Reminiscing with the Razorbacks as NCAA Tourney approaches

Having old-time rival Texas in town for a baseball series sent this old Hog fan’s mind to reminiscing last night.

It didn’t hurt that the “SEC Storied” 40 Minutes of Hell” documentary played on the SEC Network right after its telecast of the baseball game in which the No. 10 Razorbacks walloped the Longhorns, 13-4.

The Hogs’ seven-run, third inning that broke the game open warmed the cockles of my heart. Though Texas hasn’t been a regular Razorback rival since Arkansas said adios to the old Southwest Conference way back in 1991, for oldtimers like me, there are still few things more pleasurable than putting it to the Longhorns.

Coach Dave Van Horn’s Hogs have another chance to rub salt into the Steers’ wound at 4 p.m. this afternoon with the second game of the series. This may not be a vintage Texas baseball team, but any win over the Longhorns is worth an extra Hog Call or two.

Of course, Texas is just the hors d’oeuvre this week. The Hogs’ baseball entree is the three-game, SEC-opening series with No. 5 Kentucky this weekend. As sweet as it is to whip UT — and it is sweet — this weekend’s series is the important one. Maybe, that’s why Van Horn was downplaying the importance of playing Texas this week?

But come Friday, either the Razorbacks or the Wildcats are going to make an early statement about the hierarchy in the SEC. The winner of the series will be off to a great start in the conference race while the loser will already be chasing from behind.

Of course, Friday is also a huge day for Mike Anderson and his Razorbacks basketball program. The Hogs (23-11) open play in the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional at Detroit at around 2:10 p.m. against Butler (20-13). The game will be televised on Tru TV. Thankfully, we all still have two days to find that channel on our various TV setups.

Actually, a quick google search yielded that Tru TV is carried by Cox on 2050, DirecTV on 246, Dish Network on 9430, AT&T on 1164, and Comcast 1351 in Arkansas. I’d double check that on your own system, just in case. You can also check the Tru TV website at

But, as I was saying the Texas baseball series and the “SEC Storied” documentary on Nolan Richardson and the 1994 national championship team got me to thinking about the past.

Of course, memories of Corliss Williamson, Scotty Thurman, Corey Beck, Clint McDaniel, Dwight Stewart, Darnell Robinson, Roger Crawford, Al Dillard and the other Hogs on that championship team stand out to those of us old enough to remember. That title will be forever celebrated On the Hill, and it should be.

But, it’s not the sum total of Razorback basketball. Arkansas fans of all ages have thrilled to the exploits of so many great, good, and steady players over the years. We all have our favorites.

My earliest memory of The Triplets — Marvin Delph, Ron Brewer, and Sidney Moncrief — dates back to Dec. 31, 1977 when they blew the doors off Memphis State, 95-70, in the Mid-South Coliseum at Memphis.

What a treat to be introduced them before their legendary run to the Final Four under Eddie Sutton. Back then, there were fewer televised games and some of them were tape-delayed. VCR’s were expensive and rare devices in middle-class households. Back then, I cherished the opportunity to watch the Razorbacks play on TV.

It was heartbreaking to watch Kentucky top Arkansas, 64-59, in the NCAA semifinals in 1978, but Arkansas’ 71-69 win over Notre Dame (and the officials) in the consolation game did make me feel a bit better. The NCAA did away with the consolation game after the 1981 NCAA Tournament.

The Triplets were the pinnacle of Hog Hoops for so long, but there were so many other Razorback greats that followed them.

Scott Hastings, a four-year starter for the Hogs before his long NBA career as a backup, was one of my favorites. He was a big man with touch back before that was an everyday thing.

I loved watching Downtown Tony Brown. He had a flair for getting into the passing lanes for steals, and the driving home big-time, Moncrief-like dunks.

Then there was U.S. Reed, one of the all-time great Razorback names who hit one of the most celebrated shots in Razorback and NCAA Tournament history with his late-game 49-footer to sink Louisville, 74-73, in the 1981 NCAA Tourney.

