Is Mike Anderson On Track To Fulfill Potential as Nolan’s Heir Apparent? Part 2

Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.
Will Anderson become a giant in his own right? Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.

Modern society promotes instant results, and the impression they are always possible no matter the field. This mirage causes much stress in the world of college coaches, where in order for most new hires to build winning programs, a number of foundational changes must first be made – from making sure the players attend class and do their own tests, to recruiting guys who fit a particular style of play, to convincing a  super-talented player it’s worth staying for a sophomore or junior season before bolting to the NBA.

Waiting for all these changes can especially be tough on fans of a program that has already been to the promised land. Especially when the coach who led the program there has an heir apparent who takes over for him. Everybody hopes – against reason – the successor will equal or surpass the mentor.

For the sake of perspective in these situations, it’s good to compare actual season-by-season results. In Part 1, we looked at how Mike Anderson’s first two seasons at Arkansas stacked up against his mentor Nolan Richardson’s first two seasons there. So far, Anderson comes out ahead.

How does this combo compare to other “legend-successor” duos around the nation? I’m especially interested in programs which, like Arkansas, have only won one or two titles. I’ve thrown the UCLAs, Kentuckys and Dukes out because those programs are quite frankly at another level in terms of branding and ability to recruit.

Below are the programs I consider most similar to Arkansas in terms of prestige. We’ll start with a legend-successor duo involving Eddie Sutton, the coach who preceded Nolan Richardson at Arkansas. If Sutton hadn’t left Arkansas for Kentucky in 1985, Richardson and Anderson likely never coach the Razorbacks. We’ll also see that Anderson’s first two seasons stack up well against Tom Izzo’s head coaching start at Michigan State.

Izzo is the only coaching disciple in the list who has actually outperformed his mentor.

Oklahoma State

LEGEND

Hank Iba (1934-1970)

1934-35: 9-9

1935-36: 16-8

SUCCESSOR

Eddie Sutton (player 1955-57; assistant 1957-58; head coach 1990-2006)

1990-91: 24-8, 10-4; Lost in NCAA tourney 3rd round

SRS*: 21.18

1992-93: 28-8 (overall season record), 8-6 (conference record)

SRS: 21.52; Lost in NCAA tourney 3rd round

* Simple Rating System – a rating from sports-reference.com that takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule. The higher the number, the better the team.

Continue reading Is Mike Anderson On Track To Fulfill Potential as Nolan’s Heir Apparent? Part 2

Is Mike Anderson On Track To Fulfill His Potential As Nolan Richardson’s Heir Apparent? Part 1

 

In the end, only the head coach will be blamed.

Yes, this season, guard  B.J. Young at times resembled an over-caffeinated rickshaw driver careening into dense traffic without the slightest intention of bringing anyone aboard. Sure, last offseason the accuracy of Mardracus Wade’s three-point shot apparently learned how to ski downhill. And yes, Marshawn Powell at times mightily struggled with free throw shooting. Especially in the 7-15 clunker he threw up two weeks ago in a 72-75 loss to Vanderbilt.

It was the Hogs’ fifth consecutive opening game game loss in the SEC Tournament, marking the fifth consecutive year Arkansas missed out on the NCAA Tournament and the 16th straight season without an NIT Tournament berth.

It no longer matters how Arkansas entered this pit of gloom. All fans want to know is how quickly the program will get out of it. And, more importantly, how quickly the program will get back to the top.

Three years from now, fans won’t get hung up on any one player’s lack of court vision or another player’s season of erratic shooting. The fans won’t even care if the Hogs win a few more games in the SEC Tournament and annually start playing in a round or two of an NCAA Tournament.

They will be looking at the big picture.

In 17 years as an assistant under Nolan Richardson, Mike Anderson learned how to build programs that could consistently beat the nation’s best teams – on any court. He learned what kind of talent and basketball IQ is necessary to build a program that can make three Final Fours, what kind of cold-blooded killer instinct it takes to win a title.

How well Anderson applies these lessons and how close he gets to achieving the benchmarks of success that Richardson set will ultimately determine Anderson’s legacy. Will he always be seen as Richardson’s chief lieutenant/heir apparent, or will he be seen as a giant in his own right?

