly updated blog BestOfArkansasSports.com here.  Never miss a BestOfArkansasSports.com post by signing up below. As a bonus, I’ll send a transcription of a long conversation I had with Ronnie Brewer about the Monks, whom he knows well.

The Best 3rd & 4th Down Quarterbacks in Major College Football


Name School 3rd Down Rating
1 Everett Golson FSU 182.89
2 Vernon Adams Jr. Oregon 181.87
3 Anu Solomon Arizona 167.74
4 Trevone Boykin TCU 166.28
5 Seth Russell Baylor 164.21
6 Cody Kessler USC 163.15
7 DeShone Kizer Notre Dame 159.17
8 Patrick Mahomes II Texas Tech 157.45
9 Deshaun Watson Clemson 154.62
10 Treon Harris Florida 153.69
11 Matt Johns Virginia 152.6
12 Brandon Allen Arkansas 143.65
13 Luke Falk Wash St 142.6
14 Baker Mayfield Oklahoma 141.97
15 Jake Browning Washington 139.09
16 Will Grier Florida 138.88
17 Dak Prescott Mississippi State 138.69
18 Jacoby Brissett NC State 138.02
19 Sefo Liufau Colorado 137.68
20 Mason Rudolph Okla St 135.73
21 Montell Cozart Kansas 135.4
22 Jared Goff California 134.71
23 Mike Bercovici Ariz St 131.43
24 Connor Cook Mich St 128.19
25 Tommy Armstrong Jr. Nebraska 127.52
26 Kyle Allen Texas A&M 127.28
27 Patrick Towles Kentucky 126.81
28 Sam Richardson Iowa State 125.68
29 Lamar Jackson Louisville 125.66
30 Travis Wilson Utah 124.6
31 Skyler Howard WVU 122.53
32 Perry Orth South Carolina 121.25
33 Chris Laviano Rutgers 120.4
34 Tanner Mangum BYU 119.29
35 Jake Rudock Michigan 117.95
36 Joshua Dobbs Tennessee 117.3
37 Maty Mauk Missouri 117.06
38 Josh Rosen UCLA 116.85
39 Brenden Motley Va Tech 116.6
40 Thomas Sirk Duke 115.67
41 Jerrod Heard Texas 115.33
42 Sean White Auburn 114.19
43 C.J. Beathard Iowa 111.03
44 Ryan Willis Kansas 109.87
45 Clayton Thorson N’western 109.03
46 Mitch Leidner Minnesota 108.09
47 Johnny McCrary Vanderbilt 107.43
48 Nate Peterman Pittsburgh 105.74
49 Brad Kaaya Miami (Fl) 105.52
50 Chad Kelly Ole Miss 103.14
51 Joe Hubener Kansas St 102.4
52 Wes Lunt Illinois 102.24
53 Kevin Hogan Stanford 101.79
54 Cardale Jones Ohio State 101.11
55 Joel Stave Wisconsin 100.87
56 Marquise Williams N Carolina 100.28
57 Greyson Lambert Georgia 100.22
58 Nate Sudfeld Indiana 94.29
59 David Blough Purdue 91.29
60 Seth Collins Oregon St 88.71
61 Christian Hackenberg Penn State 85.55
62 Jake Coker Alabama 85.33
63 Caleb Rowe Maryland 84.26
64 John Wolford Wk Forest 83.82
65 Perry Hills Maryland 80.98
66 Jeremy Johnson Auburn 70.78
67 Kendall Hinton Wk Forest 67.88
68 Drew Lock Missouri 55.34
69 Justin Thomas Ga Tech 52.24
70 Kyle Bolin Louisville 48.1

All stats are passer ratings gathered from cfbstats.com through the first seven weeks of the 2015 season. I’m essentially looking at current/ex starting quarterbacks and backups who have played heavy minutes (sometimes as former starters).