Darrell Walker had some of the best hands of any Razorback guards ever. He was so good on the ball, picking opponents pockets like no other Hog. However, Alvin Robertson probably was an even better overall defender, who could guard four spots.

Robertson, who is known as one of the toughest and meanest Razorbacks ever in any sport, had an explosive coming-out party in the 1982 SWC Tournament. I heard a story that once in practice, Robertson jumped over everyone to grab a rebound and managed to punch out a teammate before he landed.

During that same time period, 6-11 Joe Kleine was the man in the middle for the Razorbacks. I loved watching him work against the likes of Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon and SMU’s John Koncak. I borrowed his head fake, and it allowed a 5-10, fat kid like me to score more back-yard buckets than I should have ever been able to do against my buddies in junior high and high school.

There is no forgetting Charles Balentine, whose baseline jumper sent Michael Jordan and his No.1-ranked and undefeated North Carolina Tar Heels packing on that 1984 mid-February Sunday afternoon in Pine Bluff. What some folks don’t remember is that the Razorbacks won a key SWC matchup against SMU the day before in Dallas before taking a bumpy plane ride to Pine Bluff.

In the early Richardson era, I remember the sweet stroke of Tim Scott, the incredible athleticism and poor decisions of William Mills, the intimidating shot blocking of Andrew Lang, the inside moves of Mario Credit, the wonderful hands and leaping ability of Lenzie Howell and his fantastic mid-range offensive game, the silkiness of Ron Huery, and the downhill speed of Arlyn “Truck” Bowers.

Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, and Oliver Miller were there first true stars during Richardson’s era. Miller and Day were bold, brash, and talented while Mayberry’s game was sure, steady, and at the right time explosive.

In the Hogs’ 166-101 victory over U.S. International in 1988, Mayberry made a steal and threw down a 360-degree slam that stands as one of the prettiest dunks I’ve ever seen.

Mayberry was the hero of so many games, from gunning down Texas on the day Richardson walked off the court after a series of bad calls only to return and coach the overtime period as well as hitting big three-pointers against LSU.

Miller had fantastic hands, was a fine passer and a great shotblocker. The Hogs’ offense ran through him, and no Razorback big man has ever been better at finding the open man when double teamed.

The rubbery-limbed Day was wired to score. He had a nice stroke from three-point land, and a great head fake, first-step combination that allowed him to get to the rim like no other Razorback.

Once Corliss, Scotty and the rest of the championship gang exited, players like Sunday Adebayo, Kareem Reid, Derek Hood, Pat Bradley, Brandon Dean, and Joe Johnson carried the Razorbacks’ torch into the 21st century.

I know I’ve left out some fine Hog players particularly those from the last 15 years or so, but I’ll end this stroll down memory lane by reminding fellow Razorback fans to cherish this season. No, it wasn’t a championship year on the SEC level, and it won’t be on the national level either, but there have been some excellent individual and team play by this Razorback team.

Daryl Macon, Jaylen Barford are a special duo that Arkansas fans will remember for years. They are truly uncommon scorers. Barford, Macon and the rest of the Razorbacks seniors have given Hog fans some great memories.

The same goes for freshman Daniel Gafford. As Hog fans, we’re going to be talking and thinking about those windmill dunks for years, but it’s a real possibility we may be watching his final games in a Razorback uniform this weekend or the next.

As a fan, I hope Gafford returns for a sophomore year. I think Anderson and his staff can team him more, but if an NBA team is ready to take him in the first 15 to 20 picks, it’s probably time for him to make that leap.

Ironically, the better the Razorbacks do in the NCAA Tournament, the more likely it is for this to be Gafford’s last season.

Anderson has been saying all season that he believes this is a Razorback team that can make it past the first weekend of the tournament, but honestly there is no guarantee past Friday.

I expect Arkansas to beat Butler, but there are oddsmakers and analysts that like the Bulldogs, and don’t even believe them beating Arkansas would be an upset.

So, Hog fans enjoy the Razorbacks’ ride however long it may be.