Paul Silas is known to most of the basketball world as a Creighton legend, two-time NBA All-Star and a three-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics. He later became a head coach at the NBA level, including with the Cleveland Cavaliers where he became LeBron James’ first pro coach in 2003.
Silas grew up in Prescott, Arkansas, and on Thursday evening I’m going to helm a panel that includes long-time sportswriter Wadie Moore and his Silas’ junior high coach Joe Hale. Hale, still fit and hale at age 92, is something of a walking encyclopedia when it comes to black sports in Arknasas before integration. He is among the living legends like Eddie Boone, Johnny Greenwood and Oliver Elders (who has told me he will also attend) who can provide the current generation (and future generations) with knowledge of a largely unrecorded history.
Here’s more about all three of us and the location, Pyramid Art, Books and Custom Framing.
Arkansas Author Connection
Thursday, November 30, 2017
African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks
& Other Forgotten Stories
About Evin Demirel
A former Latin teacher and Democrat-Gazette reporter, Demirel writes often about the intersection of sports, race relations and regional history. In September, he spoke at the Clinton School of Public Service about sports and the public history gap between African-American and white communities statewide. A father of one, he graduated from Little Rock Central High School and the University of Arkansas.
Wadie Moore, Jr.
Moore, Jr., a 1968 graduate of Horace Mann High School, broke ground as the first black African-American sportswriter at the Arkansas Gazette that same year. He attended Philander Smith College and stayed with the Gazette through 1991. After briefly worked as the editor of the Pine Bluff Commercial, Moore went to the Arkansas Activities Association, where he retired as assistant executive director in 2017. For years he tried to track down records of all-black high schools pre-integration and summon statewide interest in chronicling their heritage.
In 1945, Hale starred as a shooting guard on the Oak Grove High in the Prescott area. His ’45 team played in the National Basketball Tournament for Black Schools in Nashville, Tenn. He then played basketball for AM&N before coaching basketball and football at the McRae High School. Among his players was Paul Silas, who would go on to become a two-time NBA All-Star and the first professional head coach of LeBron James. Hale, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from AM&N and a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas, became principal of McRae High School in 1958. In later decades, he also served as principal of Lee High School in Marianna and assistant principal at Little Rock Central High.
“Evin Demirel is one of my favorite young sportswriters… He has written for a lot of publications and websites, The New York Times, Deadspin and this newspaper among them. A graceful writer who brings seriousness and an uncommon alertness to history and culture to his work, Demirel’s chief concern is bringing fresh, under-reported stories to light. In the age of the hot take, where self-branding and marketing seem fundamental to the pursuit of any media career, Demirel stands out for his commitment to honest journalism.
So it’s not difficult to recommend his new book… It is, as advertised, a deeply compelling survey of the heretofore neglected history of black athletes in 20th-century Arkansas.”
“Going beyond the title, this book stresses the relationships between Arkansan African Americans and whites alike. Yes, the hook is sports, but the subject matter is wide-ranging, weaving together regional and national historical strands of education, religion, politics, economics and civil rights. I recommend it as a resource for all Arkansas high school (and even middle school) administrators. They should seriously look at it as a learning tool for their students.”
– Dr. John L Colbert, Associate Superintendent for Support Services, Fayetteville Public Schools
“Really well written, informative stories about the Arkansas greats and people who paved the way for my dad, Almer Lee, Martin Terry and others…. It will speak to athletes, coaches and history lovers across the state and region, and should be read by Razorback fans of all backgrounds. But its reach should be wider-it’s national history as well.”
-Fayetteville native Ronnie Brewer, two-time All-SEC Razorbacks basketball player
At least four Arkansans have played basketball at the University of Kentucky. I’ve already written about three of them—Bob Burrow, Archie Goodwin and Malik Monk— though just briefly touched on the first: Houston Nutt, Sr. While question marks hang over how well Monk and Goodwin will be able to reintegrate themselves into Arkansas after having turned down the Razorbacks in favor of the Wildcats, no such question marks hung over Nutt, Sr. after he came home from college to establish life in Little Rock.
Relatively speaking, he had been every bit the high school phenom Monk and Goodwin were, and yet apparently the Razorbacks of the early 1950s were not in contention for his services when the likes of Kentucky—then a powerhouse under coach Adolph Rupp just as it is now under John Calipari—came calling. (The big difference was that in that era Rupp got the majority of his players from inside Kentucky.)
