Of Parkview v. North Little Rock & the Old-School Genius of Al Flanigan

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When KeVaughn Allen fouled out with a minute to go, Flanigan took out the towel to signify the win was all but sealed.
More than a decade ago, my little brother, then a high school sophomore, made one of Little Rock Parkview’s basketball teams. This was no small achievement. His classmates and teammates were serious players like Marc Winston and Jamaal Anderson who went on to star in football and became a first-round draft of the Atlanta Falcons. [Atlanta, btw, plays the Redskins this Sunday. Click here for more about that game and NFL betting news.] My brother only lasted a couple months with Parkview before he quit (wasn’t exactly what could be called “self-disciplined”), but he did play in all the practices and even got thrown into the end of a couple games. Despite the transitory nature of his experience, to this day he considers the fact he got into the program at all and played for its legendary coach to be the height of his athletic career.

Parkview, of course, is a gold standard in Arkansas high school prep circles. To be associated with it means something. It means you’re going to know how to find the open man, you’re going to cut to the hole when it’s time and you’re going to get your ass chewed out by one Al Flanigan. Through the decades Parkview’s head basketball coach has won five state titles, but I’m not sure if he’s delivered a more impressive victory than what happened on Friday night.

His Patriots team, in theory depleted a year after losing two high major recruits, beat defending state champion North Little Rock team 65-55. The Charging Wildcats (4-1) are hands down the state’s most talented team. Start with sophomore Adrian Moore, a transfer from Conway, who has offers from Baylor and Arkansas and delivered a one-handed tomahawk at the end of the first half which caused the roof to tremble.

Continue with muscular K.J. Hill, who will end up playing high major football (he’s an Arkansas recruit). Hill, a junior guard, transferred last summer from Bryant and is only now getting into basketball shape. He wasn’t as much of an offensive force tonight as he will be in two months. NLR’s starting backcourt features yet another transfer, senior Anton Beard, who this summer rejoined his middle school running mate KeVaughn Allen after spending the first three years of his high school career at Parkview. Beard is a Hog signee, and there are plenty people trying hard to make sure the highly-sought Allen, a junior, becomes one too.

Allen is nationally ranked as the eighth-best player  in his class. Heading into this game against Parkview, NLR had been the top-ranked team in the state for more than a year.

But rankings go out to the window when you face a team led by the fiery Al Flanigan, even if that team is perceived to be in a down year.  His team’s best players may not have high D1 scholarship offers or any number of stars attached to their names, but they showed five-star chemistry that is a direct tribute to Flanigan, the very definition of tough love. When Parkview (5-0) was trying to hold on to a 12-point lead early in the second half, he repeatedly jumped out of his seat and waved his signature talisman – a red towel – to rally his troops from the sideline. He huffed and puffed and nearly blew a couple of his players down, at one point faking like he was going to slap a Patriot with his towel before quickly pulling it back, smiling and giving the kid a quick pat on the back. He is not averse to having a little fun with his opponents’ fans and will let loose an extremely loud “God D***!!!” now and then. Through it all, though, it’s obvious he has his players’ utmost respect. They were very sharp against NLR and, more importantly, “they played like they wanted it more than we did,” NLR head coach Johnny Rice told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3n6wpj5eNo4&w=560&h=315]

A few more scatter shot observations:

1) There are no visible signs of hard feelings between Flanigan and his former protege Anton Beard.  Three years ago, Beard became the first freshman Flanigan had ever started. He helped deliver two state titles to Parkview but by the end of his junior year decided he wanted to play for North Little Rock, where he lives. This had to have been a disappointing decision for Flanigan to hear (especially since he’d lost his other elite guard – I.J. Ready – to graduation last spring) but it was good to see there is still a bond between the one-time sensei and student. Beard had a subpar game – he forced a few bad shots and at one point midway through the second half, after a series of misses near the basket, wound up face down on the court pounding the floor in frustration. Beard finished with 16 points, but some of his attempts came the expense of establishing an offensive flow.

Beard also suffered some kind of minor leg or ankle injury while throwing his body around and he probably played the last part of the game through pain. Still, you could tell Flanigan still cared about his prodigal son. At one stop in game action, Beard stood on the court a few feet from Flanigan, hands on his knees and grimacing in pain. Flanigan shouted: “You all right, player?”

After the smoke cleared...
After the smoke cleared…

2) Move to Barton?

This game – a semifinal in the Jammin’ for Jackets tournament – was played at Little Rock Hall High. Hall’s gym is among the largest high school gyms in central Arkansas but it was nearly overflowing for this game. If a hundred more people had tried to enter, the arena would have been a fire hazard. I walked past multiple parking violations on the jammed streets outside as I entered the game late in the first half. A good portion of the street in front of the gym was taken up by a flashing police car and a tow truck having a field day.

In the past, the event has been held at North Little Rock High, which has slightly more seating, but a construction project there took that site out of the running this year. The Little Rock School District has considered moving the tournament to Verizon Arena, but it would cost about $3,000 to rent that facility for the multi-day event. A less expensive and more likely possibility is the 7,150-seat Barton Coliseum. The district has started tentative talks to rent Barton for this tournament next season, an LRSD source told me.

3) Allen Struggles

Without question, KeVaughn Allen is among the top  four players in the state. The 6-3 junior won MVP of last year’s championship game and at the end of the first half against Parkview threw home a two-handed dunk to cap a one-man fastbreak that clearly showed why he’s gotten offers from Florida, Arkansas, Connecticut, Arizona and Memphis among others. He also has an extremely diverse arsenal of teardrops and jumpers, but on this night his shot simply wasn’t falling. At halftime, Allen had 11 points but only managed five points in the second half after at least nine missed field goal and free throw attempts.

Still, don’t expect many nights like this from Allen as he, Beard, Moore and Hill develop better chemistry. These struggles are an aberration. And, as you can see from the videos below, his hustle and outrageous athleticism is a nice fallback even when the shot isn’t falling:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlGoIcnKAJk&w=560&h=315]

4) Thomas Alexander sighting

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North Little Rock sure could have used Thomas Alexander last night. Last year, the 6-5 Alexander starred for the Charging Wildcats as a bouncy hybrid forward  who helped space the floor and consistently delivered at least 14 points a game. But Alexander graduated, and this season he’s plying his trade at Holmes Community College (Miss.), where he told me averages about 7 points, 4 rebounds, 2-3 assists a game (he didn’t mention this last-second, game-winning shot). He also said he has a roughly 2.4 GPA and plans on joining his cousin I.J. Ready at Mississippi State University for the 2015-16 season. N.B. Former NLR star Dayshawn Watkins and Jacksonville standout Justin McCleary also play for Holmes.

Parkview plays Little Rock Hall in the championship game today, with tipoff scheduled for 5:30 p.m at Hall. Hall defeated Little Rock Mills 67-58 in the semifinal.

UPDATES:

Click here for more NLR-Parkview game highlights. And here’s one last clip of Big Al doing his thing:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=se7UN74fq-8&w=560&h=315]