Continue reading The Best 3rd & 4th Down Quarterbacks in Major College Football

Brandon Allen’s 4th Quarter Dropoffs in Performance Lead the Nation

By Evin Demirel

On the whole, Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen doesn’t deserve the flak he’s received from Razorback fans angry at the regular fourth-quarter letdowns which have marked his career since 2013. It’s all the more frustrating this season because the fifth-year senior has been so good early in games – he’s by far the best first-half passer in the SEC:

Name School Conference 1st Half Rating QB Rating
Seth Russell Baylor Big 12 233.46
Cody Kessler USC Pac 12 210.85
Brandon Allen Arkansas SEC 207.19
Kyle Allen Texas A&M SEC 194.46
Greyson Lambert Georgia SEC 194.43
Skyler Howard WVU Big 12 189.16
Jerrod Heard Texas Big 12 186.64
Jacoby Brissett NC State ACC 182.55
Trevone Boykin TCU Big 12 182.27

Unfortunately, Allen’s consistently hot starts keep coinciding with consistently cold finishes. Two years ago, he was nowhere near as good overall, yet still had a roughly 50 point dropoff in QB rating on average from his first-half performances to his fourth-quarter performances.

Last year, his disparity there was the nation’s most severe among high-use Power 5 quarterbacks:

B Allen

This year, after three fairly close losses in a row, Allen again leads the nation in 1st half-to-4th quarter dropoff in passer rating, according to data on cfbstats.com:

Allen Goff

These stats, of course, need context.

Allen, for instance, has had to adjust to a raft of injuries on the offensive side of the ball. Too many of his teammates are incurring too many penalties. And, under a new offensive coordinator, it has taken at least four games for the offensive line to begin playing with the same coherency and domination flashed last year.

The margin for error is so small at this level. The No. 2 player above, junior Jared Goff, led a struggling California Bears team in 2013 and 2014. Now, despite his relative fourth-quarter letdowns, he and his team has made enough plays (and avoided enough penalties) to stand at 4-0 this season. The Hogs are only a few plays away from being 3-1 on the season.

Brandon Allen believes it’s in the team’s power to still turn it around.

“There’s a mind-set of when we’re in the fourth quarter and we have a lead, there’s a don’t lose mind-set more than a let’s go win it mind-set,” he said. “I think we’ve got to have the same mind-set as we’ve had in the first three quarters when we’ve been moving the ball well and carry that into the fourth quarter.”

So, what do you think – will the Razorback offense’s fourth-quarter struggles continue through October and November?


Read more at BestOfArkansasSports.com.

Brandon Allen & Rohan Gaines After Arkansas Lost to Toledo

The following are excerpts from interviews held after the Arkansas football team’s lost 12-16 to Toledo in September, 2015 in Little Rock:

Brandon, you guys were one for five going into the red zone; you got down there; how tough was that? What was going on in the red zone?

Brandon Allen: We were killing ourselves, we felt like we could score. We had a bunch of plays held back. Couldn’t punch it in for the life of us today. Can’t win against anybody if we’re one for five.

On the struggles of the run game:

Allen: We couldn’t get it going. Got to give them credit, they did a good job stopping it, but can’t win one-dimensional. Got to get around the ball, and we couldn’t.

You outgained them by about 200 yards. You gained over 500 yards. Normally you do that you’re going to win. How frustrating was that?

Allen:  Very… Were one for five in the red zone there. You can get all the yards you want but it doesn’t matter if you can’t put it into the end zone.

As a leader of this football team what do you have to do this week to get ready for Texas Tech?

Allen: I know this team. We have our minds right, and this isn’t going to affect the rest of the season. We have a lot of games left. Tomorrow we will watch the film, we’ll move on, and we’ll be ready for Texas Tech. I know this team. There’s no quit. This is one game. We got ten more, a lot of games to play, and the team’s got their mind right, and we’re going to play each and every game like it’s our last one. We’re trying to play them all.

85 yards in penalties. Coach B’s playing clean didn’t get it done today in that area. Any thoughts?

Allen: That killed us. It really did. Any time we had momentum going on offense, you know, we’d get a holding call or something, get held back, and I think we scored a touchdown at the end, holding call called it back; so we’re really killing our momentum with penalties, and can’t win when you’re killing yourself.

