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.’”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Mahoney 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:
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 beis 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 beis 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 beis the first Finals MVP who did not start a single game during the regular season.
4. He would bemay 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:
This is a fascinating post which will make you consider a new definition for “free agent.” It looks at a group of pro baseball players who locked horns with California state prison inmates called “the Midgets.”
Unfortunately, not many details could be released about who these prisoners were. But we do know prisoners No. 27784 and No. 26130 had some serious skills…
Next month, Fort Smith native Jahlil Okafor could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. If he is, the 6’11” center will be the third Arkansan native to go No. 1 in a major American team sport since Joe Barry Carroll in 1980. Okafor spent his childhood in the Ft. Smith area before moving to a bigger metro area in Chicago. Carroll, meanwhile, spent some of his elementary school days in Pine Bluff before his mother shepherded her large family to Denver.
There, among the Rockies, Carroll grew to seven feet tall and became a prized recruit. He then became a legendary player at Purdue, leading the Boilermakers to the 1980 Final Four while racking up 26.3 points a game.
It turns out Carroll has become both a painter and writer who has been contemplating his Arkansan roots. Now living in Georgia, Carroll will return to his home state this fall for an exhibit in Little Rock:
“The Historic Arkansas Museum will host the contemporary art exhibit, “Growing Up . . . In Words and Images” by NBA All Star, Joe Barry Carroll. The exhibition will open in Historic Arkansas Museum’s Trinity Gallery for Arkansas Artists during 2nd Friday Art Night on September 11 from 5 to 8 pm. The opening reception will include a gallery talk with Carroll and a book signing in the Museum Store.
The exhibition will include paintings from Carroll’s memoir coffee table book of the same name. The colorful and evocative acrylic and mixed media paintings have been described as “folk” and “impressionistic.” The paintings explore what Carroll refers to as “shared humanity”—childhood, dreams, family ties, southern culture and self-discovery. In “Growing Up,” Carroll’s southern-comfort prose reveals the life of a boy who seemed “to not be enough of any one particular thing to be the right thing.”
Born the tenth of thirteen children, Carroll was raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and Denver, Colorado, where his mother supported the family as a domestic worker, fry cook, and eventually a nurse’s aide. He dreamed of saving the day for his family and writes, “Every time I witnessed my mother’s defeat and difficulty as another dream died, I resolved to make it all better one day.”
Carroll led the Purdue University Boilermakers to the Final Four in 1980 and graduated with a degree in Economics. Carroll was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1980 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. He would go on to play for Milano (Italy), the Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets, Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns. Carroll is now a wealth advisor, philanthropist, painter and writer.
Historic Arkansas Museum is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 – 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission to the galleries and parking are free; admission to the historic grounds is $2.50 for adults, $1 for children under 18, $1.50 for senior citizens. The Historic Arkansas Museum Store is open 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 – 4 p.m. on Sunday.”
Carroll, it turns out, had the seventh-highest scoring performance in NCAA Tournament history in 1980. Interestingly, the number one player on that list – Glen Rice – apparently was born in Jacksonville, Ark. before moving to Michigan as a baby or toddler.
One opposing SEC coach called Andrew Benintendi the nation’s best college baseball player. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.
In the early 1990s, Arkansas joined the SEC and the conference began awarding a baseball player of the year award to complement already established football and basketball MVP titles. Since then, the conference has soared to lofty heights, becoming arguably the NCAA’s most powerful organization. Much of that has to do with stretches of dominance by Alabama, LSU and Florida in football; Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida in basketball and the likes of LSU (five national titles 1993-2009) and South Carolina in baseball.
Many of these programs have produced multiple players of the years in various sports, yet no one school has yet been able to hit a POY trifecta by having a male player win the ultimate individual honor in each major team sport in one calendar year.
That may soon change.
