17 Apr

Just How Good Were Patrick Beverley and Joe Johnson in Game 1?

Heading into this postseason, former Razorback Patrick Beverley had played in 17 playoff games since his first postseason foray with Houston in 2013. On Sunday night, he bested them all with 21-point, 10-rebound, 3-assist, 2-steal masterpiece as the Rockets blasted the Thunder 118-87.

He walked away with an all-time playoff-high 19.4 “game score,” which is a metric stats maven/Grizzlies executive John Hollinger created to roughly measure of a player’s productivity for a single game.

Beverley’s previous two best playoff games came in the first four games of the opening round of the 2013. That series also featured a matchup against the Thunder, and Beverley’s most memorable came on the heels of the unintentional injury he caused to Russell Westbrook:

As you can see in these basketball-reference.com stats below, Beverley had a 17.6 game score in Game 2 of that series, and a 15.2 game score in Game 4. Otherwise, until Sunday night, he’d mostly struggled during the postseason. [The tables below are scrollable. Scroll to the right to see more stats such as game score].

2013

2014

2016

*Game Score, according to basketball-reference.com, is the formula PTS + 0.4 * FG – 0.7 * FGA – 0.4*(FTA – FT) + 0.7 * ORB + 0.3 * DRB + STL + 0.7 * AST + 0.7 * BLK – 0.4 * PF – TOV. The scale is similar to that of points scored, (40 is an outstanding performance, 10 is an average performance, etc.)

Similarly, former Razorback Joe Johnson had experienced a 20-game playoff struggle heading into this weekend. Since the 2014 playoffs, when he detonated against Toronto and Miami, Johnson had put together a string of 20 straight playoff games in which didn’t notch a game score over 14.2. Last year, when he played for the Heat, was especially depressing. The Little Rock native had eight postseason games with eight game score points or less.

That drought came to a halt against the Clippers, though, when Johnson’s 21-point performance on 9 of 14 field goal attempts led to a 20.1 game score and kicked off a weekend of Pro Hog greatness.

 

12 Apr

Arkansas’s “White” Newspaper Chose All-Star Teams for State’s All-Black Schools

Pine Bluff Merrill football

Throughout much of the 20th century, the  Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat lorded over all other in-state publications as Arkansas’s most comprehensive and in-depth news sources. But when it came to thorough coverage of the state’s African-American communities, these newspapers—owned and staffed only by whites until mid-century—did not offer very deep coverage.

This, of course, is no surprise given much of society was then segregated and the African-American population was significantly smaller statewide (although larger in Little Rock where the Gazette and Democrat were based).

All the same, the Gazette did occasionally run news briefs about the all-black schools’ athletics or allow stringers from the black communities to publish updates in its pages. Far less known is that in the mid-1930s the Gazette published its own all-black schools all-state football team for both the high school and college ranks.

It’s unknown who actually compiled the list below, or how long the Gazette did this. We just know they tried it at least once in 1935. In later decades, it was commonplace for the Gazette to use stringers (e.g. Ozell Sutton) to cover all-black sports events, according to Wadie Moore, the Gazette’s first black sportswriter and longtime officer in the Arkansas Activities Association. I also know that in the 1940s, at least, the Gazette would run updates written by the all-black activities association itself.

My best guess is the following selections were made with heavy input from the coaches of the black schools themselves. Regardless of who wrote it, and the method by which these players were chosen, it’s notable that a “white” paper in 1930s segegrated South chose to pay tribute to all-black schools like this. It  speaks to how football-crazed Arkansas was/is, to the point where that passion seemingly superseded Jim Crow laws. It also speaks to the possibility that even white Arkansans were proud of the fact that Pine Bluff Merrill High was coming off back-to-back national championship seasons in 1933 and 1934.

December 8, 1935:

With all the outstanding schools represented, the Gazette, for the first time in its history, names an All-State Negro high school and college team today. The team was selected by vote of the coaches who co-operated in making the undertaking possible.