On the last drive of the game:

Allen: I felt like we were going to score, and we moved the ball pretty much all day; can’t punch it in, and got all the way down there, give ourselves a chance. Last play, kind of just dropped it; went out in the in zone but there was nobody to throw it to, and kind of stumbled a little bit.


What’s the locker room feel like right now?

Rohain Gaines: I feel like we’ve got enough leaders to turn things around. I’ve been down this road before. I’ve been here for a long time and I know it can go one of two ways. I feel like with the leaders that we have on this team it can go up from here.

What’s the key to making it go the right way?

Gaines: You just have to come back and prepare. We have to come back Sunday and work, we got to come back Monday, get some overtime. Got to come back Tuesday, Wednesday practice, Thursday practice, Friday practice, and Saturday play our ball.

What did they do to surprise you guys? They seemed like they had a lot of wide open guys running free to pass to the linebackers.

Gaines: Give all the credit to Tolito. They’ve got some great athletes. They called great plays and they obviously schemed us up.


What’s it feel like?

JaMichael Winston:   It’s terrible, it’s a terrible feeling. Unbelievable feeling. Those guys came in here and earned their win and we didn’t today.

What did they do that gave you guys problems?

Winston: There was a lot of scheming up. They schemed us up pretty good. They got on us. You can tell they’ve been working on them for a while.

A lot of the times expect Arkansas playing a team like that to out physical them and it seemed like it was the other way. Were you surprised at how physical they were?

Winston: Yeah, they were pretty physical today. They came out with a lot of energy today and played good football and earned a win.

There’s been times when a loss like this for a big program can affect the next game and the next game. What did coach talk about in that post game about making it just be the one loss and not letting it linger.

Winston: Just having a 1-and-0 mentality and moving on to the next one. Can’t let one bad game affect the next, just got to go on, going on Sunday. Start focusing on Texas Tech and get better.

Winston: What was happening on the third and long because they converted several third and longs.

Winston: They were getting the ball out quick to their guy, that guy  number 40 was doing a good job at catching the ball and getting the first down.


Mitch Smothers: We didn’t earn that victory today. We didn’t come out and we didn’t play Arkansas football like we should. We just didn’t come ready to play.

Why did you not?

Smothers: I feel like it starts with me, but it’s just that the preparation we did and just … I just felt like we didn’t come out and did what we should have.

You guys out-gained them by a couple hundred yards. How tough is that to lose a game when you dominated like that statistically?

Smothers: We didn’t play clean enough. We had too many penalties, pre-snap penalties, post-snap penalties that drove us back. You can’t win football games when you have that many penalties.

Given what happened last year, with grounding and pounding people, it looked like this year was set up to be that again. Today, maybe not the rushing numbers you’d like. Same with last week. What do you think’s going on there?

Well, we’re not going to let one game define this whole season. We’ve still got a lot of football left to play. We’re definitely going to work on that.

What’s been the difference, though, in the rushing game, in not getting the yards you guys-

Smothers: These first two opponents, they like to move a lot on us. We just didn’t come ready to move them vertical like we should have. Like I said, we’re going to come … We’ll become better.

When you say they didn’t come ready, are you guys not prepared for this one?

Smothers:        I started to say … I’m just going to go back to what Coach B said. We just didn’t earn it. We didn’t come out and play Arkansas football. That’s all I got to say about that.

Since you guys are one to five scoring in the red zone, what do you think when you’re standing down there?

Smothers:        It’s definitely very frustrating, but then again, it goes back to us up front, me included. We didn’t run the ball like we should have today. That’s the one thing you’ve got to do in the red zone is run the football if you want to win a football games.

Unhinged Mississippi State Fan Makes You Laugh, Then Feel a Little Uncomfortable

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 10.00.11 AM

The ancient Romans erected household shrines to represent dieties who essentially kept watch over the food in their pantries. They were called penates, or “gods of the penus.”

In modern America, especially in the South, we still have a  lot of behavior that is very much penus-genic. But in the Bible Belt, shrines are no longer built to protect pantries – they are instead built to glorify SEC football programs.

