Hunter Henry Q & A About Recruiting Process

Hunter Henry is committed to Arkansas, but still likes Alabama. Courtesy: Arkansas Life
Hunter Henry is committed to Arkansas, but still likes Alabama. Courtesy: Arkansas Life

Imagine you’re a teen. You’ve just come home from your first date ever, and sitting there waiting with plenty questions about your night is dear, old dad.
Mildly embarrassing, totally understandable. Naturally, you expect the scrutiny to wane over time.

Except that it doesn’t. After the next date, dear, old uncle waits beside dad. The time after that, you also find the guy from KATV is interested in where you ate dinner. And every time after that, it seems more media join the growing scrum.

Surreal, right?

A select group of high school football players actually aspire to something like this every February. For the best of the best, National Signing Day (Feb. 6) is a reward for years of summer camps, college campus visits and a courtship that includes Facebooking, texting and talking to coaches from around the nation. It’s also a culmination of the intense media spotlight they’ve  been under for months –  the day when our favorite sport’s stars of tomorrow make their final college choice public by signing a letter of intent, leaving all other wooers at the doorstep.

Imagine if every high school senior stood in front of her classmates and local media to announce both where she would be going to college and who was taking her to prom.
Nerve-wracking scenario, right?

A select group of high school football players strive to go through a similar rigamarole every February. For the best of the best, National Signing Day (Feb. 6) is a culmination of years of summer camps, college campus visits and a courtship that includes Facebooking, texting and talking to coaches from around the nation. It’s the day when our favorite sport’s stars of tomorrow make their final college choice public by signing a letter of intent, leaving all other wooers at the doorstep.

In Arkansas, many eyes will be on Hunter Henry, senior at Little Rock’s Pulaski Academy. Will this elite tight end – ranked as the nation’s best at that position by some outlets – choose the Razorbacks, to which he made a non-binding oral commitment last summer?

This would make sense, considering his father played center for the Razorbacks (and is now an associate pastor at Fellowship Bible Church), and his grandfather was an Arkansas basketball player.

But Henry’s still open to other schools. He insists his recruiting process is far from over. Here’s a look into that process, and the ups and downs  it brings:

Q: You’ve been committed to Arkansas since last summer, but are still considering other schools like Alabama. Give me a sense of what you’ve been going through.

A: The recruiting process can be hard. It’s a blessing, but at the same time I don’t think people realize how hard it really is just because it’s so stressful and you’re trying to pick a place that is going to affect the rest of your life. You’re going to so many different schools and they’re all so amazing … you build relationships with so many people – just really good, strong relationships, talking all the time and it’s kind of hard to say ‘no’ to some people.

Q. You’ve spoken a few times to Arkansas’ head coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. What do you expect your role to be on offense once you start getting major minutes?

A: I really don’t know. I’m not there, so I got to get on campus. Nothing’s given to me. I’m going to have to work for everything I get and I know that. I’m working extremely hard right now, and I’m just going to continue to work hard… whereever it is that I go, I just want to be a great tight end and a great person.

Q: You grew up in Atlanta in a family that bleeds Razorback red. Once you started seriously considering which college to attend, was it difficult to put aside your Hog fandom to make a clear-headed choice about what’s best for you?

A: It was. I would lie to you if I said it didn’t. It was hard sometimes, but I did really good at clearing my mind. You know, it’s a whole lot easier once you get into the process and you go to other places and you talk to other coaches, when you get out there and see what else is out there. I think that helps a lot and it opened up things just because I want to choose the place where I should be and the right place for me.

Continue reading Hunter Henry Q & A About Recruiting Process

Hendrix College Football Returns

Assistant head coach Johnny Burnett (left) and head coach Justin "Buck" Buchanan are leading the only Division III college football program in Arkansas. Courtesy: Sync
Assistant head coach Johnny Burnett (left) and head coach Justin “Buck” Buchanan are leading the only Division III college football program in Arkansas. Courtesy: Sync

On the whole, college football programs don’t scale down. Why would they? As their schools’ student populations grow year after year, the lists of potential alumni donors only get longer. And in the arms race that is Division I – and increasingly Division II – football, there are always more stadium seats to build and fill.

Hendrix College, meanwhile, is bucking the trend. Early in the 20th century, it had a 5,000-person stadium and played the likes of the University of Arkansas and Ole Miss with players who didn’t receive athletic scholarships or stipends. The state’s biggest schools, however, subsidized their players. And those players starting pulverizing Hendrix’s smaller players, which ultimately caused the program to fold in 1960.