On the high school selection, Merrill of Pine Bluff, state champions and recognized by many as the national champions, lead the parade, placing three men on the first team, and three on the second. Dunbar of Little Rock and Scipio A. Jones of North Little Rock placed two men each and the other positions went to Washington High of Texarkana; Washington High of Texarkana; Washington High of El Dorado; Langston High of Hot Springs, and Arkansas State High of Pine Bluff.

Arkansas A. M. & N. of Pine Bluff, state champions for the past two years, was allotted five places on the college selection while Shorter of North Little Rock and Philander Smith of Little Rock placed three each.

Allen, Merrill’s sensational quarterback, was selected as captain of the high school team. Mitchell of North Little Rock fell only a few votes short of obtaining this honor. Robinson, Arkansas A. M. & N. end, was an unanimous choice for the captain’s berth on the college eleven.

Below are the names of the Gazette’s all-state selections. Unfortunately, the quality of the the scan or microfilming is bad, so only a few names are legible. (Better quality microfilm copies, and the original paper itself, are available off-line elsewhere.)

Arkansas black college football

Obviously, Pine Bluff Merrill High’s “Allen” was a big deal. Lamar ‘Buddy’ Allen might have been the 1930s version of Basil Shabazz, who in the 1980s became Arkansas’s most legendary multi-sport prep star.

In 1932, Allen was a 5-10, 170 pound, 18-year-old Merrill High freshman who was said to be able to throw a football 50 yards while in the air, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette‘s Untold Stories: Black Sports Heroes Before Integration. He started at back, helping the Merrill Tigers go undefeated and at last dethrone Dunbar, which hadn’t been defeated in four years. Merrill again went undefeated in the 1933 regular season and claimed a national championship despite a Christmas Day loss to Ardmore, Oklahoma. Merrill repeated as national champions the following season.

Throughout high school, Allen also played for the Pine Bluff Boosters, a semipro team which played in Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana, as well as Piney Wood, Mississippi and Dumas and McGehee, according to former Democrat-Gazette reporter Darren Ivy.  Also, one summer, he joined a gaggle of Arkadelphia natives to play semipro ball in Butte, Montana of all places. [I write more about that team, and the reason for the Arkansas-Montana talent “pipeline,” in my upcoming book on the history of African-American athletes in Arkansas.]

For at least two seasons around 1940 Allen also played third base for the Birmingham Black Barons of the American Negro League. “He had a strong arm and stayed close to .300  hitting in the Negro leagues,” his brother George Allen told Ivy. “He also was a long ball hitter.”


PS: The image above is of “Buddy” Allen. It was donated to the book Untold Stories by Allen’s daughter LaFaye Campbell, and republished courtesy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. 

01 Apr

Hugo Bezdek, a Rose Bowl Coach Who Did Fairly Hilarious Things

Hugo Bezdek, the the football coach who led the Hogs to their first undefeated season, was a bit of a character. Or at least, that’s how a former NBC sports director described him during a yarn he told about the third time Bezdek led a team (Penn State in this case)  to the Rose Bowl:

“Even though the game was scheduled to start at 2:15, Penn State didn’t arrive in the Rose Bowl until 2:30,” Bill Stern said in 1948, according to the Daily Capital Journal in Salem, Oregon. “When State did show up, the surly Mr. Bezdek said his team had been caught in a traffic jam. By this time, Coach Henderson of USC was hot under the collar. He didn’t believe Bezdek’s story, and bluntly accused the Penn State mentor of stalling. Whereupon Bezdek blew up.

He turned to Henderson and at the top of his lungs shouted: ‘You’re a liar!’ And at the same time he invited Henderson to take off his glasses. However the two coaches (who were more ‘up’ for the game than their players) were separated before any blows were struck…”

Bezdek had a temper, no doubt, and it sometimes got the best of him. In the Jan. 10, 1948 issue of the Daily Capital Journal, sports editor Fred Zimmerman wrote that according to a former player, “He was like that before every game. He worked all of the angles to get his players keyed up to a fighting pitch and he wasn’t averse to insulting anybody who crossed his path.”