Continue reading Is Mike Anderson On Track To Fulfill His Potential As Nolan Richardson’s Heir Apparent? Part 1

Who’s More Popular? Brittney Griner & Skylar Diggins Vs. Cody Zeller, Trey Burke, Shabazz Muhammad et al

It’s often argued even the greatest female basketball players could not come close to seriously challenging NBA players in a one-on-one game. And that, somehow, this axiom will always limit the mass appeal of the women’s game. Plenty people respect the games of great players like Chamique Holdsclaw and Elena Delle-Donne. But at some level I believe there must also be a sense of genuine awe for their game to truly catch on.

Brittney Griner comes closer to flat-out awing me than any female I have ever watched.  Sometimes, when I watch her, I forget thinking about how she would stack up against men and just appreciate her historic dominance against women. The Baylor senior is 6-8 with an 88-inch wingspan and some serious agility – measurables that would be good for even an NBA player. She has matched all that with an underrated court awareness, passing ability and a diverse shot repertoire  to become our generation’s version of Lew Alcindor.

For all the marks she has already set – she’s the second leading scorer in NCAA history and its top shotblocker – I believe her most socially significant will occur this March and April. It appears Griner, along with Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins, will become the first women to be more popular than their male counterparts during their respective NCAA tournament runs.

Slate’s Stephen Fatsis recently mentioned this as a function of a) interest in Griner and Diggins on a scale never seen before for female players and b) a field of college male players who haven’t yet made their mark on the mass public consciousness.

There is no superlative talent or personality yet make a defining mark on this college season – no Anthony Davis, or Kemba Walker or Blake Griffin. This is partly because there was no juggernaut program this season, and the closest to it – Gonzaga – is relatively isolated from the rest of the nation because of its location (east Washington state) and conference (West Coast).

Still, there are some players who have already been hyped as the nation’s lovable alpha dog (remember all those season preview magazine covers featuring Cody Zeller?) or will be soon if they break out during the tournament (Doug McDermott, who stars for darkhorse Wichita State, is a prime candidate).

So I thought it would be interesting to measure how some of the top male players stack up against Griner and Diggins in terms of popularity. My metrics are admittedly crude – Google mentions (i.e. how many results appear when the person’s name is Googled) and popularity on the two largest social media sites.

But I hope these numbers at least indicate the women’s game has turned a significant cultural corner:

Skylar Diggins

Google mentions: 467,000

Twitter: 311,538 followers

Facebook 60,440 likes (this is a fan page; Diggins’ real FB page appears to be private)

Brittney Griner

Google mentions: 794,000

Twitter: 9,579 followers

FB: 9,335 Likes

Cody Zeller

Google mentions: 646,000

Twitter: 54,528 followers

FB: 12,138 Likes

Continue reading Who’s More Popular? Brittney Griner & Skylar Diggins Vs. Cody Zeller, Trey Burke, Shabazz Muhammad et al

Exclusive Q & A with Stacy Lewis, youngest inductee in Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame history

Lewis, front and second to the left, is the hottest name in women's golf.
Lewis, front and second to the left, is the hottest name in women’s golf. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The following is my mini profile of golfer Stacy Lewis, a former Razorback All-American who this weekend was ranked No. 1 in the world.  Beneath, I’ve attached some previously unpublished questions and answers in which she discusses more of her Arkansas connection:

  Before daring to imagine a pro career, golfer Stacy Lewis simply focused on getting through her first year at the University of Arkansas. She’d already battled scoliosis through her teen years in Texas. In public, she wore a back brace under her clothes.
   But the toughest test came with intense pain following a summer 2003 surgery to straighten her spine. Doctors had to deflate a lung and move organs to fit a steel rod in her back. Confined to bed for eight weeks, even getting up for the bathroom was a major ordeal for Lewis.
    In the end, all that misery bestowed a supercharged gratitude and work ethic toward the game. Lewis became better.
    Much, much better.
    As in 12-tournament-wins-in-college and 2007-NCAA-champion better.
    Those Razorback days have helped catapult her to great success in the professional world. The Golf Writers Association of America named Lewis its 2012 Player of the Year. On March 8, the 28-year-old gets her latest honor: induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
 “It is a huge honor,” Lewis wrote in an e-mail. “I never planned on playing golf past college so this type of award is a surprise and a bonus.”

[The above piece originally published in Arkansas Life magazine.]

Original Q & A

Q: You’ll be one of the youngest inductees ever to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
What went through your mind after you were notified you would be inducted?
Is this something you imagined happening this early when you were a freshman at the UA?