So, how good was the 6-feet-2 Nutt Sr. as a basketball prodigy?
Let’s let Jim Bailey, the longtime Arkansas Gazette (and then Democrat-Gazette) sportswriter, explain: “Quite simply, Houston was several basketball generations ahead of his competitive time,” he wrote in a 2008 letter to Emogene Nutt quoted in You’re the Best: Reflections on the Life of Houston Nutt. “A tall guard, he amounted to what coaches called the ‘The Total Package,’ handling the ball, shooting from outside, driving for the basket, rebounding and, above all, doing everything with intensity, flair and enthusiasm. He often scored 30 to 40 points, and this was in a period of time when 40-50 was a fairly typical high school basketball score.”
In terms of quickness and leaping ability, Nutt, Sr. was no Archie Goodwin—and definitely no Malik Monk. But he was far from shabby, too, according to Hank Iba, the legendary Oklahoma State basketball coach who coached both Nutt, Sr. after a transfer from Kentucky. Decades later, Iba also coached Nutt Sr.’s son Dickey Nutt. “I will never forget him saying, ‘Your dad was a black man in a white man’s body,’ referring to his athleticism,” Dickey Nutt recalled in You’re the Best, a biography of Houston Nutt Sr. written by his widow Emogene Nutt.
This book is a must read and treasure trove of Arkansas history trivia. Here are some other highlights from its first quarter:
A Family Home Built on Sandwiches?
When Nutt Sr. was a child, he banked mad money off the side hustle of selling chicken sandwiches drizzled with Heinz 57. His mom, May, made the sandwiches and then Nutt Sr. sold them at 25 cents apiece at the bus station and train depot. “Houston could sell the sandwiches literally faster than his mother could prepare them,” the story according to Emogene Nutt goes. “I’ve heard that the money was used to help buy the land on Moro Street in Fordyce where the family home is today.”
A Tennis Ball and Coffee Can
Houston was born in 1930 and had two older brothers: Fred, born 1922, and Clyde, born 1928. His youngest brother Fay was born in 1932. All four brothers loved to play basketball but in the Great Depression had trouble finding an actual basketball to do so with. So they used an old tennis ball instead. Their basketball goal “was a coffee can with both ends cut out and nailed to the wall,” Emogene Nutt wrote after Nutt Sr.’s passing in 2005.
According to her book, Fred Nutt went on to play on undefeated basketball teams at the Arkansas School for the Deaf. Clyde Nutt played for the same school and made All-State in 1947, 1948 and 1949. In 1949, the brothers led the deaf school to its first state basketball title. Fay, meanwhile, played with Houston on the Fordyce Redbugs team.
A Strong Pryor-Nutt connection
In the 1940s former Arkansas governor David Pryor starred for the Camden Panthers, a rival to the Redbugs which Nutt Sr. quarterbacked. The two competitors became good friends over the years and when Pryor was elected as a U.S. senator and moved to Washington D.C., his son Mark Pryor lived with the Nutts while he finished out his semester at Little Rock Central High School. Nutt Sr. and Pryor even had major heart attacks on the same day—Houston in Little Rock and David in Washington D.C., Emogene Nutt recalled. During their recovery, they jokingly blamed the delicious hamburgers of the Redbug Cafe in Fordyce and Duck Inn Cafe in Camden for the heart attacks.
Here’s part two of Arkansas sportscaster Mike Irwin’s jeremiad for the ages against the circumstances Malik Monk’s decision to attend Kentucky instead of Arkansas. He delivered it on The Forum with radio talk host John Nabors, and it didn’t take too long for him to start talking about the last Arkansas prep star to head for Kentucky – Archie Goodwin….
That whole situation didn’t use people like this one did. He didn’t move to some other part of the state. People didn’t get jobs. There wasn’t a guy running an AAU program that was getting favors from everybody to try and keep his AAU thing going. There wasn’t all that stuff… How long did Marcus work with the basketball program? A year?
There wasn’t that with Archie Goodwin. You’re going to come on and take a position with the staff for a year to give you something to do, and give you more credibility at a school that you went to and graduated from, and then at the end of that, you’re going to look all those people in the eye and say, ‘Thanks for all the help, but there was too much pressure.’I’m sorry. But if you think that people are going to grin about this and go, ‘Oh, well, yeah. Okay. Cool.’
