UALR basketball star Will Neighbour On the Mend

UALR’s top player discusses his recovery from shoulder surgery. (Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

In a perfect world, UALR’s leading returning scorer from last season would near home right now, representing his native Great Britain.

Instead, he’s in his second home – Little Rock – trying to finish off the last few weeks of rehab from an April surgery to repair a a torn labrum in his left shoulder and a torn left bicep. Neighbour suffered the injury on December 31, but still produced an All-Sun Belt second-team season, averaging 10.5 points per game on 41.3% three-point shooting.

For the last few years, his goal had been to show off that perimeter stroke in front of family and friends in this summer’s London Olympics. Priority shifted in the spring, though, when he weighed the risks and rewards of trying out for the British national team (thus postponing his surgery) and getting surgery out of the way to come back strong for the start of the 2012-13 season.

He chose the latter, and doesn’t seem to regret the decision much. The rehab “is coming along real well,” he told me on Tuesday during an interview for an upcoming SYNC and KUAR FM 89.1 story.

Here’s more on his progress:

I’m working out with the team, but I can’t do any of the contact stuff. I can do the shooting drills, dribbling drills and I’m working out every day with my two trainers – coach [John] Barron, a fantastic weight coach and Michael Switlik. He’s doing amazing too. We’re doing rehab everyday and just trying to get full range of motion back and just get my shoulder strong and ready for the season.”

The trainers estimate he won’t be ready for contact drills and scrimmaging for another two months, he added.

Pitting SEC States Against Each Other in the Olympics

Pole vaulter Earl Bell is in the middle of any debate on Arkansas’ most accomplished Olympian.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/BENJAMIN KRAIN 7.10.00

 In Southeastern Conference territory, competition is a way of life. Year after year, SEC sports programs spew jetstreams of cash to beat each other on and off the field. Stadia, facilities, coaches’ salaries, TV contracts just keep getting bigger and better. There’s really no choice. Snazzy helicopters, after all, can only do so much to lure the big-time recruits which make college sports’ premier conference go round.

With the Summer Olympics opening ceremony this Friday, though, now is a good time to figure out which SEC state is top dog in terms of all-around athletic talent. For this exercise, we’ll tear down institutional walls which divide states. No Auburn/Alabama or MSU/Ole Miss delineations here. We only care about state borders, and the  Olympians who grew up between them.

With this in mind, it turns out the biggest states have produced the most gold medalists at all modern summer Olympic Games since 1896. Not a surprise.

It gets interesting, however, when examining the numbers on a per capita basis:

Breaking Down SEC states’ # of Gold Medalists Per Capita

Rank

State

# of Gold Medalists

2010 Population

# People per Gold Medalist

Most Impressive Olympians?

1 Mississippi 22 2.97 million 135,000 Calvin Smith, Ralph Boston
2 Missouri 31 5.99 million 193,226 Henry Iba, Helen Stephens
3 Arkansas 14 2.92 million 208,571 Earl Bell, Scottie Pippen
4 Louisiana 21 4.53 million 215,714 Rod Milburn, Karl Malone
5 Kentucky 16 4.34 million 271,250 Muhammad Ali, Mary Meagher
6 Alabama 17 4.7 million 276,471 Harvey Glance, Jennifer Chandler
7 Georgia 35 9.69 million 276,857 Gwen Torrence, Angelo Taylor
8 Texas 72 25.15 million 349,306 Babe Zaharias, Michael Johnson
9 South Carolina 12 4.63 million 385,833 Joe Frazier, Katrina McClain
10 Florida `43 18.80 million 437,209 Bob Hayes, Rowdy Gaines
11 Tennessee 11 6.35 million 577,273 Wilma Rudolph, Tracy Caulkins

Continue reading Pitting SEC States Against Each Other in the Olympics

Who are the Best Running Backs in Arkansas History?

The good folks at Arkansas Sports 360 recently published my piece about the 10 best running backs in Arkansas history. There are a few no-brainers –  Darren McFadden, Basil Shabazz, DeAngelo Williams, Michael Dyer, Jerry Eckwood – but rounding out the list was tough. I settled on Cedric Cobbs, Jim Pace, Bruce Fullerton, Peyton Hillis and Jonathan Adams.

This meant I had to leave leave out all-timers like  Bobby Mitchell, Madre Hill, Dennis Johnson and Cedric Houston. If the focus is limited to high school careers, then guys like Keniko Logan, James Rouse, Broderick Green, Dederick Poole, Derek Lawson and Marcus Godfrey must be considered.

I want your input. If the Top 10 were expanded a Top 12, who then most deserves to make the cut?

Remember, we can only consider those players who played high school ball in Arkansas. Naturally, when many people think of great “Arkansas” running backs, they equate that to great “Razorback” running backs. In that case, I would say the best three Hog running backs from out of state are:

Ben Cowins [St. Louis, Miss.]
[1975-78]
[6-0, 192 pounds]

On the field, the hard-nosed Cowins was just about as steady as they came. Year in, year out, he was good for at least 1,000 yards – till at last he was the most prolific rusher in UA history. Today, his 3,570 career yards trail only McFadden.

Felix Jones [Tulsa, Okla.]
[2005-07]
[5-10, 210 pounds]

The lightning to D-Mac’s thunder, Jones’ most impressive ability was his balance and elusiveness. In 2007, he knocked out nearly nine yards a carry – in the SEC. Like “Felix the Cat” himself, that mark will be hard to topple.

