Archie Goodwin Is Second Arkansan UK Wildcat Drafted Into the NBA

Traditionally Arkansas produces better football than basketball players so it’s notable when one of the state’s best prep player ends up playing for the hoop-crazy

Yep, Houston Nutt Jr's daddy.
Yep, Houston Nutt Jr’s daddy.

University of Kentucky. Indeed, it appears only three natives have ever done it and two of them went directly from an Arkansas high school to Lexington – Houston Nutt, Sr. in 1950-51 and Archie Goodwin last season.

Goodwin was drafted late with the 29th pick on Thursday night. The 18-year-old Little Rock native will start his NBA career as a young shooting guard with the Phoenix Suns. As a child, Goodwin looked up to the  last Arkansas shooting guard prospect to launch a career there: Joe Johnson. Indeed, Goodwin once told me he approached Johnson at a Little Rock camp when he was around 10 years old and told him something to the effect of: “My name’s Archie Goodwin and one day you’ll know my name.”

The other Arky-turned-Wildcat was Bob Burrow, a Malvern native who moved to central east Texas as a high school junior. In 1954, after graduating with 14 other seniors from Wells High School, the 6-7, 230-pound center wasn’t exactly the most highly recruited guy around.

Two years later, after dominating competition at nearby Lon Morris Junior College, he was.

Burrow fell hard for Kentucky, which he considered the world’s basketball capital. “When they recruited me, one of the alumni flew me out to Lexington on a visit. What I saw really impressed me.” Amazingly, UK head coach Adolph Rupp didn’t even watch him play and offered a scholarship on reputation alone.

Burrow ended up as a two-time All-American at Kentucky, averaged 20 points and nearly 16 rebounds a game. Indeed, his 17.7 rebounds a game as a junior is a UK record and his 34 rebounds in one game is an SEC record.

The Wildcats were 43-9 during his tenure and today Burrow’s #50 jersey in the rafters.

Don’t expect the same for Goodwin’s #10 jersey. Goodwin had a rough freshman year to the say the least, but he still flashed enough talent and physical tools (he’s 6-4 but has a 6-10 wingspan, which was as long as Scottie Pippen’s) to warrant a first-round selection.

He has the benefit of playing for a young, hungry team with a new head coach – Jeff Hornacek – who played his position and is strong in one of the areas (shooting) where Archie is most weak. Now whether that translates into a successful NBA career is anybody’s guess.

For Archie’s sake, let’s hope it is better than Burrow’s two years in the league playing for the Rochester Royals and Minneapolis Lakers. Although he was picked #9 overall in the 1956 Draft, he averaged only 5.7 points and 4.4 rebounds a game in his brief career.

[polldaddy poll=7211788]

What Happened to Alan Bannister, the 7-4, 300-pound Arkansas State center?

alanbannister (3)
Big Al’s back in England, and the young people love him.

When it came to sports fandom in the late 1980s, I was but an unformed lump of clay.

A mere elementary school child then, I don’t remember hearing much about Arkansas State basketball. I certainly never heard about the biggest athlete to ever play for an in-state team.

And so it was with great interest that I fell on mention of a 7-4, 300-pound British center who played in Jonesboro in 1988-90 while researching for my most recent Arkansas Sports Anniversaries piece.

Who was this behemoth, this Anglican land leviathan who once stalked the courts of Crowley’s Ridge?

I asked my go-to ASU expert friend Jeff Reed, and he told me: Alan Bannister, who he confirmed was absolutely HUGE. Not very good, mind you, but most definitely GIANT.

Bannister, it turns out, was sort of effective and not horrible in his first season after arriving in the United States to play for Oklahoma State. “When Big Al arrived here from England, it was sad,” his former roommate Grant Buster told Sports Illustrated. “He couldn’t even catch the ball.” Bannister had only one move to the net, an incipient sky hook. Still, as a 245-pound freshman in 1985-86, Bannister started 19 of the Cowboys‘ 27 games, averaged 7.6 points and 4.5 rebounds and blocked 49 shots.

That was pretty much the apex of his career, though. He sat out his sophomore season with multiple stress fractures in his left foot, but he showed good cheer through it all. When SI asked how he got so tall considering his mom was 5’7″ and his dad 5’11” Bannister retorted with this classic: “We had a tall mailman.”

In reality, it was a benign tumor in his pituitary gland.