Exhibit A:

Comparing the 1971 Georgia Bulldogs to the 2015 Arkansas Razorbacks

Below is the third part of a four-part series looking at how the best AP preseason No. 18 teams of all time compare to the Arkansas Razorbacks, which currently hold that spot. Based on one metric, the Simple Rating System, the ’71 Dawgs punch in at No. 2:

1971 Georgia

Coach: Vince Dooley

Weeks Ranked No. 1: 0

Date of First Loss: November 13

Final Record: 11-1

Final SRS rating: 22.22

While Georgia had won two SEC championships in the late 1960s, “Dooley’s Dawgs” had been a .500 team in 1969 and 1970 heading into the fall of 1971. That changed in a hurry with a top-five defense and dual-threat sophomore sensation Andy Johnson at the helm. In its first eight games, no team came within 10 points of beating Georgia.

While Georgia lost its next game on the road against No. 6 Auburn, it bounced back to beat archrival Georgia Tech. That set up a Gator Bowl showdown with North Carolina, led by Vince Dooley’s younger brother Bill Dooley. The resulting sibling slugfest produced 20 punts between the teams and a total of one touchdown. According to SB Nation’s T Kyle King, “the 7-3 Georgia victory prompted one sportswriter to observe, ‘Vince won the toss and ran the clock out.’”

Like Arkansas… these Bulldogs boasted a highly regarded offensive line with All-SEC selections in Tom Nash, Royce Smith and Kendall Keith. They also had an All-American All-Nickname first-teamers in Jimmy “The Greek Streak” Poulos and Buzy “Super Frog” Rosenberg. Leaping ahead 44 years, Arkansas counters with its own strong candidate here: Damon “Duwop” Mitchell.

Unlike Arkansas… Georgia’s starting quarterback eventually played running back the entirety of his 8-year NFL career. Andy Johnson helped New England finish 2nd in the AFC East in 1976 with a combined 1,042 yards running and receiving and was selected to the Patriots’ All-1970s team. While college quarterbacks still occasionally make the transition to NFL wide receiver (e.g. Matt Jones, Antwaan Randle-El) you no longer see them become running backs. Even those with the physical tools to pull it off, like Nick Marshall, are more likely to become pro cornerbacks.

It’s safe to say NFL receiver, cornerback or tailback gigs aren’t in Brandon Allen’s crystal ball.

Brandon Allen’s First Scrimmage Performance Worries Tyler Wilson

Airing out his views on Arkansas' current starting QB
Airing out his views on Arkansas’ current starting QB

During the Razorbacks’ first scrimmage last Saturday, Brandon Allen did not deliver his best performance of training camp. The senior starting quarterback completed only 10 of 23 passes and was picked off on his third attempt. Sure, the defensive line was stout all afternoon long, racking up eight sacks, but that pressure didn’t much faze the three backup quarterbacks. They completed 23 of a total 31 passes.

That disparity between the younger backups’ performance and the fifth-year senior is bad news, Razorback quarterback legend Tyler Wilson believes. “The completion percentage, ten of twenty-three, is a little bit worrisome,” he said on The Morning Rush with Derek Ruscin and Tommy Craft. He pointed to the 11-of-15 performance by Austin Allen, Brandon’s little brother, as more in line with what should be expected from the starter. “When you’re in the 40 percentile in completion percentage, something has got to be down. We got to increase that for us to be successful.”

Wilson’s primary concern: the scrimmage happened sufficiently late enough in training camp for Brandon Allen to be clicking. “By practice 10 it [usually] seems like the offense catches up a little bit and starts to find its footing… It didn’t seem like that was happening Saturday. The defense was still messing a lot of stuff up for the offense.”

“It is tough because the defense sees a lot of your looks. At this point in camp they kind of know what’s coming. It is agitating. It’s a little frustrating for the quarterback at times. You feel like, ‘OK, they know exactly what’s coming and I can’t do much about it.’”