In 2015, the Razorbacks athletic department has a chance make SEC history by sweeping these honors. The push started earlier this spring with sophomore Bobby Portis winning basketball SEC Player of the Year. Then, on Monday, sophomore Andrew Benintendi was announced as SEC baseball’s player of the year. Benintendi, of course, has helped spearhead the Hogs’ surge from a 1-5 start in SEC play to 18-7 finish including two wins so far in the SEC Tournament. The outfielder from Cincinnati, Ohio leads the nation in slugging percentage (.760) and ranks first in home runs. “He’s probably the best player in college baseball right now,” Tennessee coach Dave Serrano told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Bob Holt.
I write more about this unique record in the context of SEC sports and the Razorbacks’ upcoming football season for Sporting Life Arkansas, but here I want to look beyond the SEC.
Specifically, how many times has a school pulled off this one-year POY trifecta among all major conferences?
Three times – sort of.
Here they are:
In basketball, Grant Hill secured ACC player of the year and first team All-American honors. But thanks to the Razorbacks, “national champion” was one honor he didn’t grab for the third straight year. Ryan Jackson took home ACC POY honors after setting a single-season school record with 22 home runs. In football, bruising back Robert Baldwin won it after helping lead Duke to its highest national ranking in 23 years.
Baldwin was the last Duke player to win ACC player of the year honors in football, but was the 10th such POY in school history (which is a surprisingly high number to my 33-year-old self. It reflects how un-dominant Florida State once was).
The history of the African-American athlete at the University of Arkansas has become well chronicled in the last couple decades. Many outlets have covered their experiences on the field – ranging from Yahoo sports columnist Dan Wetzel’s look at Darrell Brown, the first black Razorback football player, to a new “Arkansas African American Sports Center” business which focuses on the histories of black student-athletes at the UA across various sports. The university’s athletic department itself has created a series honoring its minority and women trailblazers.
But what about the history of the Razorbacks’ black fans?
That story appears to be entirely unreported. It’s time that changes and – thanks to Henry Childress, Sr. and Wadie Moore, Jr. – the right time is now.
Childress, Sr., likely the oldest living African-American man in Fayetteville, told me about a small group of black men, women and children who consistently attended Razorback football games at Razorback Stadium in the 1940s. Remember – this was an era in which Jim Crow laws still pervaded the South, although the social climes of Fayetteville have always more progressive than many other Southern towns (aside from a brief flare-up of KKK activity in the early 1900s).
Childress, Sr., now in his upper 80s, recalls seeing about 25-40 black Hog fans at games he attended in the 1940s through early 1950s. They weren’t allowed to sit in the bleachers like all the white fans. Instead, they had to sit in chairs on the track which then encircled the football field. But black and white fans alike Woo-pig-sooed their hearts out during the games against Tulsa, Texas, Texas A&M and SMU which Childress, Sr. saw. A black Fayettevillian named Dave Dart was the loudest cheerleader. “He’d be out there – he’d be out on the side of the field almost. He’d be just a-holerrin’ and yelling ‘Come on!'” And soon enough, Childress couldn’t help but join the frenzy.
This Hog mania was a far cry from Childress’ younger days growing up in Ft. Smith. Then, he didn’t consider himself a Razorback or much of a football fan at all. One reason was Hogs’ games didn’t then dominate statewide airwaves like they would after 1951, when Bob Cheyne – the UA’s first publicity director – crisscrossed the state to enlist 34 radio stations in the broadcasting of Hog games.
Plus, Childress hadn’t gotten swept up in football mania at his all-black Ft. Smith high school. Lincoln High had cut its football and baseball programs by the time he moved to Fayetteville in 1944, he recalled. He added in the early 1940s the school only sponsored basketball. The teens who still yearned for football simply gathered to play it by themselves on a nearby field after classes let out. “We’d go out to the back of the school, and choose up sides.”
After moving to Fayetteville, it took a little while to warm to the fanaticism and voluminous qualities of certain Razorback fans. “It was kind of strange to me,” Childress said. “I just came out and sat and looked.” Pretty soon, though, he got the hang of it. He learned many fellow black fans actually worked on the UA campus, usually as part of house, cafeteria or groundskeeping staff. This meant they personally knew the white student-athletes for whom they rooted. Dave Dart, for instance, worked at a fraternity home and cheered on the frat bro-hogs he knew by name, Childress recalled.