Bannister soon transferred to ASU, where one of his OSU assistant coaches had been hired,  according to this 1991 article. Bannister was eligible to play there for three semesters. I can’t find his individual statistics, but I think it’s safe to say he did not light northeast Arkansas on fire. Apparently, he did hit a game-winning shot in Jonesboro. Based on message board recollections, it was in a 66-65 win against Cincinnati in January, 1990.

Later, Bannister did not fondly recall his time in Jonesboro. “It didn’t work out very well,” he said in 1991. “An Arkansas State coach told me I couldn’t play in the NBA. He made me feel like I wasn’t a very good player but it made me more determined. I knew I could do it. I just quit listening to the negative and focused on what I wanted to achieve.”

Bannister’s body, unfortunately, didn’t follow suit. It just kept breaking down on him, even when he did make it on to the Utah Jazz as that team’s first foreign-born player (sidenote: also on that team was 7-5 Mark Eaton, which would have made for a helluva twin tower lineup).

Bannister was invited to Utah’s training camp in October 1990, but was still very slow, still had bad hands and couldn’t jump. He played for three weeks before requiring knee surgery and going on to the injured list. He never logged a regular season minute.

The Jazz released Bannister in August, 1991, and he spent the rest of his playing days abroad in places like Austria and England, where in this photo he looks like a very, very relaxed dead ringer for Mike Dunleavy, Jr.

Bannister stayed in England, where in recent years he has coached basketball clinics.

Curious as to who would be the second-tallest student-athlete to play for an Arkansas team?

Try former Razorback Shaheed Ali, who was also a transfer.

Danny Green’s Place Among the Most Unexpected Leading Scorers in Finals History

The NBA Finals.

Where the tough get tougher, the Best become legendary and everybody else is supposed to become mere footnotes in Their Histories.
M.J., Shaq, Russell, Havlicek, Kareem, Magic, Bird, Duncan – They became Immortals not because They dominated regular seasons but because They owned the final, postseason games the whole rigarmarole is designed for in the first place.

The footnotes, mere mortals, are role players who put up good enough numbers when the lights aren’t brightest but pretty much crumble in the biggest pressure cooker of them all.

For instance, you’ve got LA Laker guard Sasha Vujacic, who in the 2007-08 regular season shot 45.4% on field goals and 43.7% on threes. You wouldn’t have known it in the Finals against Boston, though. There, Vujacic shot 39.1% on FGs and 34.8% on threes.

Also, New Jersey Net guard Kerry Kittles, circa 2002-03. Kittles was money in the regular season, shooting 46.7% on FGs and a respectable 35.6% on threes. Against the Spurs in the Finals, those numbers plummeted to 37.7% and 30.4%.

And don’t  forget Nick Anderson, the Orlando Magic guard whose shooting touch went AWOL in the 1995 Finals against Houston. Anderson shot 47.6% on FGs and 41.5% on threes in the regular season, but careened into a 36%/32.3% ditch during a 4-0 sweep by the Rockets.

I don’t mean to hate on these guys. They each did plenty good work in their careers, too. But the term “stepping up to the moment” wouldn’t exist unless the opposite happened. And for Vujacic, Kittles, Anderson and hundreds more like them, the opposite happened.
You can’t get around it: there’s a pecking order in this league when it comes to skill, talent, experience, confidence and killer instinct; in the Finals, this becomes most clear.
At least, that was the theory.
Danny Green’s record-setting three point shooting has just about napalmed commonly held assumptions about the NBA’s power hierarchy and who is and isn’t good enough to talk to Doris Burke and her outrageously pastel pink attire after Finals games.
In five Finals games, he has shot 66% from beyond the arc and made five three-pointers a game. There has been discussion about his chances at winning the Finals MVP award if San Antonio wins the series. My gut feeling is that he won’t – the nine media members who vote on the award will go with the more well-rounded Tony Parker or sentimental favorite Tim Duncan.
His MVP merit is very much up in the air and will remain that way until the vote is taken, if the Spurs win. What’s isn’t up for debate is the fact that at 18 ppg he is leading his team in scoring in these Finals. Parker is next at 16.2 ppg.
On the biggest stage of his career, when his role player status tells us he should be channeling more J.J. Redick than Reggie Miller, Green has upped his scoring average by nearly 80%.
This surge gets even trippier if you consider the 25-year-old has already been cut twice by NBA teams and two years ago averaged 5.1 ppg.
As Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports writes: “Last season he averaged 9.1 ppg in the regular season but just 3.3 ppg in the Western Conference finals, when he shot 17.4 percent on 3-pointers. He was so bad that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich yanked him out of the starting lineup and pretty much out of the rotation. In the final two games against the Thunder, Green played seven minutes. Total.”
So, given Green’s thoroughly undistinguished resume, how unique is it for someone to make such a surprising scoring splash in the NBA/ABA Finals?
Is Green in a class all his own or does he have some competition for most unexpected scorer?
Here’s my list of the top four of all time.