Cue an ace-bandaged hand bursting through cemetery ground, slowly grasping at air.

After a 53-year long hiatus, football again lives on Hendrix’s Conway campus. It won’t, however, be the same caliber of ball your dad’s dad wrote home about. This iteration has the Warriors playing as Arkansas’ only football member of Division III, reserved for the NCAA’s smallest schools, in a new 1,500 stadium. Head Coach Buck Buchanan aims to fill 65 roster spots by a  September 7th season opener against Westminster College (Missouri). By 2017, he hopes to have more than 100 players  – all, of course, men. This is a major reason Hendrix is resurrecting football: In recent decades, the female-male ratio at liberal colleges nationwide has tilted in favor of women, and football helps straighten that imbalance.

Per NCAA rules for all DIII athletes, Hendrix football player won’t receive athletic scholarships.

Unlike in the 1950s, the private school’s leaders think this time around the lack of subsidies actually helps the program. “It’s not gonna be the Arkansas Razorbacks, or really the University of Central Arkansas,” says athletic director Amy Weaver. “That’s not really what we’re about. Division III lends itself to the true student-athlete. These guys are playing because they love to play the game not because they’re getting paid to play.”

  This article originally ran in Arkansas Life magazine as part of a “Twenty To Watch” feature in the January, 2013 issue.

As Archie Goodwin Plays Poorly; Big Blue Nation’s Face Gets Even Bluer

Little Rock native Archie Goodwin, two-time Arkansas high school player of the year and projected lottery pick, isn’t playing so well during his season of pro apprenticeship at Kentucky.

Indeed, last night he likely had the worst game of his career to date, shooting 2 for 12 for 7 points while turning it over three times. By the time the dust cleared, Kentucky had lost to Alabama 59-55 on Tuesday night and the 18-year-old, unfairly or not, received much of the blame as Big Blue Nation turned red-faced.

Below is the ugly underbelly of all the attention and celebrity afforded the modern high profile college athlete.  You’ll find a few messages of support among enough flak to down a Stealth Bomber:

  1. Why didn’t Archie just straight up tell Cal at the recruitment meeting that his last name was an ironic joke? #goodwin #psh

  2. Archie Goodwin is like Russell Westbrook on his bad day if you blind folded him as well.

  3. I hear that when Archie Goodwin is asked to sign a basketball he keeps it for himself… That’s a lie… Who would ask him to sign anything?

  4. Been sayin it RT @KySportsRadio: Archie Goodwin has Tourette’s and a vagina.

  5. It’s official, Archie Goodwin is my least favorite UK player ever. That honor was previously held by Saul Smith.

  6. Archie Goodwin is a very good player. He goes to the rim strong, but, finishes weak sometimes. Once he learns to stay strong…wow. #BBN

Razorbacks & St. Louis Hawks In Blytheville: The Deleted Scenes

Did you know that in 1960 Hog basketball players faced off against Ole Miss in – of all places – Blytheville, Arkansas?

And that through this game at least three firsts were accomplished?

Courtesy Jerry Carlton
Courtesy Jerry Carlton

1) only UA played in northeast Arkansas, 2) only time Hogs employed a river ferry to reach a game and 3) likely only time Hogs played in an Arkansas county (Mississippi County) that shared a name with the university it was competing against.

I wrote in detail about this 1960 game and why Blytheville was chosen for it in this Sporting Life Arkansas article, but I wasn’t able to fit in the game report and box score to the right. As you can see, Arkansas handled Ole Miss that December evening, a far cry from the Hogs’ recent ineptitude in the series.

Another fascinating tangent of this story involves an NBA exhibition game that was played in Blytheville, Arkansas in 1958. I had always assumed the first NBA preseason games were played at North Little Rock’s Alltel Arena in the early 2000s. How pitifully wrong I was.

The NBA champion St. Louis Hawks played the Philadelphia Warriors at Blytheville High School gym (which sat 3,200 people) on October 8, 1958.

Yes, the world champions of basketball – with all-timers like Bob Pettit and Slater Martin – played in a Arkansas high school gym. That place must really have been the “Taj Mahal” of gyms from Memphis to St. Louis, as the one Blytheville longtime resident termed it.