Wilson, now a co-host on The Morning Rush (ESPN Arkansas 96.3 95.3 & 104.3 FM), had more interesting on-air insights. Here are a couple excerpts:

On difference between Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins:

When you watch the two guys run Jonathan Williams is more of an attack type running back… Alex Collins is a little more fleet of foot. He’s more of an outside guy. One is more south, one is a little more east-west. When Alex Collins is going to carry 70 percent of the carries this year and is going to carry a lot more of the workload, I have a little bit of a worry he’s maybe not able to do the things that together they would’ve been able to do… Obviously there have been some ball security issues [with Collins]. I think when you have those issues you think somewhat feeble, not as strong, not as big, not as maybe aggressive as a guy like Jonathan Williams – that’s just what’s in some people’s heads.

On similarity between Jonathan Williams’ season-ending injury and Knile Davis’ in 2011:

Very similar in terms of timing, in terms of expectations from a particular highly thought of, highly regarded running back that was going to get a lot of carries  but now he’s no longer there… Knile was the one guy that I believed everybody thought was going to be a key to our success throughout football season. We had some good wide receivers and some what unknown on how I was going to play quarterback that year, but Knile Davis was that instrumental piece. He was the guy that was on the cover of the media guides and went to SEC Media Day…

I think for a lot of fans, you hate that he’s gone but you got to find a way to patch it together. By the way, all that 2011 team did, when Knile Davis went down, was win 11 games and the Cotton Bowl that year… We still had Dennis Johnson that year. Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Ringo were on the team so the thing kept moving right along.


Want more of these kinds of detailed Arkansas sports interview excerpts? Check out BestOfArkansasSports.com’s near-daily roundup. 

How Much Do SEC Schools Pay to Educate Former Football Stars?

Thanks to LSU’s “Project Graduation,” former Tiger QB Jordan Jefferson has even more to celebrate.

Every year, hundreds of collegiate athletes leave campus before graduation. Sometimes, as with other students, it’s because they simply didn’t complete the courses they needed for a degree before their four or five years was up. Other times, it’s because they leave school early to pursue a career in professional sports.

While in school, students on a full ride athletic scholarship typically face a pretty straight-forward scenario: They play sports, keep their nose out of trouble and in return they get reimbursed for housing, board and tuition.

But what happens when the same student leaves school, ending his athletic eligibility and then returns to campus years later in order to finish his degree? This, I found while reporting a story about Razorback football players struggling  after their playing days, is a bit of a grey area.

From talking to former Razorbacks like C.J. McClain and Fred Talley, who are currently in the process of returning to school, it appears there is no set protocol on how much a former football player can expect to be reimbursed. Talley, for instance, came back after 11 years and got his tuition paid for, but NOT his room and board. Furthermore, he was told he has to maintain a C average in order to keep that reimbursement.

I confirmed with Arkansas that indeed similar scenarios are handled on a case by case basis. I wondered if this happened elsewhere, so questions were sent to each of the other SEC West schools to find out

  • how much tuition/room & boards the school will play for if an athlete leaves early for the pros but later wants to finish his degree.
  • if the schools have a minimum grade requirement for the former athletes to retain their tuition compensation.

I found out the University of Alabama, for instance, “pays tuition and fees, books, and other costs on a case-by-case basis for former student athletes who left the University in good standing and are eligible to return to UA,” according to Deborah Lane, Associate Vice President for University Relations. “Former student athletes who return must maintain a 2.0 GPA for all classes taken during the semesters they are enrolled.” Other schools echoed similar stances, with an Aggies employee adding Texas A&M scholarships typically demand  a minimum 2.5-2.7 GPA.

The most detailed answer came from Brett Russell, Ole Miss’ assistant director of compliance. “Although NCAA rules permit former student-athletes* to return to their institution to finish their degree and receive financial aid, the decision to award financial aid is left up to the institution,” he wrote.

The institution is permitted to provide financial aid up to the institution’s published cost of room and board and can vary depending on the student’s residency/enrollment status [i.e., living on their own vs. living with parent(s)/legal guardian(s), full-time vs. part-time] .

Also, the NCAA does not have a minimum GPA requirement in order for a member institution to provide aid to a former student-athlete. In general, member institutions each have their own ‘degree completion’ program in which a student must apply for financial aid and be vetted through the appropriate departments before he/she will be awarded financial aid.