Hog games weren’t the only setting where black Fayettevillians came to cheer all-white spectacles. Childress said in this era both races got off work to watch the town’s parades (which then featured all-white floats). “We’d come out and stand. There would be lines all up and down Dickson Street.”
I asked Childress what he then thought of the whole situation. Did he or any friends at any point consider it unfair only white players could represent a state university to which blacks had contributed as employees, taxpayers and students since its 1872 founding?
“No, we didn’t give it a thought,” Childress said. “Wasn’t nobody [African-American] going over there to school,” and he didn’t expect an influx of black UA students to begin any time soon.
What About Black Fans at War Memorial Stadium?
I haven’t yet found anybody who can speak to the experience of central Arkansan blacks at Razorback football games at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium in the immediate years after its 1947 construction.
But I did find Wadie Moore, Jr., who recalls the situation in the early 1960s Little Rock was more stratified than in 1940s Fayetteville. As a 13-year-old in 1963, Moore began working at War Memorial, where his father was a maintenance worker in the press box. Moore said about 5-10 black fans would attend each Little Rock Razorback game in that time. They didn’t sit in sight of the white fans. Instead, stadium policy “would allow you to sit under the bleachers in the north end zone and watch the game,” he said.
Wade Moore Sr.’s proximity to the media – including future local legends like Jim Bailey, Bud Campbell and Jim Elders – actually opened doors for his son, though. When Moore Jr. found a passion for sportswriting as a high schooler at Horace Mann High School, it was his father who made sure an article he wrote got into the hands of Orville Henry, the longtime sports editor of the Arkansas Gazette.
The mid to late 1960s brought a tidal wave of change to racial dynamics across the South and War Memorial was no exception. Wadie Jr. recalls one of first times he saw black Razorback fans sitting in the crowd – and not secluded below in the stands – coincided with the Little Rock homecoming of one of the Razorbacks’ first black band members. The young woman’s family, last name of “Hill” as he recalled, watched her in the audience around 1965 (the first year black UA students were allowed to live on campus) or 1966. In 1965, too, a young walk on named Darrell Brown joined the defending national champions in Fayetteville full of hope he could break down regional color barriers all by himself. By the end of the next fall he would limp away, that hope beaten out of him.
But he had opened the doors for others, including Jon Richardson – who a few years later became the Hogs’ first black scholarship player.
There are hundreds of other stories about Arkansas’ forgotten sports heritage which need to be recorded and published before it’s too late. Thank you to Henry Childress, Jr., Rita Childress, Jerry Hogan (author of the NWA pro baseball history Angels in the Ozarks) and the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History) for helping me find a treasure of historical knowledge in Henry Childress, Sr. Send tips on stories/interviewees to evindemirel [at] gmail.com.
Mike Anderson: This is a day that, you know, you have dreams when you’re a young kid. Coming here, taking this job four years ago, one of the first tasks that I had was to go down to Hall High School, and see this young man work out. In that spring, in that summer, this committed to the University of Arkansas. His sophomore, you’re talking about finishing his sophomore year, so when you talk about a guy committed early, this guy committed early, so to sit here four years after that, and he has an opportunity to realize his dream. It’s kind of a more sweet than it is bitter day. Why, because this kid, he’s part of my family, and that’s Bobby Portis, as well as all my other players on our team. When you talk about a young man who’s had two unbelievable years, it’s amazing what has taken place. In his freshman year, he’s second team All SEC. His second year. You got to understand this. He’s second team All-American. That is a special, special year, and that’s why we are here today.
His teammates are here in attendance, as well as our staff, as Bobby has announced that he will be moving beyond that, and I’ll let him talk more into that. As a coach, he’s been a great ambassador for our university. He’s a great basketball player, we know that, but he’s been a great, great ambassador, a great, great role model for a lot of young players around, young people in the state of Arkansas and around the country. We could not have a better representative than Bobby Portis. To be here today as he makes his statement, I couldn’t be no more proud of Bobby Portis. Player of the year in our league. Things that haven’t taken place here in 20 years. That tells you how special he is. Not only special Bobby is, but his teammates as well. He’ll be the first to say that. I can’t talk any more, because I get a little emotion, but to Ms. Tina, I want to thank her for entrusting me with her son. I told her, “You send me a young boy, I send you back a man.” Well, he kind of expedited the process. I told him to go at his own pace, as a freshman, because coming in, you can imagine, McDonald’s All-American, all the pressures, and I said go at your own pace. His pace was a tremendous pace, and that’s why we’re here today. I just pass over here to Bobby Portis.