Zimmerman continued: “Bezdek’s psychology, or whatever one may care to term his maneuvers, once got unexpected results. He invaded the realms of the chef of a prominent Portland restaurant yelling state of the steaks served, but he emerged faster than he went in when the cook chased him with the one of his long carving knives.’

Below is yet more evidence of Bezdek’s penchant for getting himself into sticky situations. It comes from the May 31, 1907 Albany Daily Democrat.

Hugo Bezdek

30 Mar

Talking about Muhammad Ali in Arkansas with Kyle Kellams

A deep dive into the Arkansas visit Muhammad Ali took to Little Rock, Pine Bluff and Fayetteville 

I recently went on to the KUAF radio show “Ozarks at Large” to discuss the intricacies of Muhammad Ali’s 1969 to Arkansas. Give a listen to my talk with host Kyle Kellams here.

The visit lasted about five days in total and was filled to the brim with controversy. At one point, Muhammad Ali visited Pine Bluff. Below is excerpt from my upcoming book: African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and other Forgotten Stories [scroll through a digital preview here]

Ali then drove to Pine Bluff, where he walked into the union of what is now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the state’s largest historically-black school. A similar scene played out as had at LRU, with Ali counseling against violence while speaking against “forced” integration.

At that time, Ali was appealing his draft into the U.S. Army on the grounds he was a Black Muslim minister. A UAPB student asked him why he didn’t try to enter the military as a chaplain if he opposed violence on religious grounds. Ali answered by saying if he did, he would not be allowed to say what he believed.[] Ali also read some poetry and a song he had composed named “It’s All Over Mighty Whitey.”

The city of Pine Bluff is in Arkansas’ Delta, straddling the southern and eastern parts of the state, which in the late 1800s developed into a hotbed for the state’s first mass, black-nationalist movement: the Back-to-Africa migrations.

Approximately 600 black Arkansans emigrated to Liberia, an independent, west African republic which symbolized racial pride to many African Americans in the 19th century. Liberia’s elected black government offered free land to American settlers, an especially enticing offer to poor black farmers increasingly burdened by exploitative tenancy arrangements. Interest in Liberian immigration peaked in the 1890s, which was “a time when cotton prices hit rock bottom and white racism reached its zenith,” UCA historian Kenneth Barnes points out in “Journey of Hope: The Back-to-Africa Movement in Arkansas.” “The 1890s saw the greatest number of lynchings in American history. As it became increasingly clear that black Americans would not get a seat at the table, Liberia posed an alternative to integration, an escape to an all-black world.”


My upcoming book focuses squarely on the legacy of African-American athletes in the state of Arkansas, and the important interconnections between the sports world and larger issues of race relations and civil rights. Make sure to sign up to pre-order your own copy when it releases later in 2017.

Click here to get more info and be notified of its release.

For more info about Ali’s trip to Little Rock, check out this post.

19 Mar

Arkansas-North Carolina Makes NCAA Tournament History

North Carolina Arkansas

Arkansas becomes the first modern-era program to play one foe three straight times in the same round.

This evening, the No. 8 seed Razorbacks take the court against a heavily favored, No. 1 North Carolina squad in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. This feels a bit like deja vu for Hog fans, who have seen their Razorbacks match up against UNC in this same round in the program’s last two tournament appearances. Neither go-around — one in 2008, the other in 2015 — was close.

When coincidences like this happen to a specific fanbase, it’s enticing for those fans to believe said “crazy thing” happens only to them, that they have been somehow specially smited by the basketball gods. Here’s the thing, though: Such singularity really is happening to to the Razorbacks.

With today’s game, Arkansas becomes the first program since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams — or 32 teams, for that matter — to play another program in three straight appearances in the same round. To put this in context, consider that heading into this 2017 NCAA Tournament, there have been about 110 “rivalries” in which one program has played another at least three times over the 78-year history of the NCAA Tournament.