Ronnie Brewer is tweeting out, “Come on, have some class.” Okay, Ronnie. You didn’t do this. Nobody did this to you. Put yourself in Mike Anderson’s position. You’re doing everything within the NCAA rules, because you understand the need and the pressure to get an in-state kid into your program, and you do all these things, and this is what happens? Not only is it an insult that it happened, but he went to the one place that is just unacceptable, which is ‘I’m a one and done.’ Okay. Stand up two years ago and announce that you’re a one and done. Do that. You better move because, look, I know how this stuff works. I’ve seen it.
I had a brother-in-law that was a number one running back in this state 25 years ago. He went to Baylor when Arkansas recruited the fool out of him. And when his NFL career went to crap, he moved back here and tried for three years to work, and he got nothing. And he ended up having to move to Texas. That’s what I told him one day. He was moaning to me about all this stuff. I said, “Go ask Baylor for help. That’s where you went to school.”
John Nabors:That’s’ the thing that I feel like a lot of people overlook and kind of minimize, in a way. There’s truth to be said about going to the University of Arkansas and having that type of defense*, and having the type of protection as your career goes on, because not everybody can make it in the NBA. Not everybody can have that elongated career. A lot of things can happen. Heaven forbid something does happen. When those things happen, look at Greg Childs for instance. He battled injuries. His NFL career is still yet to take off. He’s been going through a lot, but the fact that he is a Razorback, if he came back to the state, people are going to welcome him with open arms.
It always gives you opportunities. I think that’s really what this is about.
It’s important to note that although what John Nabors is saying here is generally accepted wisdom in Arkansas, there are a significant number of former Razorbacks who do not feel this way. If you’re interested in the topic of life after pro football for star Hogs, make sure you read this in-depth piece I wrote.
This was the second of a two-part piece. Click here for the first at my more regularly updated blog BestOfArkansasSports.com here. Never miss a BestOfArkansasSports.com post by signing up below. As a bonus, I’ll send a transcription of a long conversation I had with Ronnie Brewer about the Monks, whom he knows well.
Malik Monk’s 35 points per game average so far this postseason is on track to likely be the most impressive in state history.
I looked at the post season performances of Joe Johnson, Ronnie Brewer, Corliss Williamson and KeVaughn Allen for Sporting Life Arkansas and found none of them have come close to the sheer, terrifying scoreboard deluge Monk is currently unleashing. Big Nasty came closest in his senior year at Russellville by pouring in 29.7 ppg in the state tournament.
Out of burning, insatiable, Arkan-nerdified curiosity, I also want to know how the old-school greats compare here. The closest comparison I could find to Monk, in terms of pure scoring ability, was Willy Cutts, a McDonald’s All-American from Bryant by way of Conway by way of Little Rock. Cutts played on one of the first Arkansas Wings AAU teams, and once dropped 66 points on a north Louisiana squad led by future NBA All-Stars Joe Dumars and Karl Malone, according to Billy Woods’ indispensable “60-0: The West Memphis Basketball Dynasty.”
In the 1980 state tournament, Cutts, as a sophomore, averaged 33.5 points in his two games before bowing out to West Memphis. Keith Lee and Michael Cage were West Memphis’ headliners and the main engines to their historic 60-0 run. Lee was the more polished scorer of the two, but never had to be the postseason scoring monster Monk has become.
Among scorers at the highest classification who lead their teams to the title game, it appears LR Central’s Fred Allen is Monk’s closest all-time parallel. In the 1972 state tournament, the 6’2″ scoring guard racked up 28 points against Jonesboro, 36 points on North Little Rock, 31 points on Parkview and 30 points against El Dorado for the AAA-AAAA crown.
Based on the official AAA records, it’s unlikely any big schooler has averaged above Allen’s 31.25 ppg in a three-game-or-more postseason run. All the more impressive given the top shooters of this era didn’t have the three point shot.
Honorable mentions goes to Allen’s top rival of the era: Parkview’s Dexter Reed.
Reed was a force of nature in his own right and as a sophomore in 1971 averaged 29 ppg in a four-game postseason stretch – including a then-record 43 points in a state title game against Helena. He doesn’t appear to have topped that in his next two postseasons.
Perhaps I missed some all-time great scorers here. For instance, it’s possible big schoolers like LR Catholic Chris Bennett or Scipio Jones’ Eddie Miles deserve mention, too. I just haven’t been able to find their postseason numbers.