If you don’t believe me, check out this game program on eBay. (unfortunately, I cannot find the result of the game, so please tell me if you know it)

By the way, this particular eBay seller has some very interesting items for the Mid South sports fan. Here are two of my favorites:

This just wasn’t a very good idea.

:

Souvenir Program

Has An Arkansas David Ever Toppled a National Goliath in Prep Basketball?

Gregg Easter and the Hall Warriors couldn't take down Goliath last night. There's certainly historic precedent.
Gregg Easter and the Hall Warriors couldn’t take down Goliath last night. There’s certainly historic precedent. Courtesy: Tom Harden

Little Rock’s Hall High fell to the nation’s No. 1-ranked high school team last night 60-45, which got me thinking how many other Arkansas basketball teams have actually had a shot at the national top dog before.

Most previous occurrences happened in the 1980s at Pine Bluff’s King Cotton Classic, which was the nation’s  top prep basketball tournament in the winter. Indeed, ESPN’s first televised regular-season high school game was the 1987 King Cotton title game. The following articles are from the Arkansas Gazette.

1. Jan. 5, 1986

 PINE BLUFF _ Flint Hill of Oakton, Va., really made sure pesky Pine Bluff wouldn’t stage their third upset comeback in the King Cotton Classic. The result: Flint Hill by 21-0 with 2:31 left in the first period. By the time it was officially over, the high-flying Falcons had disposed of the Zebras by 91-60 to wear the new King Cotton crown. Flint Hill, now 10-0, came with no intention other than to blow the Zebras away before a crowd of 4,700. The Zebras were no match. Using a killing full-court press, Flint Hill made mincemeat of the Zebras. The Falcons did it all and Pine Bluff destructed.

Pine Bluff committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter, and the Falcons turned most of them into layups. Sam Jefferson, the Falcon’s 6-10 center, established the inside domination by scoring the first five points. Pine Bluff’s Michael Mc Cray, who ignited the Zebras’ late comebacks, picked up three fouls with 4:44 left in the first period. The crowd cheered when sophomore Andra Sims scored on a layup at 2:17 and booed at 3:46 when Robert Pearson’s would-be basket was disallowed on a charging foul. Flint Hill led by 27-8 after the first eight minutes by 46-25 at the half and by 66-43 entering the final period. Dennis Scott, a multi-talented 6-6 junior, who was named tourney’s Most Valuable Player, finished with a game-high 28 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Jefferson had 15, Richard Berry 12 and Brian Domalik 10. Domalik, a 6-0 point guard, also had eight assists and five steals. Pine Bluff, 5-5, was led by Sims’ 23 points and seven rebounds. Officials announced after the game that the Falcons would return to defend their crown.

Continue reading Has An Arkansas David Ever Toppled a National Goliath in Prep Basketball?

Comparing Nolan Richardson/Mike Anderson with Other Legendary Mentor-Protege Successions in College Basketball

The Nolan Richardson/Mike Anderson dynamic is a fascinating one to watch.

No matter how much Anderson and his former mentor insist that it’s not all about how Mike’s best Hog teams stack up to Nolan’s best Hog teams, we all know it’s very much about that. There are massive expectations at play here, as there would be at any program that has been to the mountaintop in the last 20 years.

You got to give Nolan credit, though. He’s able to diffuse the fan base’s  aggravation over the Hogs’ continuing road woes with his sense of humor, as he did Monday at The Downtown Tip Off Club in North Little Rock:

A lot of people think that [Anderson] ought to be me. Hell, please don’t be me.  Hell, I may be the ugliest guy in the United States of America … I wanted my [players] to be ugly. I wanted us to play ugly. The only thing I wanted pretty was my wife. My kids were ugly. It didn’t matter.”

Still, this got me to thinking what other former proteges (players or coaches) have had the task of fulfilling their mentors’ shoes at the same program where that mentor was a legend.