In fall, 2010 LSU launched such a degree completion program geared specifically toward its former athletes. “Project Graduation” director Kenneth Miles touts his program’s goal as “providing information and assistance to former student-athletes with the help of several university departments including the Athletics Administration, Admissions and Senior Colleges.”

“All of the related departments collaborate to provide former student-athletes with information regarding reapplying to the university, degree audits, health center requirements, financial aid assistance applications and contact information all while creating a positive environment consisting of full advisement and assistance services.” According to this press release, the program had helped 35 former student-athletes finish their degrees from inception through summer 2014. One of them was former star LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson, for whom a long-time career in the NFL always seemed such a long shot. Not unlike the chances of his alma mater competing for a national title heading into the 2015 season, according to recent sportsbook online betting odds.

Many of the 10 former Razorbacks I interviewed believe a similar program is needed at the University of Arkansas.



*The NCAA’s super hardcore technical  definition for “former student-athlete” is a  “a student-athlete who has exhausted his or her five-year period of eligibility.” It can also mean a student-athlete “who is permanently ineligible to participate in intercollegiate competition due to a violation of NCAA amateurism and athletics eligibility regulations (e.g., signed an agreement with a professional organization, secured the services of an agent, exhausted eligibility due to delayed enrollment penalties) but is still within his or her five-year period of eligibility, who returns to the institution with no intent to participate in athletics shall be considered a former student-athlete for purposes of NCAA financial aid legislation.

Hilarious Jesters: One of the South’s First Integrated Men’s Basketball Teams

Below is the second of a two-part series about the Hilarious Jesters, a traveling team of former college players who broke racial barriers in the early 1960s. Most stories of integration in the South of this era highlight African Americans entering white worlds, but in this case the Jesters featured a couple white players  playing on a primarily black team vs. all-black teams.

The Little Rock-based group initially included core African-American players such as Chester Lane, Marion Rice and John Davis, as well as McPherson. McPherson later brought Ray Paladino aboard, along with another white player, Charles Taylor. As I mentioned the article, originally published in Arkansas Life, this group scrimmaged against high-level talent such as Harlem Globetrotter extraordinaire Geese Ausbie and NBA player Wayne Yates.

Likely central Arkansas’ first semi-professional integrated basketball team, the Jesters competed primarily against all-black squads of players hailing from communities such as Marked Tree, Marion, Clarendon, Holly Grove, Newport, England, Altheimer and other areas southeast of Little Rock.

McPherson says he had little trouble playing all-black opponents in front of all-black crowds: “First time I did something like that, I was a little bit nervous about how it would turn out, but shoot, nobody ever said a cross word to me.” Lane, however, remembers it slightly differently, recalling fans and even players who occasionally hurled racial taunts at the white players. It never got physical, though. A few times, the Jesters also played all-white teams in areas such as Benton, Conway and Menifee, and the taunting flowed the other way. “Sometimes it was nice, and sometimes we got a little razzing,” Lane says.

McPherson and Lane’s friendship centered on competition, whether basketball, chess or pingpong—which McPherson had learned from Poles while he was stationed in Europe. The two played pingpong in gyms before practices and games, and at Lane’s home, but Lane never visited McPherson’s home, even when he invited him. One day, McPherson called him out on it, asking Lane why he always had an excuse to avoid visiting. Lane said he believed his presence as an African-American man wouldn’t be welcomed by McPherson’s southwest Little Rock neighbors. “They’ll look down their noses at you,” McPherson recalls Lane saying. Lane didn’t want McPherson to experience negative feedback from his community on account of his presence. McPherson understood, appreciated Lane’s desire to protect him and never pushed the point again. “I felt like that was true friendship,” McPherson says.

Despite their name, the Hilarious Jesters provided serious competition for whomever they played. McPherson and Lane were both guards, but while McPherson specialized in shooting, Lane was an outstanding ballhandler as a result of a hip injury he had suffered while playing semiprofessional basketball after college. The injury limited his mobility, but Lane was able to compensate by developing his dribbling skills, McPherson says. “He could almost make a ball talk.”