Darren McFadden, Michael Dyer Help Young, Black Males Through Police-Affiliated Program

Sports stardom isn't in the cards for everyone. But graduating school and staying out of jail can be.
Sports stardom isn’t in the cards for everyone. But graduating school and staying out of jail can be.

Two of central Arkansas’ greatest prep running backs have also played parts in boosting a mentoring program for young, African-American males.

The national Our Kids Program is spearheaded by black officers in various cities’ police departments. It’s specifically aimed at ameliorating a socio-economic “epidemic” which program leaders say afflicts black communities around the nation.

As profiled in this Sync week’s issue, Little Rock has an affiliate program in which teens at four public schools weekly gather for mentoring sessions with police and volunteer adult males. The program’s director makes no bones about requiring everyone directly involved with the program to be African-American:

As [Donald] Northcross sees it, the problems facing many black communities in this nation add up to a full-blown epidemic.

Compared to every other race and gender group, black males are more likely to skip class, not turn in homework, drop out of high school, get arrested for drug use and serve years in prison. Indeed, according to the national O.K. Program, one in three black males will be imprisoned at some point in their lives. Lengthy jail sentences leave yet more single-parent households behind, setting the stage for the entire vicious cycle to entrap younger generations.

How to break free?

Design black male-oriented solutions for what are clearly black male-oriented problems. “I think there needs to be programs that are geared toward specific communities,” Northcross says. “We have a serious problem. We’re not very interested in how it looks — political correctness and things like that.”

Last fall, former Auburn running back Michael Dyer appeared as a guest keynote speaker during a mentoring session. Dyer, a former national championship game MVP, spoke about challenges he had to overcome during a hardknock childhood in Little Rock. Dyer’s still trying to overcome challenges: the 22-year-old spent the last school year at nearby Arkansas Baptist College after tumultuous departures from Auburn and Arkansas State.

Visit syncweekly.com for more on Dyer and D-Mac.

The Hogs Ran A Hurry-Up, No-Huddle Offense 100 Years Ago

“P” could very well also stand for “Pushing the limit.”

Former head Arkansas football coach Hugo Bezdek lived a full and innovative life. He remains the only person to coach an NFL team (Cleveland Rams) and MLB team (Pittsburgh Pirates), as I found out while researching for my new history feature on Sporting Life Arkansas.

But, before all that, he he spent 1907 through 1912 in Fayetteville pioneering in all sorts of ways. He’s credited, for instance, with changing the team name from Cardinals to Razorbacks. Of the two stories regarding this switch, my favorite comes from one of his players –  Phil Huntley – in an interview with longtime columnist Orville Henry:

“We were on a trip in Texas, getting off the train for a stroll — I think in Dallas. Somebody yelled, ‘Here come the hogs.’ See, there were a lot of jokes about Arkansas at that time.

Bezdek stopped and thought a minute. He said, ‘Hmmm, boys, I like that. We’re the Razorbacks from now on.’

Bezdek also led Arkansas to its first undefeated season (and the program’s only undefeated season in its first 70 years of existence).

He spearheaded the first athletic advertising in school history, Huntley added. “He understood importance of placing his program in front of the public. He had cards printed and distributed in towns like Rogers, Springdale, and Fort Smith advertising his home games.”

Lord knows they needed the promotion, given at this time Arkansas’ home facilities consisted of a single wooden grandstand that held about 200 people.

“The field wasn’t too good even though we worked on it, graded it, carried water from the creek to wet it down before every game,” Huntley said in “The  Razorbacks: A Story of Arkansas Football.”

One of the most interesting innovations Bezdek developed was an emphasis on fast play. His teams practiced extremely hard to be fit enough in games to pull this off.

As Orville Henry and Jim Bailey wrote in “The  Razorbacks”: “Bezdek coached [Arkansas QB Steve] Creekmore to call plays as rapidly as possible — nobody ever huddled then — and so the Razorbacks would run a play, chase the ball, put it in play immediately when it was downed, and drive as far as they could as quickly as they could.