The qualifier for “legend”  status here is to have won a national championship at the NCAA Tournament:

Oklahoma State

Legend

Hank Iba (1934-1970)

National Titles: 1945, 46

Overall winning 67.4%; Conference 62.8%

Successor

Eddie Sutton (OSU player 1956-58; OSU assistant 1958-59)

Head Coach (1990-2006)

Deepest Tourney Postseason Run as HC: 1995 & 2004 NCAA Final Fours

Overall winning 70.9%; Conference 63%

Marquette

Legend

Al McGuire (1964-77)

National Title: 1977

Overall winning 78.7%; Conference NA as Marquette was an independent)

Successors

Hank Raymonds – MU assistant (1961-77)

Head Coach (1977-83)

Deepest Tourney Postseason Run as HC: 1979 NCAA Sweet Sixteen

Overall winning 71.6%; Conference NA as Marquette was an independent

Rick Majerus – MU player (1967-68); MU assistant (1971-83)

Head Coach (1983-86)

Deepest Tourney Postseason Run as HC: 1985 NIT Third Round

Overall winning 61.5%; Conference NA as Marquette was an independent

Continue reading Comparing Nolan Richardson/Mike Anderson with Other Legendary Mentor-Protege Successions in College Basketball

Of Spandex & Horribly Awkward Moments Among Moaning Poles

Kielbasa Alert
Kielbasa Alert

Stay at home dad/freelance writer I am, I have my morning ritual.

Scoop 5-month old baby Eden from her crib around 7:30, shuffle into the living room, descend into Lazy Boy and dutifully insert bottle in mouth. Most days, I browse the paper’s sports section as I rouse from my pre-coffee sleepiness.

This morning, though, I flipped through the most recent issue of SYNC, a central Arkansas weekly.

Good call, me.

At the bottom  of page nine, I found one of the finest pieces of cross-cultural absurdist sports writing by an Arkansan I’ve ever read . In guest columnist Will Hehemann’s vignette on his experience weightlifting in Poland, I believe I have found the love child of a Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad and the screenplay of Freak and Geeks.

It is not the cutest baby you have ever seen. But you should try cuddling it anyway:

Tension in the workout room

By Will Hehemann

It’s difficult to execute a proper preacher curl while I’m sitting next to a marble-cut behemoth who moans every time he completes a repetition on the tricep machine. And though male moaning is likely an egotistical trait expressed by male gym members worldwide, I wonder where the regular people work out in Poland.

The bulk of the clientele at the gyms I have visited while living in Gdansk is composed of hard-bodied beasts with tan skin. Most of the men boast shaved heads, strong upper bodies and proud Polish beer guts — they look like tough gorillas. The women wear sports bras that reveal their toned tummies and the gorillas can’t keep their eyes off them. It’s crowded in this stuffy little gym, and I’m pretty sure they have the heat on.

My soft body and idiotic gym style (yellow Converse and Millennium Falcon shirt) didn’t stick out too much at 10 Fitness back in Conway. There, people of every possible chassis and dimension came as they were to work out and feel proud they made the effort, with little care as to which shirt they were wearing — Tasmanian Devil or Tweety Bird. But here, it’s a full-on Spandex show and I look like an idiot for not showcasing my butt in tight gym pants like everyone else.

Continue reading Of Spandex & Horribly Awkward Moments Among Moaning Poles

All-American linebacker Martrell Spaight Updaight

Hear what this future Hog and one-time Raven quoth.
Hear what this future Hog and one-time Raven quoth.

 

If the Arkansas Razorbacks show substantial improvement on defense in the first couple years of the Bielema era, Martrell Spaight may very well be a key part of the equation.  A two-time junior college All-American linebacker, Spaight flipped to Arkansas in December after committing to Kansas State. The Razorbacks hadn’t shown interest in the North Little rock native until the early December arrival of Bret Bielema. Bielema quickly targeted Spaight and visited him.

“I could tell he was a great coach and I could see him doing big things at the University of Arkansas,” Spaight recalled. “I bought into everything he said and told myself ‘Hey, this is what you want. This is your dream.'” Spaight ultimately chose Arkansas after receiving interest from other major programs like South Carolina, Rutgers, West Virginia and Miami.

“To be honest, I never thought I’d get to this point in my life where I thought I’d be able to choose [from] these different schools. It’s been a fortunate blessing.” He said he expects to arrive at the Fayetteville campus this spring, after first completing a  math class requirement. He plans to soon attend a month-long class at the Arkansas Baptist College in downtown Little Rock.

The 6-0, 225 pound human torpedo was a first-team All-American in each of his two seasons at Kansas’ Coffeyville Community College:

This past season as a sophomore, Spaight was named Jayhawk Conference Defensive Player of the Year by league coaches and was a first team All-Conference honoree. In nine games, Spaight recorded 130 tackles, good for fourth on the school’s all-time list. Spaight also had 13.5 tackles for loss for 33 yards, 1.5 sacks, three pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.  