 A: I was surprised and excited about this award.  It is a huge honor to be recognized by the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.  When I began my collegiate career, I never planned on playing golf past college so this type of award is a surprise and a bonus.

Q: Outside of track, very few – if any – Razorback student-athletes got All-American honors all four years. With such an overall successful career, what do you consider your most satisfying moment playing golf in college? Why?

Continue reading Exclusive Q & A with Stacy Lewis, youngest inductee in Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame history

Northeastern University & UT Arlington Having Extremely Unique Seasons

If you think George Mason's run to the 2006 Final Four was amazing, you should check out what their conference partner is doing...
If you thought George Mason’s run to the 2006 Final Four was amazing, you should check out what their conference partner is doing…

On the whole, teams win more at home than on the road. Lord knows Razorback fans know this. The reasons are obvious – everything from players sleeping in their own beds to getting hype playing in front of their own Harlem Shakin’ fans.

Every now and then, a good team will have a slightly better winning better winning percentage on the road than at home. UALR, for instance, pulled this off in 2009-10 and Memphis did it in 2007-08.

Almost never, though, is a college basketball team demonstrably, unequivocally, better on the road over the course of a season. It has happened in the NFL (the 2000 New Orleans Saints were 7-1 on the road but 3-5 at home) but those are seasoned professionals at work. College kids are college kids – much less likely to be in full control of their emotions and more likely to be susceptible to the vagaries of travel and the road.

And so, it surprised me to learn that there isn’t one, but two, programs who are flipping the script this season and winning at least 16% more games on the road than at home.

The first is the University of Texas-Arlington, which is 10-5 on the road and 7-7 at home. The team has, however, lost its last two games on the road as it opens Western Athletic Conference tournament play today.

Northeastern University has had a season that could well be historic. The Colonial Athletic Association school out of Boston has won an astounding 10 of 12 games on the road – a stat which almost always accompanies a sterling home record. Except, in this case, the Huskies are 7-8 on the road (3-2 on neutral courts).

There hasn’t been a disparity like this in the last nine years of college basketball (Oh yes. I checked.)

So, any chance Northeastern could worm its way into the March Madness and go on an amazing Cinderella run, a la its conference partner George Mason in 2006? Nope. The Huskies lost to James Madison on a neutral court in Richmond, Va.

I’m sure Northeastern wishes  the conference had agreed to move the game farther northwest, to James Madison’s home arena in Harrisonburg, Va….

 

The Arkansas Activities Association Should Integrate Its Record Book

5a boys
Hall’s Evan James, center, is surrounded by teammates after making a last second basket to beat Jonesboro 32-31 in the 6A boys high school championship. It was the fourth straight title for LR Hall, a feat only accomplished by two other programs – Scipio Jones and LR Central. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

In the scope of world history, high school sports isn’t all that significant.

You could study a 1,001 more subjects which have more of an effect on our everyday lives. My wife, who works as a pediatrician, deals with more life and death matters in the course of half of a minute than I will in a lifetime of work.

So there may only be a handful of people who care that a large part of Arkansas’ high school history is kept in the dark almost every time a major record is set.

Last year, I discussed this issue in the context of career scoring records set in basketball. The essential issue was that the Arkansas Activities Association only recognizes records that were set by the white student-athletes – but not black student-athletes – who played before integration.

Before the school integration that swept through the state in the late 1960s, there were two state athletic associations – one for whites, the other for blacks. Black students ultimately joined the white students in what had been the white students’ schools, leaving the black schools – typically in worse shape – behind. The same happened with the athletic associations. If the black athletic association kept its own records (it is unclear that such records were ever kept and if they still exist), then they have long been lost.

All that remain, officially, are the records that were kept in by what had been the all-white Arkansas Athletics Association.

This became most evident on Saturday, when Little Rock Hall High won its fourth consecutive state basketball title. This is a very rare Continue reading The Arkansas Activities Association Should Integrate Its Record Book

College Basketball Programs With More Coaching Turnover Than Arkansas

This morning, I had an enjoyable interview with Grant Hall and Vernon Tarver, co-hosts of Press Row on KREB 1190 FM in Northwest Arkansas.

One of our topics was how the coaching turnover at Arkansas since Nolan Richardson’s firing in 2002 had contributed to the Hogs being the worst team on the road in the last decade despite being good enough to be the fourth-best home team. [I wrote about this subject in detail after talking to Pat Bradley for this New York Times article].