In none of those cases, in the modern era, has any program undergone what’s happening to Arkansas. Before expansion to a 32-team field, this “three-peat” did occur in the 1950s through early 1960s, when the total pool of teams was much smaller and programs tended to more often play geographic neighbors in the first round. In this era, the NCAA Tournament fluctuated between 22 and 25 entries. Below are the other occurrences, according to an analysis of mcubed.net:

Seattle: From 1953 to 1956, met Idaho State each year in the first round (won three, lost one).

Utah State:  From 1962 to 1964, met Arizona State each year in the first round (won two, lost one).

Oregon State:  From 1962 to 1964, met Seattle* each year in the first round (won two, lost one).

Tonight’s game against North Carolina presents a daunting challenge for the Hogs. The speedy Tar Heels hold advantages on paper across the board. They are, for starters, most strong (in rebounding) where Arkansas is the most weak. And their best player, the 6-foot-8 Justin Jackson, is the kind of rangy, skilled wing for which Arkansas simply has no answer.

While the Hogs regularly throw out four players in the 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-3 range in Dusty Hannahs, Jaylen Barford, Manny Watkins, Daryl Macon and Anton Beard, North Carolina has only have one starter under 6-foot-6 . Simply put, North Carolina represents the kind of gold standard to which Arkansas is aspiring: a team more skilled, longer and more athletic.Hannahs is hardly using hyperbole when during a media session this weekend he noted, “This is David and Goliath.”

Statistically, the chances of an Arkansas upset are slim. But, from all outside appearances, the players and coaches firmly believe they can do it.  They have, after all, seen infinitesimal odds overcome before. If not, they wouldn’t be on the cusp of playing UNC three straight times in the same round in the first place.


*The star of a few of those early 1960s Seattle teams was North Little Rock’s Eddie Miles, whom former Hog basketball coach Glen Rose wanted to make the first black Razorback. I write more about that story and others in my upcoming book African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and other Forgotten Stories.

06 Mar

Mike Anderson’s 2014-17 Hogs Better Than Nolan’s Late ’90s Teams

Mike Anderson

Since 2014, Mike Anderson’s Hogs are winning more than Kareem Reid/Derek Hood-era Arkansas

I can’t help myself: I love Mike Anderson/Nolan Richardson comparisons.

As an Arkansas native, I firsthand remember growing up in the 1990s and breathlessly following each of Richardson’s Razorback teams. That experience — along with watching my classmates Joe Johnson and Jarrett Hart play at LR Central — seared into me a deep love for the game of basketball.

Nolan Richardson himself has told me he doesn’t expect Anderson to follow exactly in his footsteps, and Anderson has publicly said just about the same thing. These men are too old and accomplished to worry much about metrics, notching marks on belts, counting golden, basketball-shaped bullion and that kind of thing.

But I’m not.

I love it. Numerical comparisons appear to cleanly tie together different eras of Razorback basketball so many decades apart. They also provide a clear standard of success. The bar had been set. So let’s ask: Is Anderson meeting it?

When comparing the coaches’ first seasons on the Hill, Mike Anderson comes out ahead. Neither coach made the NCAA tourney in Years One or Two, but Anderson’s overall 37-27 record was superior to Richardson’s 31-30.

Year Three for both coaches got off to a bad start, as sportswriter Jim Harris points out:

After two seasons of inconsistent play and fans wondering if Frank Broyles had erred in replacing Eddie Sutton with the man in polka dots and cowboy boots. That third season got off to as woeful a start as any — a blowout loss AT Tulsa, the school that had produced Nolan in the first place. It’s pretty much forgotten now. But it was not much uglier than the Hogs’ SEC-opening trip to Texas A&M in Anderson’s third year.

Turns out, neither drubbing foretold what would eventually happen.

Arkansas wasn’t as bad as that season-opening loss at Tulsa indicated in 1987-88, eventually pulling together to compete for the [SWC] championship and earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament…”

Of course, while Nolan did start churning out NCAA Tournament appearances in that third year, Anderson only produced one in his seasons three through five.

But with 23 regular season wins, including six on the road, Arkansas will return this season.  In doing so, Mike Anderson’s Hogs have so far strung together a three-year run that is better than any in his mentor’s last seven seasons.

Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, Anderson’s teams have won 66 of 99 regular season and postseason games. That’s a 66.67 winning percentage.

I dig into this more for an upcoming OnlyInArk.com article, but for now imagine the best three-year runs Arkansas basketball has had since the 1994-95 season when the Hogs finished as the national runner-up.

Those happened, not surprisingly, not long afterward in the late 1990s, when Kareem Reid, Pat Bradley and Derek Hood consistently led  Arkansas into NCAA Tournament appearances after leading them to a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1996:

1996-97: 18-14

1997-98: 24-9

1998-99: 23-11

The overall winning % in this three-year run was 65.66%

 

1997-98: 24-9

98-99:  23-11

1999-00*: 19-15

The overall winning % in this three-year run was 65.35%

(*The aforementioned trio had left by this season, and the Jannero Pargo/Joe Johnson era had begun)

After that, as we slide into the last couple years of the Richardson era, and then into the Stan Heath and John Pelphrey eras, it only gets worse.

Without the same kind of postseason success Richardson had even in the late 1980s and late 1990s (i.e. outside of the peak years of the early-mid 1990s), these kinds of statistics will ring hollow with many Razorback fans. But they still provide some value. They show while Anderson’s teams have seemed maddeningly inconsistent at times, he is overall tracking ahead of his mentor when compared to Richardson’s early-career and late-career team performances.

For Hog fans, two main questions endure: What is Anderson’s ceiling? How close will it be Richardson’s?

With the elite levels of talent, size and athleticism Anderson has coming in these next few years, we’re going to get that answer sooner than later.

03 Mar

Talking Fayetteville’s Lost Black Razorbacks with the Local NPR

Kyle Kellams

I recently discussed Fayetteville’s forgotten “Black Razorbacks” of the Great Depression era on Ozarks at Large, a daily news and culture show through KUAF National Public Radio 91.3 FM. I always enjoy talking with the show’s host Kyle Kellams, who I’d gander has one of the most inquisitive, roving minds in the tri-state area.

Check out our 11-minuteish interview here:

 

And here’s a preview of the story itself:

Razorback linebacker Brooks Ellis had lived in Fayetteville his whole life, but had never heard of the Black Razorbacks. Not that he’s to blame. Hardly anyone, after all, remembers the group of young African-American men who donned old Razorback and Fayetteville High jerseys during the Great Depression and played football across Fayetteville and the region. These northwest Arkansas locals represented their region against other all-black teams from Russellville to Joplin, forming a kind of regional “Negro Leagues of football” all but forgotten by Arkansans today.

They also upend common modern conceptions of athletic segregation in the Old South. Not only did this team scrimmage against white players from a then-segregated Fayetteville High School, but they did so on the grounds of the segregated University of Arkansas itself — under the watch and tutelage of white Razorback football coaches. Moreover, the white players often visited Fayetteville’s all-black neighborhood to play there. “That’s awesome to hear about,” Ellis said as he sat in the Razorbacks locker room in August 2015. His alma mater, Fayetteville High School, stood less than a mile away.

Ellis noted Fayetteville High School had in 1954 become the first high school in Arkansas to publicly announce its desegregation — “I take a little pride in that” — but the fact African Americans were regularly playing against the all-white Bulldogs decades before that was news to him. He added, “It would be cool to learn more about, obviously.”

Let us begin, then.

Much of the Black Razorbacks’ story comes to us from accounts of their games buried in the archives of the Northwest Arkansas Times, a newspaper run by civic leader Roberta Fulbright — the mother of future U.S. senator U.S. senator J. William Fulbright. The most detailed known retrospective comes from Arthur Friedman, a white Fayetteville resident who attended Fayetteville High School in the early 1930s.

He often watched the Black Razorbacks’ scrimmages and games, and considered those times “the highlight of my growing-up years and school,” he wrote in a 1985 Northwest Arkansas Times article. Indeed he considered the African-American players, many around his age, as friends.


To read the rest of this story, and other long-forgotten stories about Arkansas’ sports heritage, reserve a copy of my forthcoming book African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and Other Forgotten Stories.