Give me hell if I’m missing someone obvious.
** Above, I didn’t look at the schools that haven’t been in the state’s top two largest classifications. Most postseason scoring records do belong to players from smaller schools.
N.B. Sidney Moncrief was an outstanding prep baller – averaging 19.2 points and 14.1 rebounds his senior year in high school – – but he didn’t explode for 30 points often in the postseason. Hall’s 6’9″ center Gary Tidwell also led the team in scoring a lot. Also, I haven’t forgotten about Ron “Boothead” Brewer and Marvin Delph. They are coming soon…
Keith Lee / West Memphis
1980 state tournament (as a junior)
West Memphis 60; Jacksonville 43 (15 points)
West Memphis 83; Conway 63 (30 points)
West Memphis 57; Forrest City 49 (21 points)
[West Memphis played two additional postseason games to win the now-defunct Overall State Championship between each classification’s champion]
We’re taught in school that history, at its core, is comprised of facts: so-and-so did such-and-such on a certain date. Learn enough of those, and you know enough to write an essay, make your passing grade, and get on with graduation.
Unfortunately, history is a lot less clear cut than that.
The people wielding the most power often determine what the “facts” are, and which ones are passed down to following generations. Our past, it turns out, is riddled with voids. We can’t fill them all, but it can be enough of a start to acknowledge they are there.
This came to mind when reading today’s column by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports editor Wally Hall. At the end, he praises Jim Bryan, an Arkansas prep basketball legend who recently suffered an embolism. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, Hall’s pretty generous when it comes to wishing folks well.
What concerns me is the part where Bryan is described as “the second all-time leading scorer in Arkansas high school basketball history.” That’s not true. In terms of all-time career points scored, Bryan is listed as the state’s fourth greatest scorer.
INDIVIDUAL – REGULAR SEASON OFFENSE – MOST POINTS SCORED Career
4,896 Bennie Fuller, Ark School Deaf, 1968-71
3,619 Jacob Roark, Concord, 2011-14
3,238 James Anderson, Junction City, 2004-07
2,792 Jim Bryan, Valley Springs, 1955-58
2,755 Dederick Lee, Clarksville, 2009-13
2,317 Ronnie Parrott, Tuckerman, 1976-79
2,239 Payton Henson, Siloam Springs, 2009-13
2,018 Allan Pruett, Rector, 1963-66
The above records are kept by the Arkansas Activities Association, the state’s governing body of high school athletics. The fact that Hall missed Bryan’s standing by a place or two, to me, isn’t too big of a deal. What’s far more important is what the records don’t include. Namely, any mention of Jackie Ridgle and Eddie Miles – potentially the two most potent scorers in Arkansas high school history before current Bentonville star Malik Monk.
Miles, for one, averaged 21 points as a freshman, and then upped that each year to top out at around 32 points points a game as a senior. With numbers like that, there’s no doubt the North Little Rock native deserves a spot near the top of the all-time scoring list. But he’s not there, nor is Ridgle, because they played for all-black schools with records that have been largely lost, forgotten or destroyed. Even those which still exist and can be verified – such as Miles’ and Ridgle’s – haven’t been incorporated into the AAA’s record book. Until that happens, it shouldn’t be viewed as a true, official account of the state’s prep history.
This is a major issue that needs to be addressed. I’ve written about it time and time again. To the credit of the AAA, its assistant executive director Wadie Moore has been sympathetic to this problem and he has added Miles’ name to one category. But one mention isn’t enough when he (and Ridgle) deserve mention in multiple categories:
Per Game – Season
50.9 Bennie Fuller, Ark. School Deaf, 1970-71
46.0 Larry Stidman, Mount Ida, 1989
32.7 Josh Smith, Prairie Grove, 1996-97
31.0 Steven Delph, Guy-Perkins, 1987-88
30.3 Eddie Miles, NLR Jones, 1958
30.2 Marvin Newton, Viola, 1956-57
29.2 Glen Fenter, Charleston, 1977-78
28.8 Bill James, Armorel, 1957
28.0 Randy Porter, Luxora, 1979-80
28.0 Kyle James, Brinkley, 1986-87
The AAA means well, but I want it to do a more thorough job with its record books. Jim Bryan, for instance, owns the top two spots in the season scoring totals below. But where are the season point totals for the three people in front of him in the all-time career scoring list? Surely, a Bennie Fuller season or two should be here. Same with Jacob Roark and James Anderson, not to mention the likes of Eddie Miles or Jackie Ridgle.