Bobby Portis: How everybody doing today? Ain’t nobody sad or nothing, is it? Everybody good? You know, today’s a good day
for me, to try to take that next step and go to the NBA. As a kid, all kids grow up wanting to go to the NBA. For me, myself, I finally had that first chance to go to the NBA this year, so I took the opportunity and tried to run with it. Thanks for Coach A for always having that trust in me, on and off the court. He made me a captain this year, as a sophomore, and I think that’s big for me and my teammates. Thanks for my teammates, always having their trust in me, on the court, passing the ball to me, even though I’m hollering, “Give me the ball! Give me the ball!” All that stuff. Thanks to Coach [Matt Zimmerman] staying late in the gym with me, and always rebounding for me and all that. Thanks to the managers, too, and Coach Watkins and Coach Cleveland. You’re all a part of my family, now, and this is something that I’m proud of, so thank you all and God Bless.
Reporter: You really talked a lot about your mom and what she means to you. How big a part was her, how hard she works and what she does, in your decision?
Bobby Portis: It was a big part, just because, my mom, she works 2:00 AM to 1:00 PM. That’s an 11 hour shift. For any person, that’s a tough burden on anyone, so I just want to take that next step, not just for her, but for myself. I’m not doing this for my mom, or anything, I’m doing this for Bobby Portis, just because I feel like I’m ready to take that next step, and go on about my basketball career.
Reporter: In the beginning you said it was going to be a committee decision. In the end, was it just you that made the call?
Bobby Portis: I believe so, just because, my mom wanted me to make the decision for me and not her. That’s something that she always preaches. Not trying to make me make a decision for her, just to change her life and my little brother’s life. She wants me to live my dream and try to be the best basketball player I could be.
Q: I understand it’s a basketball on one side, but how nice is it that you’re going to be able to help your family out?
Bobby Portis: I think it’ll be nice to help my family out, but I still have to work as hard as I can every day, and just try to be that same person that I was, and just stay humble and hungry. Just because, if I get my name called and put that hat on, that doesn’t mean that it’s just the end of the road and I get money. It’s more than just money. It’s a job, too, at the same time.
Q: What kind of feedback did you get from the NBA folks about where Bobby’s likely to be drafted?
Mike Anderson: First of all, this wasn’t an easy decision for Bobby. This guy, again, he committed as a sophomore to be a Razorback, and trust me, he’s been wrestling with this. I know you guys, whether it be social network, or we continued at the banquet last night, “Hey, Bobby, what you going to do?” It wasn’t an easy decision for him, so we gathered information for him, in terms, of where, what’s going to take place. Obviously, from the lottery to first round. He’s going to be … He’ll be a first rounder, there’s no question about it. Where? That remains to be seen. I have all the confidence in this guy, right here. He’s on the fast track, on the fast track to do some great things. No one can knock his work ethic. For a 6’11” guy, that can do the things that this guy does, is remarkable. He has that burning desire, to not only be a good player, so even as he goes to that next level, he don’t just want to be a good player in the NBA, he wants to be a great player in the NBA. I don’t question anything this guy puts his mind to. The feedback we got was very positive, and so we sat down, and just discussed it. At the end of the day, it was Bobby’s decision, and I think, one thing about it is that, I think, for him, I think he made the right decision.
He’s done some great things here for us, here at the University. Took us some places we hadn’t been in a while. I think he just starting something that’s really going to continue to take place, and when you talk about elite players, having the opportunity to come in, and have a chance to showcase the God gifted talents. He took my word, when I sat there with he and his mom, because there’s a lot of places he could have went. There’s a lot of programs he could have went. He chose the University of Arkansas. In the matter of a year, two years, now he’s had an opportunity to go and live his dream. It’s a big statement in a lot of ways. I’m sure the basketball people out there, the NBA teams, and hopefully, the recruits understand that, you know what – we get it done here at the University of Arkansas. Our kids, they develop. They do it the right way on and off the floor and when they leave here they will be ready, not only for the NBA, but they will be ready for the real world.