“I guess it was the forerunner of Oklahoma’s hurry-up style in the split-T days under Bud Wilkinson,” Steve Creekmore told an interviewer in 1960. “I know we’d often run four or five plays and then find the official had penalized us back down field for the first one. He’d catch up, and we’d have to go back. The LSU coach protested our system, but it was legal.”

Of course, nowadays, this style of play isn’t unique. College football coaches such as Gus Malzahn, Hugh Freeze and Chip Kelly have taken the concept to the next level to bring unprecedented scoring to the game.

Kelly, in particular, has gotten a lion’s share of credit for innovating a frenetic, no-huddle approach on the major college football level. By 2011, his tactics had fueled the University of Oregon’s first appearance in a national championship.

To date, this is the biggest splash on the national football scene the Ducks have made. Their first splash? Signs point to around 1917, when Oregon made – and won – its first Rose Bowl appearance.

Their coach was none other than Hugo Bezdek.

For more on his career, check this.

They Called Him “Oil” Because They Couldn’t Say “Earl”: Grant County’s Finest

Earl_Smith
Saving energy for fightin’.

On June 8, 1963, Sheridan native Earl “Oil” Smith, a three-time World Series champion catcher, died.  Smith played for minor league teams in Waxachachie (Texas), Fort Smith, Tulsa and Rochester (N.Y.) before breaking into the National League with the New York Giants in 1919. In 1921-22, Smith helped the Giants beat the Yankees in consecutive World Series and then headed to Pittsburgh where he help the Pirates win the 1925 World Series and batted a career-high .346 the next year. Four seasons in the majors, he batted over .300.

All the while, Smith developed a reputation as an extremely temperamental player.

“Smith probably was involved in as many fights as any player in the game,” according to a 1963 obituary in the Pine Bluff Commercial.  Unfortunately, no reasons are provided as why, exactly, Msr. Smith was so angry but here’s a guess: He was frustrated as hell. You would be, too, if the people you were around all the time COULDN”T PRONOUNCE YOUR VERY EASY-TO-PRONOUNCE AND NOT-AT-ALL-COMPLICATED NAME.

According to the Commercial, Midwest sports columnist Westbrook Pegler nicknamed Smith Oil “because, Pegler said, easterners had a hard time saying Earl.”

Fortunately for Smith, he returned to friendlier phonetic climes when he went to St. Louis in 1928 and there played in another World Series.

After his playing career ended in 1930, Smith showed Easterners it wasn’t anything personal against them by choosing to start work as a minor league manager in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. He then retired to Hot Springs, Ark. with one brief exception: a one-year turn as coach of the Hot Springs Bathers in the Cotton States League.

Smith, who died at age 66 from a lengthy illness not specified in his obituary, is buried at Little Rock National Cemetery.

Peyton Manning on Ray Lewis’ Crushing Blows & Bret Bielema

The four-time NFL MVP reminisced on his high school days during his talk in Little Rock.
The four-time NFL MVP reminisced on his high school days during his talk in Little Rock.

Pop music has the Grammys. Cinema has the Oscars. Literature’s got the Pulitzer. And now, in the world of local high school sports: the All Arkansas Preps Awards.

More than 1,000 people attended the inaugural awards ceremony on Saturday night in Little Rock that honored top male and female athletes and coaches in eight sports, as chosen by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Awards were also given for academic achievement, community service and perseverance through sickness or injury.

 The banquet’s signature event was an appearance by four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning. The Denver Broncos quarterback gave a keynote speech and fielded questions from emcee Keith Jackson, a color commentator for Razorbacks football who runs the Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids program in his native Little Rock.

 Manning, who’s entering his 15th NFL season, encouraged the 300 student-athletes in the Statehouse Convention Center ballroom to work hard and not see their upcoming college years as only a stepping stone but to “enjoy the experience, enjoy the journey.”

Manning retraced much of his own journey as the second son of Hall of Fame quarterback Archie Manning growing up in Lousiana to Super Bowl MVP with the Indianapolis Colts.  Peyton, who never lost to Arkansas during his University of Tennessee career, sprinkled Razorback-related anecdotes throughout the 45-minute Q & A with Jackson.

Below are edited excerpts:

Q: What are some of your memorable moments playing against the Razorbacks 1994-1997?

A: … I remember my senior year here in Little Rock. I always enjoy talking to my dad about the great old college stadiums … He got to play Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, but he never got to play at War Memorial … The the thing I remember about that game, we put a trick play in that week. We put in the ol’ pitch to the running back, throw it to the quarterback, right, and I remember we ran it in practice all week just about perfect. I schooled ‘em  every time. I had been dreaming all week about catching a touchdown – I’d never done that before.