Great work by the folks at Courtside Films, who put together an authoritative summer highlight package on Malik Monk – the springy Bentonville High junior who is developing into one of the most highly recruited players in state history regardless of sport.
Here are two interesting take-aways from an interview in the video:
1. It’s unclear exactly how high Malik can jump these days, but he had a running vertical jump of 42 inches in the eighth grade. He told me last spring he helped develop some of that extraordinary leg power by running through the mud that would form in the rural backyard after it rained.
2. His home – before 10th grade – was in Lepanto, Ark., the Monks’ native town to which Malik gives a shout out in the above video. He also gave an shout out to The Woods, the neighborhood he grew up in (across the street from his cousin, Razorback guard Ky Madden). Finally, he gave props to “SYM,” which is something I want to find out more about.
“SYM” stands the Lepanto friends of Malik and his older Marcus Monk, Marcus told me via text. Marcus Monk, as well their mother Jackie, are definitely at the top of the Malik Monk Inner Circle Hierarchy (which I refuse to henceforth refer to as the I.C.H.)
Back in Lepanto, the family has a lot of close friends and relatives, including the Maddens (Indeed, Ky Madden often Tweets out #sym) and Malik’s brothers Byron and Aaron Scales. On Malik’s Twitter page, Malik pays homage to his cousin Troy Tucker, who died three years ago from complications of sickle cell anemia. Next week, in an interview for Letterman Magazine, I’ll ask him and Marcus more about who/what “SYM” are, but Malik might have thrown out a clue by mentioning two people below:
I don’t know who @Dero7_GH is, but it appears that Rod Winkler is a University of Arkansas student who loves himself some basketball. Based on the profile image of his Twitter account, this appears to be the same Rod Winkler who caused a minor stir last January by getting into a heated, impromptu defensive positioning tutorial with Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison after UK lost to Arkansas in Fayetteville:
It doesn’t appear Winkler is from Lepanto (his Twitter feed and this article cite Little Rock as his hometown), but I don’t want to speculate. Maybe he lived in the Lepanto area earlier in life, after all. He probably never lived in Auburn Hills, Michigan, as the following image created by Kentucky Sports Radio of Winkler taking his game to the proverbial next level would have the simpletons among us believe.
Thank you for your explosive dunking, Malik Monk. And so long as you don’t get involved in actual Malice in any sort of Palace, I also give thanks to you, Rod Winkler, for making our world a less boring place.
In the late 1990s, Sidney Moncrief was nominated to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame four straight years. The Little Rock Hall High alumnus wasn’t voted in, though, and now stands as the one of the top two non-inducted guards in the game’s history. “I think in time that will happen,” Moncrief, a former Razorback All-American, told me on the phone today. “There’s a time frame for everything.” Former NBA commissioner David Stern, who’s being inducted today, told me Moncrief deserves to join him one day. I believe such a moment will happen sooner than later but that’s a story for a different time.
In the meantime, let’s focus on a Razorback who got in on his first try: Nolan Richardson. Few Division I coaches not named Roy Williams or Jim Boeheim have won 500 games in shorter time than he did, and nobody before or since has taken the University of Arkansas to the same heights. Tonight is Richardson’s night, and here’s Moncrief’s take on it:
“I was very excited for Nolan. The impact he’s had on the game of basketball and people-wise … It goes beyond basketball; It’s overall impact on people, more specifically when you’re a college coach, it’s all about the young men you are leading and the impact that you have on them. And he’s done that for years. I’m very proud he was [chosen to be] inducted.”
PS – Moncrief now lives in Dallas, where he runs his own business and has written five books. He’s currently working on a book called “Your Passport to Manhood,” the latest in a Passport-themed series. Last season, he worked as a Milwaukee Bucks analyst but he said it isn’t set if he will return to that position.
In terms of basketball talent, Arkansas is in a golden era, producing elite players at a clip not seen in decades. But when it comes to national team recognition, the state is in a bit of a drought. Since 1996, only one native Arkansan has made a U.S. senior national team. In recent years, two of the state’s best young players – Anton Beard and Malik Monk – were in the running to make junior national teams at the U16 and U17 levels but were both cut multiple times. Monk’s most recent exclusion, which occurred last weekend, is the most surprising.