The team didn’t profit from its games, although it occasionally got gas money and free meals through postgame picnic potlucks. Mainly, they played for love of the sport. Lane recalls a typical outing: a group of the guys jamming into a couple of Oldsmobiles, heading off to play a night game in some small northeast-Arkansas town, pure exhaustion setting in, his wife, Janet, taking the wheel for the long road back.

The Jesters folded after only a couple of years. The players’ lives had gotten too busy for the fun, unpaid times to last forever, but they left a legacy that has endured. By the 1970s, sports would be almost completely integrated, along with most spheres of Arkansas society. There can be little doubt that of the hundreds of all-white and all-black crowds who saw this integrated group of ballers play throughout the years, there would have been some men and women who would have seen in them a sign of a more hopeful future. McPherson, though, says he never thought about trying to change society. “I’m not trying to blow my horn. Race has never been an issue with me,” he says. “I was just playing ball, and color didn’t matter.”

Lane went on to coach high school basketball in Clarendon, then at Arkansas Baptist College in the 1970s. McPherson, who by the mid-1960s had four children, was on his way up the corporate ladder at Horner Boxes in southwest Little Rock. He stayed in the game by playing for corporate-sponsored Amateur Athletic Union teams and later refereed games at all levels, including AAU, high school and college games. Indeed, he recalls once refereeing an Arkansas Baptist game while Lane coached there.

Still, by that point, the friends no longer had the time to hit the courts. They had continued playing pickup at MacArthur Park and Dunbar throughout the 1960s, but those days are long gone. Occasionally, though, someone remembers them.
McPherson recalls, years later, running into a black man around town who knew him through basketball circles. The man told him he appreciated how, unlike other whites, McPherson didn’t act scared or hesitant around blacks. “We always thought you all had been afraid of us, and—little did you know—we were afraid of y’all, too,” he explained to McPherson. “It meant a lot for you to reach out.”

Nowadays, McPherson lives in Alexander and Lane in Sweet Home, south of Little Rock. They talk a few times a year and have attended a few reunions together for their old basketball buddies at Abe’s Ole Feedhouse in nearby Benton. One former on-and-off-again Jester, James Bledsoe, has died, but the others still make it. Granted, the bounce in their step is gone—Lane now enters the restaurant in a wheelchair, and many others limp—but they still know how to let the good times roll. They laugh, reminisce and joke about the old days while picking out fried catfish and hush puppies in the buffet line. Geese Ausbie, true to Globetrotters form, is still prone to clown around with servers, McPherson says.

Through it all, not a word about big-picture stuff like race relations and the group’s small but significant role in tearing down walls is ever uttered, McPherson adds. He refuses to acknowledge his own likely status as a pioneer. “I don’t want to make an issue of something now that wasn’t an issue then. That was not my intent.”

In November, his hope was to attend a basketball game at Philander Smith that would be attended by some of his old basketball buddies. Lane’s health had been off and on, so McPherson offered to stop by his old friend’s house and give him a ride.

As before, just a little pickup.




To read more about the Hilarious Jesters and Arkansas sports history in the content of race relations, make sure to check out the first part of the above article. 

Talking with NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala In Istanbul

Despite LeBron's 40 ppg, Iguodala's resistance has been vital to the Warriors' title surge.
Despite LeBron’s nearly 40 ppg, Iguodala’s resistance has been vital to the Warriors’ title surge.

June 16, 2015 UPDATE


It’s official. Afterward, he discussed becoming the first MVP to not start a single game preceding the Finals: “We all say God has a way for you, a purpose for you, and I accepted it.”

In fall of 2010, fans of the Turkish basketball club Besiktas welcomed through the doors of their home arena the most famous “AI” in American team sports – the one and only Allen Iverson. While Iverson’s tenure in Istanbul only lasted 10 games, his late-career stint abroad generated significant headlines across the world.

Just months before, though, another “AI” sat in the bleachers of Besiktas’ home arena. This AI, Andrew Iguadala, had been teammates with Iverson on the Philadephia 76ers and was forever battling the moniker of, well, “the other AI.” Although a first rate talent, Iguadala was in many fans’ minds a perpetual afterthought, an All-Star without any identifiable All-Star skill or trait beyond sheer hustle, defense and court smarts.