Q: What was the tipping point when you decided everything?
Bobby: Last Tuesday me and Coach Anderson sat down and talked about everything. He just laid out two or three scenarios and from there, I kind of ran with it. I sat down and told him then that I thought I was ready to make that next step. I made it last Tuesday.
Q: … How tough a decision was it? … Like Mike said, it was something you had to wrestle with.
Bobby: Man, last night I played this song, “I don’t want to leave, but I got to go right now.” That was cold, though. No, it was a tough decision for me just because growing up in the state of Arkansas and being a native of this state, I felt like I was a great ambassador for our basketball team and for our program, not only for the basketball team, but for the whole, entire Razorbacks. I believe I showed kids that you don’t have to go to Kentucky or Florida just to try to live your dreams. Coach Anderson and his staff gets it done here, too.
Without question, Corliss Williamson had the greatest sophomore season in Arkansas Razorback basketball history. No other Arkansas player may ever match his quad-fecta accomplishment of 1) SEC Player of the Year 2) Second Team All-American 3) National Champion and 4) Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament. While knocking out the last two deeds, though, Big Nasty might could have left the door open for his protege, Bobby Portis, to surpass him in junior year greatness.
In the 1994 NCAA championship game against Duke, Williamson broke his left, nonshooting wrist, an injury that wasn’t detected until a month later. This meant Williamson couldn’t lift the weights he’d thrived on since high school. For the first time since fifth grade, he didn’t play full-time in the summer, as sportswriter Paul McMullen wrote in 1995:
Williamson sat at home last summer and got fat. There was a day in his honor in Russellville, Ark., and many Big Nasty Combo Platters at a family restaurant owned by cousins. All those bacon cheeseburgers, fries and sodas added 40 pounds to a 6-foot-7 frame that is at its best when he weighs 245. Even if I didn’t have a cast on my hand, I was going to rest last summer,” said Williamson, who withdrew from the U.S. Goodwill Games team, “but I wasn’t able to develop my game at the pace I wanted. That hindered me a little early in the season…
It showed. In an early season matchup with John Calipari’s Massachusetts, Minuteman forward Lou Roe ate up “Big Nasty” in a 104-80 romp by the Minutemen. Roe had 34 points and 15 rebounds, Williamson 15 and seven. “He had been embarrassed before a national television audience,” McMullen wrote.
In the end, as you see below, Williamson’s junior year numbers slightly decreased from the year before:
This kind of dip is would have been unlikely from Portis, who in terms of individual stats has had the greatest first two seasons season at Arkansas since Williamson, as the numbers below show:
Comparison: Corliss Williamson and Bobby Portis through 34 games in their sophomore seasons (CW’s year ended at 34): pic.twitter.com/JiT2t329kp
Portis has partially matched his long-time mentor by securing an SEC Player of the Year award and second-team All American honors as a sophomore. Williamson’s slow start in 1994-95, combined with the increased double and triple teams he saw, gives Portis a shot at surpassing Big Nasty in terms of junior year production.
Barring injury, the prediction here is Portis likely averages around 19 points and nine rebounds next season. With the addition of a star recruit Jimmy Whitt and Ted Kapita, along with the addition of transfer Dusty Hannahs and development of Anton Beard, he would not face would not have faced as much triple-teaming as a junior as Williamson did.
If Portis soon declares he is returning, If Portis had returned, he would have immediately become a front-runner for numerous 2015-16 national player of the year awards. There are six such major awards, and no Razorback has ever won one. He would also likely battle have likely battled the likes of LSU’s Ben Simmons and Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer for a spot on the AP’s first-team All American team – which would be a notch up from Williamson’s junior year repeat of second team.
[OK, by now you get that I originally wrote this before Portis announced his decision to go pro. That should explain the language in the rest of the piece]