 

14 Feb

Bill Ingram on Mike Anderson’s Fate at Arkansas: Part 1

Bill Ingram

Bill Ingram, a former Razorback football player who lives in the Little Rock area,  has become one of his state’s most influential basketball people. He directs the Arkansas Hawks AAU program, which last summer put forth a 16U team from which every last starter has committed to the Hogs.

But their on-court impact is almost  two years away. Will current Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson even be around then? This has become a pressing topic in light of Arkansas’ recent stretch of bad losses to Oklahoma State, Missouri and Vanderbilt.

Bill Ingram recently shared his thoughts on Arkansas’ program with sports talk show host Bo Mattingly. The below excerpts are lightly edited for clarity:

Bill Ingram: … I’m just like any other fan. I’m disappointed in what’s going on and how the team is playing. And hopefully, that they can turn this thing around now but, the thing is, can you turn it around? And some of the things that we’ve got a chance to witness is just not a pretty … It’s not good basketball. And when it’s a lack of effort and that’s never a good thing.

Bo Mattingly: What has surprised you the most about how this season has unfolded?

Bill Ingram: At times the lack of effort. From looking at it from a coach’s standpoint, what I see is: I’m just not sure guys really know their role. I don’t think guys’ roles have been defined, or they’re not playing their roles, that stuff.

When I look at them I see, just a little bit of all kinds of stuff from each of the players. And we got a post man out shooting threes and putting the ball between his legs. I’m an old school type guy, so I think everybody should know exactly what they’re suppose to be doing and what’s expected of them. And it’s obvious when you get some of the results that they’re getting, that’s not the case.

Bo Mattingly: There’s been a lot of in state kids that have gone elsewhere, some because they didn’t get an offer, others because they just chose, like KeVaughn Allen or Malik Monk. How would you describe what [Anderson’s] been able to do in recruiting? Obviously it looks good moving forward. How would you kind of summarize it?

Bill Ingram: Well, like you said, it looks good moving forward. But what’s happen in the past, it has not been good. Cause having a guy … getting an opportunity to get a guy like KeVaughn. He would have been a perfect fit for some of the stuff they’re doing.

Now the situation with Malik was totally different. I think that they had different plans from the very beginning and that’s just my opinion. And it didn’t make a difference, if Phil Jackson was the coach, they weren’t going to be here. That’s my opinion.

But KeVaughn probably may be a little different story. I don’t know how the recruiting went with him, because of course I wasn’t a part of it, but I would have really loved to see him in a Razorback uniform.

Bo Mattingly: … What do you think is the issue with Arkansas basketball, big picture, that has lead to one tournament in five years, and what could end up being one NCAA tournament in six years?

Bill Ingram: Well the big picture is we thought we would be a lot farther along in six years. We thought this team would be a solid 3rd or 4th place team and having a good chance of heading to the NCAA tournament. And that was true up until about 10 days ago. But, the fact is, that we’re going through some of these growing pains and this is year six of Coach Anderson’s coaching regime.

It’s not a good thing. And I don’t know if there’s anybody that would say any different. So we thought we would be in a better position by now and we’re not there… Fans are not happy. You spend your hard earned dollars to go and support your team and they go out there and give efforts like that. I don’t want to get into what kind of talent level’s Missouri got, but it’s definitely not the talent level of Arkansas. So those games are games that you know that you need to win.

And in order for you to build a good basketball program you gotta win the games you’re suppose to win.


Read more about Ingram’s thoughts on Anderson and the state of the Hogs  by going here. 

21 Jan

Hogs are Better In SEC Road Games Than At Home. How Rare Is That?

moses kingsley

A troika of seniors also led the last Razorback team to start conference playing better on the road than at home.

 

The ’98-’99 team had a rough SEC home start, but a helluva finish.

Road struggles have defined the Razorback basketball program through much of the 21st century. In the glory years of the late 1970s through mid 1990s, the Hogs were nearly invincible at home while winning their fair share of road games. In the 21st century, they have still been one of the SEC’s most dominant home teams but constant road woes have often sunk them into mediocrity.