In August 2010, I was in Istanbul to report on the FIBA World Championships and thanks to the help of fellow writers like Brian Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 12.19.05 PMMahoney and Chris Sheridan, I found myself in Besiktas Arena during a Team USA practice to do interviews for the Associated Press and other outlets. After leaving a horde of TV cameramen buzzing around Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose, I noticed Iguodala in the stands by himself, reading.

I introduced myself as a writer. He studied me for a second, and soon asked where I was from.
“Arkansas,” I replied. Iguodala’s eyes lit up. “I was going to go there,” he said, and he briefly explained he’d signed a national letter of intent with the Razorbacks before Nolan Richardson was fired and Iguodala decided to go to Arizona instead.

That connection seemed to loosen Iguodala up a bit and I then asked him about the book he was reading. He showed me the cover of “The Alchemist” and told me it was about a young man’s personal journey in search of his “Personal Legend,” and went in to what that meant. Admittedly, it’s pretty mystic but boils down to “something you have always wanted to accomplish.” Like tens of millions of others, it was clear the book’s author Paulo Coehlo had captivated Iguodala with the notion that each of us have a quest, a calling and, in the end, a kind of destiny to fulfill.


Fast forward five years and it appears Iguodala may be on the brink of fulfilling his own “Personal Legend.”

In these NBA Finals, the 6’7″ small forward has arguably been the most important player on the court for Golden State. The longtime “other AI” is at last becoming “the AI” despite in the regular season playing off the bench for the first time ad averaging career lows in points, rebounds and assists. Yet in Golden State’s first three games, when the Warriors needed it most, it was Iguodala among all the Warriors who played with the most passion, pace and confidence. Most importantly, he has played the strongest individual defense on LeBron James and that defense has been a big part in James’ breaking down at the end of the last two games.

Iguodala’s significance in the Warriors’ title run was never more explicit than last week when Golden State, which had been heavily favored entering the series according to sportsbook online betting,  fell down 2-1. Searching for a jolt, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr inserted Iguodala as the starter in place of Harrison Barnes. The move has ignited two straight wins and a flood of meme-y Iguodala highlights:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNj-O2hRoGs]

With regular season MVP Steph Curry getting off to an historically bad Finals start, it was Iguodala more than any other Warriors player who stood as the team’s top MVP candidate following Game 4. An NBA Finals MVP for him would be historically notable and precedent-breaking in many ways. Here are a few:

1) Iguodala would be is the first Finals MVP on the same team as a healthy regular season MVP. Yes, Magic Johnson did win it as a rookie in 1980 during the same season his teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got MVP honors. But Abdul-Jabbar suffered an injury late in that series against Philadelphia, clearing the path for Johnson – a point guard, mind you – to step in at center with a Game 6 magnum opus that to this day staggers the mind.

2. Iggy would be is the first Finals MVP since Wes Unseld in 1978 to average less than 10 points a game in the regular season. (Even Celtic Cedric Maxwell, who was nicknamed “Cornbread” by Arkansas assistant coach Melvin Watkins, averaged 15 points a game before stealing thunder from a young Larry Bird to win the 1981 Finals MVP)

3. He would be is the first Finals MVP who did not start a single game during the regular season.

4. He would be may be the first Finals MVP who didn’t finish at No. 1 or No. 2 on his team in points, assists, blocks, rebounds and steals during a championships series (Currently, he ranks at No. 3 in all those categories for the Warriors – a testament to his versatility).

In the end, it’s likely the man at the top of a few of those rankings – Steph Curry – will continue to shoot lights out as he did in Game 5 and secure Finals MVP honors if Golden State wins the series. And it’s likely, after a brief turn in the limelight, Iguodala will go back to being an afterthought in the minds of many NBA fans.

But no matter what happens, the Springfield, Ill. native’s series-altering energy, hustle and savvy in these Finals shouldn’t be forgotten.

Years from now, expect his play these last few games to be central to the legend he is building.

Commemorate the Warriors’ historic run with this one-a-kind design:

Golden State celebration
Golden State celebration by The_Sports_Seer
Shop for Golden T-Shirts online at Zazzle.com