As a freshman in 2011, Spaight was a first team selection to the NJCAA All-American team. Spaight recorded 101 tackles, nine tackles for loss for 22 yards, 1.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Spaight was also named first team All-Jayhawk Conference in 2011. 

A couple more notes from Wednesday’s interview:

– Martrell wasn’t familiar with Randy Shannon before it was announced the longtime Hurricane would be Arkansas’ linebackers coach. That has changed. Shannon visited Spaight and told him about his extensive coaching experience, especially his background coaching outstanding defensive players at the University of Miami. “He was telling me about when he coached Ray Lewis. It was just mind-blowing,” Spaight said. “I believe he’s gonna get us to be very great, and I really enjoy that.”

– Martrell’s considering majoring in business. He already has a small business background because his family runs Feastros, an American style restaurant in Sherwood. Maybe, he adds, he’ll open up a restaurant of his own one day.

 

 

 

Joe Johnson, Jannero Pargo At Top of NBA.com’s Best 10 Crossovers of 2012

H/t to NetsDaily.com
H/t to NetsDaily.com

Former Razorbacks Joe Johnson and Jannero Pargo  finished near the top of the NBA.com’s  Top 10 Crossovers of 2012.

The good friends and one-time teammates at Arkansas and with the Atlanta Hawks find themselves together again, this time for better (in Johnson’s case) and worse (in Pargo’s).

Johnson’s play last month against Boston’s Paul Pierce was selected for the top spot, and will likely go down as the signature highlight of his career. It’s unlike any crossover  before it, like a cobra playing with mongoose on a Twister board.

Johnson Pierce GIF

Pargo shows up at #3, and unfortunately for the 10-year NBA veteran he doesn’t look very good. Orlando’s Jameer Nelson puts Pargo on skates and sends him tumbling nearly out of the frame before rising for a three-pointer (small consolation for the family: Pargo’s brother Jeremy is on the good side of things in clip #4).

I’m sure if Johnson finds out about these rankings, he’ll give Jannero some good-natured ribbing about it.

I doubt Pargo will mind. He seemed like a cool, laid-back cat when I met him last summer at the Clinton Presidential Center before the Hoop Jams fundraiser tournament in Little Rock.

Afterward, I visited Johnson in his high-rise downtown Little Rock apartment to interview him for this SLAM article. I wasn’t too surprised when I found Pargo, along with a couple other of Johnson’s friends, playing NBA Live on Playstation 3. What surprised me, as I recall, is that Pargo was playing as the Atlanta Hawks against the Chicago Bulls, but he didn’t choose to play as himself but instead as Joe Johnson.

Which, I suppose, is a crossover of the metaphysical sort.

Did an Arkansas High Schooler Just Unleash The Best Dunk in the History of the Mid South?

What’s the best in-game dunk in the history of the mid South?

That’s not the exact question I addressed in my most recent Sporting Life Arkansas piece, but it’s one I’ve been pondering all day. We know Memphis has produced some seriously athletic prep and college ballers – Adonis Thomas, Anfernee Hardway, Derrick Rose and even Amare Stoudemire (who briefly attended a Memphis high school and would have attended the U of Memphis had he not jumped to the NBA) jump to mind.

As a high schooler, Shaquille O’Neal assaulted numerous rims in San Antonio before doing his thing at LSU. And Blake Griffin practiced his aerial arts in Oklahoma before landing in Los Angeles.

In the mid-South’s NBA landscape, we have elite dunkers like Memphis’ Rudy Gay and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.

But I don’t think ANY of the above players – while living in the mid South – have ever unleashed something  as mind-boggling as what an Arkansas high schooler did last Monday. Compared to what you’re about to see from this Nettleton High sophomore, Clyde Drexler’s most vicious dunk looks like Mother Teresa tending a sick lamb.

If you haven’t already seen it on one of 2,000 other blogs, here and here are the best two angles of Victor Duke’s magnum oh!-phlush.

As I mention in the SLA piece, I think this may end up being the dunk of the year – anywhere, any level. And if anybody has done something more spectacular in the mid South, please for the love of Phi Slamma Jamma send it my way. I have to see it.

One SLA reader said an ASU player once pulled off a better dunk back in the early ’90s; I pray in the name of Chocolate Thunder video of it can be found.