 And sure enough, during the game we got a perfect look … and I pitch it to [running back] Jamal Lewis and he throws it back to me – a perfect pass – and I caught it and I got two yards. Their defense was a lot faster than our scout team’s.

Q: Talk some about Broncos rookie running back Montee Ball, who played for Bret Bielema.

A: Montee Ball was a four-year running back at Wisconsin. He led the NCAA in touchdowns, so we’re excited to have him on the Broncos. We had a little team function the other day and I was asking him about Coach Bielema and he was saying how [instrumental] he was for him and his career, and how lucky he was to play for him. He just thought the world of him, so I could tell [Bielema] is gonna make a great transition to Arkansas.

Q: What do you treasure most about the South?

A: I think Southern hospitality. My parents are from Mississippi, I grew up in New Orleans … Just the people, I really enjoy getting back to New Orleans, getting back to Tennessee. I’ve been here to Little Rock a number of times. Everybody’s been so nice to me here. The Arkansas secondary was always so nice to me.

Q: We normally see you so serious, but there’s a funny side to you. You had a chance to host Saturday Night Live.

A: … The one that people always talk about is the United Way skit, where I’m throwing the football at the kids. A lot of people have asked “Peyton, please tell me you weren’t really hurting those kids.” And I promise you folks, that was a Nerf football … and all these kids, they were all child actors which is a kind of disturbing field in its own way. And all the parents were there the entire time when we were doing that skit and the director said ‘You gotta hit them in the face, you gotta do it.’ And I had to have a little talk with myself before I could do it.

  But I felt a little more comfortable when I heard one of the parents yelling at the director ‘I want him to hit my kid in the face!’”

[hulu id=_c1dhlnvcom1sidmwp7myg width=512]

Continue reading Peyton Manning on Ray Lewis’ Crushing Blows & Bret Bielema

Best Sub 7-Feet Tall Twin Towers in Basketball History

In pro basketball the term “twin towers” conjures up images of two hulking behemoths, typically in the seven feet range, who dominate the sport in the most elemental way possible – sheer, physical superiority. Olajuwon and Sampson, along with Duncan and Robinson, are likely the most famous examples.

But there have also been a few devastating combos in which both big men are under seven feet. Most recently, the best example is Rasheed and Ben Wallace, who formed the defensive backbone of the elite Detroit Piston teams of the mid 2000s.

In the mid South, it’s hard to avoid thinking about Michael Cage and Keith Lee, the cornerstones of a West Memphis High team* which won an Arkansas-record 60 straight games.

We’ll never know how Cage and Lee would have fared together at the NBA level  since bad knees caused Lee’s career to end prematurely. Had Lee stayed healthy, and teamed with Cage, they might have joined the list below.

Sport’s is all about winning, and players get their all-time cred from performances in the postseason. so I’ve focused on how the twin tower combo performed in the playoffs. The stats  you find are per-game averages  from the combo’s most dominant postseason.

 Rasheed Wallace (6’11”) & Ben Wallace (6’9″)

Detroit Pistons

Played in 23 playoff games in 2003-04; won NBA title

                   PPG  RPG  BPG APG  SPG  TOG (turnovers per game)

Rasheed 13.0   7.8    2.0   1.6   0.6    1.9

Ben           10.3 14.3    2.4   1.9   1.9    1.6

Total        23.3  22.1   4.4   3.5   2.5    3.5

Win Shares/48 minutes

Rasheed  .135

Ben           .186

True Shooting Percentage %

Rasheed 47.9%

Ben           46.0%

Player Efficiency Rating*

Rasheed 15.3

Ben 18.6

*all statistics from basketball-reference.com

Moses Malone (6’10”) and Charles Barkley (6’4″)

Philadelphia 76ers

Played in 13 playoff games in 1984-85; Lost in Eastern Conference Finals 4-1 to Boston

PPG    RPG    BPG   APG    SPG    TOG (turnovers per game)

Malone    20.2   10.6   1.7     1.8      1.3       1.8

Barkley    14.9    11.1    1.2    2.0      1.8       2.7

Total         35.1    21.7   2.9    3.8      3.1       4.5

Win Shares/48 minutes

Malone  .160

Barkley  .170

True Shooting Percentage %

Malone  50.9%

Barkley  58.2%

Player Efficiency Rating

Malone  18.0

Barkley 19.6

Continue reading Best Sub 7-Feet Tall Twin Towers in Basketball History