This year, though, these 21st century trends are changing, for better and worse.

First, the good news for Hog fans: Their team has begun winning road games at a rate similar to that of the 1990s Nolan Richardson-led teams. Since 2014, Arkansas is 11-10 on the road in SEC play. Arkansas had gone 16-81 in the previous dozen seasons before that.

The problem: In the last two years, the program has been anything but invincible at home.

The result is a strange inversion of the Razorback’s usual 21st century mojo: This 2016-17 team has lost two of its first three SEC home games, while winning two of its first three SEC road games.

That’s very unusual.

Indeed, in the last 69 years*, only one other Razorback team has gotten off to a better start on the road than at home in the first six conference games of the season. That team, the 1998-99 Hogs, spent most of that season ranked in the Top 25 (no higher than No.18).

Those Hogs won their first SEC contest of the season — a road game — against LSU 80-75. It then lost on the road to Auburn, then ranked No. 14, 83-66.

Here’s how its next four games panned out:

(Home) Ole Miss, L 76-65

(Away) Mississippi State W 61-59

(Home) Georgia, W 82-79

(Home) Alabama, L 67-60

Those Hogs were stocked with All-SEC caliber seniors in Pat Bradley, Derek Hood and Kareem Reid. Their experience and tenacity was critical to allowing the squad to squeak out those road victories. This Hogs team also showcases three important seniors: Dusty Hannahs, Moses Kingsley and Manny Watkins.

Hannahs and Bradley fulfill similar roles on their respective teams, as do Hood and Kingsley. But nobody on the team has been able to harass opposing point guards, while consistently staying in front of them, like the ultra-quick Kareem Reid.  These Hogs’ inability to contain quick guards killed them in home losses against Florida and Mississippi State, and in the second half against Kentucky.

Former Razorback Blake Eddins, who began playing under Nolan Richardson in 1999-2000, recently joked this year’s team needs “a couple of defensive stoppers like Pat Bradley and Blake Eddins in there, to really bend their knees and get that butt down and show them how to play defense.”

“I’ll say this: I would have clotheslined a guy if he had a wide-open fast break layup. And that’s about all I was good for,” Eddins told Pat Bradley, now a sports radio co-host, on 103.7 The Buzz FM.

It’s difficult to imagine Dusty Hannahs — or newcomers Daryl Macon or Jaylen Barford — playing with this kind of Charles Oakleyeque defensive tenacity. But Barford and Macon do have the needed quickness to become much more effective one-on-one defenders, while Watkins and Anton Beard, though not as quick, have long flashed Kareem Reid/Corey Beck-like defensive effort.

It’s just a matter of putting it together in longer stretches, and specifically against the SEC’s best point guards.

That 1998-99 team ended with a fantastic home stand, beating No. 6 Kentucky and No. 2 Auburn in its final two SEC home games. It later made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Manny Watkins knows this is the last chance for he, Kingsley and Hannahs to make a similar statement.

“It’s our last year,” he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “The sense of urgency is through the roof. In order to win, you’ve got to do things and it has to be from your seniors.”


*Only one team during the Razorbacks’ SWC days won at least two of its first three road conference games while losing at least two of its first three home conference games. That would be the ’48-’49 Hogs, which ultimately finished 9-3 in conference as SWC champs.

** Arkansas isn’t the only SEC team struggling at home this season. Through January 20, SEC teams are a combined 18-21 in home SEC games . (h/t to Blake Eddins)

african-american arkansans

Includes how NLR native Eddie Miles almost became the first black Razorback in basketball 

29 Dec

James Shibest: “I can remember how chunky ol’ Austin was when he was young”

James Shibest

The Virginia Tech special teams coach recalls meeting Austin Allen while coaching at Arkansas

James Shibest and Bobby Allen are at the center of Razorbacks-Hokies football coaching cross-pollination. Allen, a former Virginia Tech player, has been on the Arkansas staff for nearly 20 years. Shibest, meanwhile, is a former Razorback player and coach. He’s in his first year at Virginia Tech, coaching special teams and tight ends for Hokies coach Justin Fuente.