Dickey Morton [Dallas, Texas]
[1971-73]
[5-10, 160 pounds]

Before Jones set the new Razorback standard for short and quick, it belonged to Morton. The Texan spurned the Aggies and Longhorns to join Arkansas, a move that paid dividends when the scatback was featured in Frank Broyles’ I-formation as a senior. He responded with a season that ranks as the sixth-best in school history, highlighted by a 200-yard half against Baylor.

Where Darren McFadden, Joe Johnson are the Best in the NFL, NBA

Now, yet another reason to love him.

They share more than Little Rock as a birthplace and Fayetteville as a college destination. They share more than playing for pro teams that use primarily black uniforms. Darren McFadden and Joe Johnson have both staked out turf on top of their respective leagues, not yet in the way they want to – with champagne, commemorative T-shirts and glittering gold – but by leading their leagues in key statistical categories.

To wit, ya’ll:

1) Over the NFL’s last three years, no running back churns out more butter per pass route than D-Mac. That is, McFadden has averaged the league’s most receiving yards per route he runs – whether the ball is thrown to him or not. Here’s the breakdown, per Pro Football Focus:

Rank Player Current Team Rec. Routes YPRR
1 Darren McFadden OAK 906 436 2.08
2 Darren Sproles NO 1924 931 2.07
3 Pierre Thomas NO 1093 537 2.04
4 Arian Foster HOU 1371 724 1.89
5 Ryan Mathews SD 594 314 1.89

This surprising stat is partially explained by Levi Damien, writer for the Raiders blog Silver and Black Pride:

McFadden’s numbers depended on “having a quarterback who is more likely to throw to a running back running a route. The Raiders had Jason Campbell behind center for a season and a half and he was well known for his penchant for check downs. That is a strong reason why both McFadden and Bush were on the list for best YPRR. Over 500 of McFadden’s 906 receiving yards came in 2010 alone when Campbell was the starter.” The blog’s author, however, believes while new Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer is more of a drop-back threat the Raiders will still employ plenty of running back routes to keep these players’ YPRR high.

Continue reading Where Darren McFadden, Joe Johnson are the Best in the NFL, NBA

Razorback football integration, Arkansas sports broadcasting to be discussed in Fayetteville

Massive props to the NWA folks for organizing this upcoming panel discussion on the desegregation of Arkansas football and the history of Arkansas sports broadcasting:

After members of the Washington County Historical Society stumbled upon historic photographs
of Razorback stadium hidden away at Headquarters House, one of Fayetteville’s oldest
buildings, the Society determined to share these pictures with the public by donating them to
Special Collections at the University of Arkansas Library. To celebrate the donation, the Society
will host an evening of Razorback sports history at the UA Library on July 23.

Nate Allen, the distinguished chronicler of all things Razorback, will lead a panel discussion of
the desegregation of Arkansas football, focusing on the African Americans recruited in 1973 and
1974 to a then barely integrated team. Allen has invited three of these pioneers—Brison Manor,
Johnnie Meadors, and Dennis “Dirt” Winston, as well as longtime UA trainer Dean Weber—
to join him in reflecting on their lives and times as Razorbacks, the enduring impact of black
players on race relations in Arkansas, and Arkansas’s impact on them.

Brison Manor is a 2012 Razorbacks Sports Hall of Honor inductee and 1973-74 Razorbacks
defensive tackle. Subsequently an NFL star, he played in the Super Bowl with the Denver
Broncos. Johnnie Meadors was a Razorback defensive end between 1973 and 1976 and All-
Southwest Conference for the 1975 SWC/Cotton Bowl championship team. Dennis Winston, a
1973-76 Razorback linebacker, played for two Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl teams. He is one
of ten Razorback greats being inducted into the UA Sports Hall of Fame this August. Nate Allen
has covered Razorback sports since 1973, including a 14-year stint at the Arkansas Gazette. His
column appears in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and other Arkansas newspapers.

Continue reading Razorback football integration, Arkansas sports broadcasting to be discussed in Fayetteville

Steve Nash helps Los Angeles Lakers contend for title of most stacked starting lineup in NBA history

Air Mikkelson?

LeBron-Wade-Bosh. Paul-KG-Ray. Kobe-Shaq-Malone-Payton. Hakeem-Pippen-Charles.

So-called NBA super teams are far from new. If anything, they’re in danger of veering into the ho-hum. Every couple summers, such a talent core is cobbled together and the pundits have a field day discussing the possibility of a looming dynasty. As October rolls around, discussion of a run at the ‘96 Bulls’ NBA record of 72 wins in a season ensues. This happens every time. Given such cyclical predictability, is two-time MVP Steve Nash’s arrival in Los Angeles really all that special?

Actually, yes.

The reason? Start with Udonis Haslem, Kendrick Perkins, Devean George and Cuttino Mobley. And, for previous superteams, recall Kurt Rambis, Marc Iavaroni and Wali Jones.   For almost every team that has tried to put together a starting five for the ages, there has been some “glue guy” speedbump to potential era-bestriding superiority. Plenty teams have put out three or four All-Star starters but one of their teammates, the one known for unselfishness, or effort, or defense – anything but mad game built on skill – inevitably screws up his team’s shot at unfathomable sweetness.

Well, the days of a Rick Fox or Byron Scott in the starting lineup are over in the City of Angels. Steve Nash is coming to join four bonafine All-Star caliber players, giving the 2012-13 Lakers some serious elbow room at the table of contenders for the title of most accomplished starting lineup in league history.

Here are top candidates:

Continue reading Steve Nash helps Los Angeles Lakers contend for title of most stacked starting lineup in NBA history