Monk, a consensus Top 15 player in the class of 2016, had a memorable summer torching foes as a headliner with the Arkansas Wings in Nike’s prestigious EYBL circuit (essentially, the Champions League of prep basketball). The 6’3″ shooting guard broke scoring records and put up 40 and 59 points while making a strong case that Arkansas, for likely the first time ever, is home to the nation’s most electrifying high school player*. The Arkansas Wings founder Ron Crawford, who has coached in the U.S. youth developmental system, said last week he believed there was “no doubt” Monk would make the U17 national team.
But after a three-day audition in Colorado involving 33 players, Monk was among the first cut. If the experience becomes a valuable lesson, this isn’t necessarily bad thing for Malik. He strives, after all, to become a world-class point guard, and none other than John Stockton – one of the top point guards of all time – was cut from the 1984 Olympic team. Monk already is one of the most athletic prospects we’ve ever seen at the guard position. Two of the most freakishly athletic forwards in the history of the game, Charles Barkley and Blake Griffin, were also cut from national teams.
Stockton, Barkley and Griffin all bounced back from their disappointments to become NBA All-Star caliber players. For Monk to one day do the same, he’ll have to keep improving. He must become a more consistent shooter and better decision maker, his older brother Marcus Monk said. “He’s really been working on his distribution as far as his passing skills and making better decisions with the ball. He’s improved in that area some.”
But Malik isn’t yet the well-rounded player his coaches and (potential) national team coaches want him to be. In the five games he played in the EYBL Finals, the only standard statistical category he led the Wings in was points (18.8 ppg). He finished second in blocks (0.4) and assists (2.6), third in steals (1.6) and fifth in rebounds (3.5).
Honing shot selection, though, is the biggest task right now. Squaring off against fellow Arkansan KeVaughn Allen, Monk scored 40 points on 14-for-20 shooting against Memphis-based Team Penny. But in the other four games, he shot 11% from 3-point range and 21% overall from the field.
Marcus Monk has been working on helping his brother cut down on bad shots. They break down film of his game to sharpen Malik’s court awareness and make him a better teammate, Marcus said. “It’s more discussion as far as how to read screens and looking at that second and third level of defense. Like a quarterback, you know.”
In early July, Monk had a chance to learn firsthand from one of the world’s most efficient basketball players when he attended the LeBron James Skills Academy. James is “really active with his camp. He takes time with all the players,” recalled Marcus Monk, who attended the event as an observer.
Perhaps fitting the Nike pullover Malik Monk is rocking in this picture is definitively old school. He is, after all, constantly pursuing mastery of the game’s timeless fundamentals – whether that’s making the correct dribble or pass in a half-court set, or taking the right angle on post defense.
But the 16-year-old Monk wouldn’t be one of the nation’s hottest recruits if his game didn’t also incorporate jaw-droppingly futuristic
athleticism. That fusion, along with his story of escaping poverty for a better life in the Mecca of Walmart, provided the impetus for this CBS Sports feature .
Major kudos go to my Max Preps editor Mitch Stephens, who was willing to invest a lot of time and money in a multimedia feature that includes the work of talented Arkansan photographers and videographers.
I was really glad to work with freelance photographer John David Pittman on this. Along with videographer Matt Johnson, we went up to Conway last week to report on Bentonville’s quarterfinal game against Cabot. Considering Pittman and I live just a few houses apart in North Little Rock, it’s a shame this was our first assignment together. Hopefully, we’ll collaborate on other assignments even after I move to Benton County this summer.
Have a good weekend, everyone.
And make sure to check out what’s shaping up to be an epic Parkview-Joneboro title game in Hot Springs tomorrow night.
It’s March, which means basketball fever is spreading through Arkansas. Interest in the high school state tournament is extra high this year as the state enjoys a high school basketball golden age thanks to headliners like junior KeVaughn Allen and sophomore Malik Monk. Both highly recruited shooting guards are accomplished beyond their years. Last year, Allen helped lead North Little Rock to a state title as a sophomore and picked up Finals MVP along the way. Monk, ranked by some outlets as the best shooting guard in the nation in his class, may one-up him. Despite two late season losses, Monk has helped turn Bentonville into a powerhouse for the first time in a long time while racking up obscene box scores. (Who else hits 11 of 12 three-pointers, as Monk did in one January game?)