From 2002 through 2011, Arkansas had four full-time head coaches, as well as an interim head coach when Mike Anderson took over for Richardson at the end of 2002. The Hogs have had seven winning seasons since then.

Grant Hall wondered if other Division I programs had more coaching turnover than the Hogs, which led me to research the issue.

Thanks to sports-reference.com, I found out that there at least 10 programs with coaching carousel that have recently spun faster than Arkansas’:

Pepperdine – Five coaches 2005-2011 [One of these coaches, Eric Bridgeland, stepped into the the role midway through the 2007-08 season on an interim basis; no winning seasons since 2004-05].

Utah – Five coaches 2004-11 [One of these coaches, Kerry Rupp, stepped into the the role during the 2003-04 season on an interim basis; three winning seasons since 2003-04].

Southeast Missouri State – Four full-time coaches 2006-2009 [Former Arkansas assistant Scott Edgar and Little Rock native Dickey Nutt have been part of this dizzying carousel; one winning season since 2005-06]

Wyoming – Four coaches 2007-11 [One head coach, Fred Langley, served on an interim basis in 2010-11]

Texas Tech – Four coaches 2008-12 [Pat Knight took over for his father, Bobby, during the 2007-08 season; one winning season since 2007-08]

Georgia State – Four coaches 2002-2011 [Michael Perry took over for Lefty Driesell mid-season 2002-03; two winning seasons since 2002-2003]

Texas A&M – Four coaches 2004-2011, including current Arkansas assistant Melvin Watkins [had seven winning seasons since 2003-04]

Eastern Washington – Four coaches 2004-2011 [no winning seasons since 2003-04]

Princeton – Four coaches 2003-2011 [all four winning seasons since 2003-04 have come in the last four years, under two coaches]

Alcorn State – Four coaches 2003-2011 [Just a whole lot of losing seasons here, folks. That happens in the SWAC]

Of these programs, only three – Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Utah – belong to major conferences like Arkansas.

It would be interesting to compare how much player turnover there was at these programs and see if that correlates with home/road winning percentages.

Justin McCleary’s Recruiting, Dederick Lee’s Offers And Arkansas’ New Representative in the Nike EYBL

 

Justin McCleary talks to me while wearing a shirt repping the Arkansas Wings, the AAU program for which the Lee bros will play this summer.  Photo by Matt McClenahan.
Justin McCleary talks to me while wearing a shirt repping the Arkansas Wings, the AAU program for which the Lee bros will play this summer. Photo by Matt McClenahan.

Some extra tidbits from interviews for my profile of the amazing Lee brothers:

1) Jacksonville’s star senior guard Justin McCleary is considering  offers from Harding, Oauchita Baptist and a couple of junior colleges. UAPB, Henderson State, Arkansas Tech and UA-Fort Smith  are also showing interest. Looks like the Jacksonville-UCA pipeline won’t continue with J-McC.

2) Frederick Lee, the Lee brothers’ father, told me how his family ended up as likely the most dominant basketball family in NWA prep history (along with the Brewers). Out of high school, he moved from Marvell in east Arkansas to Little Rock in the early 1990s. He attended UALR, but was appalled by the violent crime – fueled by the rise of youth gangs – in the surrounding neighborhoods. “Little Rock was horrible,” he said. “I didn’t have a lot of money to stay somewhere nice, so I was right there in the middle of all that.”

When his oldest son, C.J. was born, he knew it was time to move. Lee transferred to the University of Arkansas and soon got a job selling cars in Fayetteville. Seven years ago, he moved the family to Clarksville where he runs a car dealership.

C.J. Lee, who preceded Dederick, Kenderick and Freddy as a Clarksville High basketball star, shortly attended Arkansas Baptist College but has since transferred to Arkansas Tech. He left Little Rock for the same reason his father left UALR, Frederick Lee said.

3) When Dederick Lee decomitted from the Razorbacks, a flood of scholarships offers came his way. He got offers from Southern Illinois, Creighton, Tulane, New Orleans and Missouri State but eventually chose Oral Roberts University (which had also extended offers to his brothers at the same time), Frederick Lee said.

4) The most prestigious youth basketball tournament in the summer has become the Nike Elite Youth Basketball tournament, or EYBL. In its two-year long existence, the Arkanssas Wings have been the only Arkansas team to participate in it.