They will both be on the sidelines for today’s Belk Bowl, in which Arkansas is a touchdown underdog to Virginia Tech according to the latest betting odds.

Shibest, who coached at Arkansas 2000-07, yesterday recalled Allen training his two sons in and around Razorback Stadium. Those boys, Brandon Allen and Austin Allen, have combined to hold the Hogs’ starting quarterback job for the last four years.

“Almost every free minute he had he was working with them boys and obviously that worked,” Shibest told sports show host Bo Mattingly and sportswriter Clay Henry on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly. “Whether it be football, baseball, whatever it was, has paid off. God I’m just so happy for them guys. I used to remember how chunky ol’ Austin was when he was young… He’s an unbelievable competitor, let me tell you. I know all the Hog fans know that boy but I’ll tell you what, he is a good player.”

Here are some more choice excerpts from their conversation:

Bo Mattingly: … What was that period of your life like when you  left Arkansas when coach Nutt took the job at Ole Miss? Then when it didn’t work out at Ole Miss, you had some stuff to figure out…

James Shibest: No doubt. I have really been unbelievably blessed. Ever since I’ve gotten to this level I was very fortunate. I came from junior college and coach [Houston] Nutt hired me. God what an awesome person to work for and learn from. You love your alma mater so much, you want to stay there. It was tough.

Then when we went to Ole Miss went ahead but you got to go feed the family. Really the first time I really ever had to look for a job is when I got connected with coach Fuente at Memphis there. It didn’t take long, it was a couple of weeks. It wasn’t like I had to sit out a year. It’s a tough road a lot of times in this profession. I’ve been extremely lucky. Always having to be at a great place and then with great people to work for.

On coaching junior college football:

James Shibest: Let me tell you it was really a great training. First of all you learn how to go be a coach. Them guys kind of were on their second chance especially the Division I type guys through academics or various reasons. They needed you more. I don’t know if I’ve ever been closer to my players more than in junior college. It was obviously a little bit smaller but them guys really needed your help. There was some deep, deep satisfaction when you could get them to that … back to division one or whatever, to that next institution.

Clay Henry: I’ve written stories about the Arkansas wide receivers of late and I keep pulling up these top 10 lists. I keep finding you in there —

James Shibest: Didn’t do much as a freshman and then, of course, it was a little nerve wracking there. I came in with hopes and Coach [Ken] Hatfield was … Of course all you heard was the Flexbone. I didn’t really know what that was as far as being a receiver, how I would fit in that. It’s amazing how it turned out to be a great blessing. Them safeties have to play the dang triple option in there, and I was out there by myself one on one most of the time and-

Clay Henry: You ran those crossing routes. It’d take a little while. The safety would clear than then ere came Shibest, about eight seconds later.

James Shibest: All right now, I was a lot faster than what y’all say I was.

Clay Henry: Okay, sorry, sorry.

James Shibest: [Laughs] It was pretty cool. You know Brad [Taylor] was still there so we kind of had to throw the ball that first year and end up having a pretty good year. It all worked out just like the way it should have.

The Shibest File
Experience: 27th season, 1st at Virginia Tech
Hometown: Houston, Texas
High School: MacArthur
College: Arkansas (1987)
Playing Exp: Arkansas (1983-87)
Family: Wife – Dianna; Son – James John III, Daughter – Jordyn Grace

Coaching History

Year School Position
2016 Virginia Tech Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
2012-15 Memphis Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
2008-11 Ole Miss Special Teams Coordinator
2006-07 Arkansas Special Teams/Tight Ends
2002-05 Arkansas Special Teams/Wide Receivers
2000-01 Arkansas Special Teams/Tight Ends
1996-99 Butler County CC (Kan.) Head Coach
1994-95 Garden City CC (Kan.) Offensive Coordinator/QBs/WRs
1993 Independence CC (Kan.) Defensive Backs
1992 Independence CC (Kan.) Offensive Coordinator
1990-91 Oklahoma State Graduate Assistant