Allen and Monk, who both stand around 6-3, aren’t the first sophomore wing players to dominate the local high school scene. In the early 1970s, another great high school golden age was tipping off and Little Rock native Dexter Reed was in the thick of it. The 6-2 guard went on one of the most devastating tourney tears of any era to lead Little Rock Parkview to its first state title.
In 1971, Parkview had only existed for three years. All the dynastic names affiliated with the school now — Ripley, Flanigan, Fisher — were still far off in the future. These ‘71 Patriots finished their regular season with a 15-12 record, but caught fire in the state tournament at Barton Coliseum, knocking off Jacksonville, McClellan, Jonesboro and finally, Helena. Through those four games, Reed averaged 27 points including 43 to secure the Class AAA title, then the state’s second largest. Ron Brewer, who regularly played pickup ball with Reed in the 1970s, said his friend was among the best scorers in state history: “He was like a choreographer out there, just dancing and weaving and getting the defense all discombobulated. And when it’s all said and done, he just destroyed you. He destroyed you by himself.”
Reed was a different kind of player from Monk and Allen but effective in his own way. The new schoolers are both extremely explosive athletes with deep three-point range. Reed didn’t play above the rim, and he didn’t see much reason to shoot 21-footers in his three point shot-less era. “I wasn’t the best of shooters,” he says. “I was more of a scorer. I could get by people, you know — I tried to be like Earl the Pearl.”
Reed won another title as a junior and by his senior year was a second-team Parade All-American who had hundreds of scholarship offers. The University of Arkansas was an early favorite. Reed had grown up a Razorback fan, and many in his inner circle wanted to see him play for coach Lanny Van Eman. Among those was local coach Houston Nutt, Sr., who had taught him the game’s fundamentals. “He had a lot of influence on me,” says Reed, who as a boy had sold popcorn at War Memorial Stadium with Houston Nutt, Jr.
Memphis State University, fresh off a national championship appearance, also entered the recruiting picture. Reed’s parents liked the fact that its campus was more than an hour closer to their home than Fayetteville. Other factors tipped the scales Memphis’ way. For starters, the Tigers played in an arena that didn’t make Reed uncomfortable. One area of the Hogs’ Barnhill Fieldhouse where the football team worked out was covered in sawdust. “I had sinus problems, and I’d be coughing there during summer basketball camps,” he says. Moreover, Reed’s older brother already attended the UA but had had trouble socially acclimating. Reed’s brother told him to strongly consider a larger city as Fayetteville was then a small town and there “wasn’t but a handful of black kids.”
Dexter Reed chose Memphis State and as a freshman immediately made a splash, racking up more than 500 points and leading the Tigers to a 19-11 finish. A serious injury to his knee ligaments the following season diminished his quickness, but he bounced back to average 18.8 points a game as a senior and landed on two All-America teams.
One highlight his last year was a return to Little Rock to play a surging Hogs program under new coach Eddie Sutton. As Sutton’s first great Hogs team, that 1976–77 bunch only lost one regular season game. On Dec. 30, 1976, a then record crowd jammed into Barton Coliseum to watch Reed, the greatest scorer Little Rock had ever produced, square off against Hog stars like Brewer, a junior, and sophomores Sidney Moncrief and Marvin Delph. They were all friends and ribbed each other in advance of Reed’s only college game in his hometown. Brewer recalls, “Me, Sidney and Marvin kept saying ‘You can come back all you want, but you ain’t gonna win this one.’ And he single handily kept them in the ballgame.”
Arkansas led for most of it, with Reed guarding Moncrief and then Brewer. But Reed and the bigger Tigers finished strong, with Reed hitting free throws down the stretch to clinch a 69-62 win. “I didn’t really think it was that big to my teammates, but after it was over, they all came over jumping on me,” Reed says. As he left the arena, he recalled seeing some of the same people in the crowd who had watched him burst onto the stage seven years earlier as a Parkview sophomore. “It was like a time warp,” he says.
Fast forward to the present, and Reed still lives in Memphis, where he runs sign and flower shops and hosts a sports radio show every Saturday morning. His parents have passed, so he doesn’t make it back to Little Rock much anymore. But he still follows the Razorbacks, and he’s heard from friends and Memphis coaches about some of the state’s great high school guards like KeVaughn Allen. Reed is glad to know the tradition he helped nourish is in good hands. He concludes, “My heart has always been with Arkansas.”
An earlier version of this story was originally published in this month’s issue of Celebrate Arkansas.