This AAU program returns this summer, under the same name of the Wings 17-U squad, but in actuality the team will the Nolan Richardson Arkansas Mustangs, the AAU team which Frederick Lee created and through which he has coached his sons since their elementary school. Frederick Lee told me the Wings president Ron Crawford asked him to take the team’s reins for this summer. He knew that the way that we played would be great for the EYBL this year because he didn’t much of a team coming back.”

Lee agreed to come on as the , but only if he could bring aboard his own coaches and players.

So far, the only locks are Freddy, Darren and Kenderick Lee, Clarksville teammate Jerron Thompson, and a couple out of staters. He’ll decide who to promote from last summer’s Wings 16-U at tryouts this weekend.

Lee-ders Of The Pack: Clarksville’s Basketball Brothers

Former Hog commit Dederick Lee and his  brothers have left behind one era at Clarksville High. Could another one be around the corner? Photo by Matt McClenahan.
Former Hog commit Dederick Lee and his brothers have left behind one highly successful era at Clarksville High. Could another one be around the corner? Photo by Matt McClenahan.

One of the most unique chapters in Arkansas sports history closed Saturday night in a half full Pine Bluff Convention Center.

The three-year reign of the Lee brothers is over.

Dederick, Kenderick and Freddy Lee had won two straight 4A basketball state titles and led Clarksville High to consecutive undefeated conference records. It didn’t matter that Dederick, 18 years old, is barely six feet tall and 17-year-old Kenderick and Freddy hover around 5’6″. Or that their adopted brother, Deven Simms, plays inside at 6’3″.

These Davids have not only welcomed the challenge of battling Goliaths, but actually sought them out, slingshots in hand, Nike Air Maxes on foot.

In the last two years, Clarksville has taken on – and typically lost to –  powerhouse programs two or three classifications larger: Hall, Parkview, Jonesboro, Fayetteville and North Little Rock.

These programs are a far cry from the Panthers’ normal Class 4A competition. Or even competition in the 5A, into which Clarksville ascended this season because a recent influx of new students increased the high school’s enrollment ( many of the new students were political refugees from Myanmar).

Clarksville coach Tony Davis knew this season’s reclassification whittled his team’s chances at an unblemished record and a three-peat at the state tournament.

Still, he welcomed the challenge.  “We felt like if we would’ve stayed at 4A, we wouldn’t have been challenged. Last year, we won every game in the state tourney by 20 or more.”

On Saturday night, Jacksonville provided Clarksville with plenty of challenge in the 5A semifinals. The Red Devils, who a year ago played in 6A, beat the Panthers 52-44 to secure a spot in the finals vs. Alma this Friday at 7 p.m. in Barton Coliseum.

Continue reading Lee-ders Of The Pack: Clarksville’s Basketball Brothers

Seeking Travelers Fans’ Memories of Fernandomania in Arkansas

Valenzuela, Fernando
People were CRAZY about this dude.

Fernandomania.

It swept nation in 1981 but took a decade to hit Arkansas with the force of a screwball-throwing tsunami. In June 1991, Cy Young winner Fernando Valenzuela played at Ray Winder Field in Little Rock. Thanks to a preposterous overflow crowd, the game has likely secured a spot as the most phenomenal sporting event in Arkansas history in terms of sheer attendance.

Ray Winder Field, used as the home as the Arkansas Travelers from 1932 to 2007, sat 6,622 in 1991 but more than 12,000 watched Valenzuela pitch. To deal with the overflow, former Travelers GM Bill Valentine had fans stand in the right and left-field bullpens and the warning track in the right and left field.

Almost everybody was there to see Valenzuela, the Mexican pitcher who’d starred for most of the previous decade for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers had released him in March, 1991, and the Angels signed him that May. They sent him to their minor league affiliates in Palm Springs and Midland (in the Travelers’ Texas League) to rehab.

Valenzuela played three games in the minors that summer, the last and best being in Arkansas. He allowed two hits, but struck out five and led Midland to a 4-0 win.

Were you there?

If so, I’d love to hear your memories of the game and Fernandomania. I’m writing a feature on the game for “Baseball on Broadway,” the Travelers’ annual magazine. Leave a comment that you wouldn’t mind seeing in print, or reach me at 501 588 1396 or thesportsseer@gmail.com.