As you know, Hamburg native Scottie Pippen made the original Dream Team in 1992 and the 1996 Olympic team which grabbed Gold in Atlanta. Pippen made by far the greatest splash of any national team Arkansan, but he wasn’t the first to do so in an Olympics. That honor goes to Gordon Carpenter, native of Ash Flat in northeast Arkansas. And there are plenty others who have made national teams for other competitions. Below, I present the first (and I will bet you $25) only comprehensive list anybody has ever bothered to assemble on the topic:
JUNE 2015 UPDATE
Seven-feet-three Connor Vanover of Little Rock was just announced as – by my count – the first Arkansan to make a full-fledged junior U.S. national team in basketball. Congrats to the rising sophomore (and I do mean rising – he grew eight inches before entering eighth grade) . Hopefully, he will one day join some of the legends below on a U.S. senior national team.
1. Gordon Carpenter
Carpenter, a 6’6″, 200-pound big affectionately known as “Shorty,” was one of Arkansas’ first great basketball players. He led Ash Flat in northeast Arkansas to the 1939, upsetting much bigger teams in Little Rock and Pine Bluff, and then went on to star on the University of Arkansas’ first Final Four team in 1941. He led the Hogs to their first undefeated SWC record and ended his college career on the All-SWC team.
He then played for the Phillips 66 powerhouse basketball team, which was technically amateur and allowed him to retain eligibility for international play (the Olympics were then off-limits to paid professional athletes). The Phillips 66 team was on par with the best professional teams of the era, and Carpenter helped lead them to six straight national titles. He made the AAU All-America team each year from 1943-1947 and helped his team qualify to represent the U.S. in the 1948 Olympics by beating the University of Kentucky in a Madison Square Garden (weird, I know).
In those London Olympics, Carpenter had a turn as hero, according to this book. In a game against Argentina, the U.S. was trailing by six points with four minutes to go. Coach then inserted Carpenter and he scored 10 points in two minutes to help the Americans turn the tide and win. The final score of the game was 59-57, according to linguasport.com.
Two years later, Carpenter became head coach of the national team at the first basketball World Championship (now called the basketball World Cup) in 1950. The host nation, Argentina, took Gold and the U.S. took Silver.
A native of Tuckerman in Sharp Co., the 6’8″, 240-pound Barnes trumps Corliss Williamson, Andrew Lang (and so far Bobby Portis) as the most dominant collegian big man the state has produced. He was dirt poor as a child, often playing in socks because his family couldn’t afford shoes. Around 18 years of age, he moved to Oklahoma to finish high school. Barnes then dominated junior college competition for two years, and then did the same at Texas Western. He averaged 29 points and 19 rebounds his senior year, and a few months later became the first of two Arkansans ever drafted #1 overall in an NBA or NFL draft.
Before his pro career, though, Barnes traveled to Tokyo with other top collegians like Larry Brown and Bill Bradley. He was the fifth-leading scorer on the Gold-winning team. In the Finals, the U.S. squared off against the U.S.S.R. Barnes’ speed and agility, like center Bill Russell’s four years before, was a big reason the Soviets could not hang with the Americans.
That team’s head coach was Henry Iba, who happened to the mentor of Barnes’ college coach Don Haskins. Coincidentally, Haskins became the mentor to Nolan Richardson, one of Barnes’ Texas Western teammates. Richardson thought highly of Barnes’ character: “Jim was one of those men who was thrilled to play for their country. He took the opportunity seriously and played every possession hard.”
3, Sidney Moncrief
When it comes to Moncrief and Larry Bird sharing the same court, the headliner will forever be their legendary showdown in the Elite Eight of the 1979 NCAA Tournament. Before these two All-Americans clashed in front of a national audience, though, they had two summers before joined forces to topple other countries.
In 1977, the Little Rock native represented the U.S. in the World University Games (similar to what would be a U-21 competition today). Moncrief helped the U.S. tear through the event, in Bulgaria, with an 8-0 record. He led the Americans with 16 points in the finals against the U.S.S.R.
Undoubtedly, Sid shot the ball at a high clip that tourney. It’s amazing to think that as a freshman, the 6’4″ forward led the entire nation in field goal percentage, as this July 26, 1977 article points out:
NB: You’ll notice one of the assistant coaches was none other than Bill Vining of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. The national team program wanted coaches from all levels of college basketball, and Vining, being the small college level bad-ass he was, was selected to rep that segment.
4. Marvin Delph
Another one of Arkansas’ famed Triplets, Delph was a part of a wonky 1978 World Championship team made up of neither college or professional players. College players should have filled out its roster but by October – when the event occurred – they were already in preseason and prohibited from competing.
So the U.S. sent a squad made up mostly of Athletes In Action (a religious organization) ballers, and finished 6-4. This isn’t all that bad considering many of the communist national teams were made up of essentially professional players who had state-provided sinecure jobs.
Delph, a Conway native, averaged only 5.5. points in the six games he played. But hey, the U.S. was 5-1 in those games (losing only to the U.S.S.R.), so that’s something.