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].
*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.
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:
The overall winning % in this three-year run was 65.66%
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?
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: … 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.
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)
Includes how NLR native Eddie Miles almost became the first black Razorback in basketball
Below is breakdown of where the Razorbacks have ranked nationally in “pace factor” (involving how many possessions a team has within the span of 40 minutes) in six seasons under head coach Mike Anderson.
For the unadulterated fun of it, I’ve listed rankings for other Arkansas programs as well. I’ve put records in parentheses to the right.
(Arkansas finished No. 50 in the nation in assists this season)
No. 6 UCA (2-27)
No. 12 Arkansas (27-9)
No. 89 A-State (11-18)
No. 148 UALR (13-18)
No. 192 UAPB (12-20)
(Arkansas finished No. 8 in assists, No. 17 in steals)
No. 3 UCA (8-21)
No. 11 Arkansas (22-12)
No. 82 Arkansas State (19-13)
No. 92 UALR (15-17)
No. 117 UAPB (13-18)
(Arkansas finished No. 31 in assists, No. 11 in steals)
No. 3 UCA (13-17)
No. 22 Arkansas (19-13)
No. 49 UALR (17-15)
No. 69 UAPB (16-14)
No. 166 A-State (19-12)
(Arkansas finished No. 71 in assists, No. 23 in steals)
No. 6 UCA (8-21)
No. 30 Arkansas (18-14)
No. 165 UAPB (11-12)
No. 216 UALR (15-16)
No. 273 Arkansas State (14-20)
(Arkansas finished No. 131 in assists, No. 43 in steals)
Below are a look at some of Mike Anderson’s Missouri teams. Sports-Reference.com doesn’t track pace before the 2009-10 season, but it’s safe to assume Anderson’s Elite Eight ’09 team would have ranked highly there.
No. 15 Missouri (23-11)
(No. 20 in assists and No. 3 in steals)
No. 34 Missouri (23-11)
(No. 34 in assists and No. 1 in steals)
Missouri (31-7) finished No. 1 in Assists and No. 2 in steals.
Likewise, Nolan’s best Arkansas teams in the 1990s often finished in the top 2 in both assists and steals.
Below is a transcript of the Razorback basketball head coach’s post-game comments to Razorback broadcaster Phil Elson after his team’s first defeat of the 2016-17 season. It was a 14-point loss to Minnesota on Nov. 22.
… Defensively I didn’t think we really for the most part got after Minnesota and challenged them and made things difficult. Early in the game I thought we did, but even then you talk about we had probably some unforced turn overs. That led to some easy opportunities for them. You can’t do that on the road.
We talked about the things you got to do. You got to be able to shoot the basketball well, get quality shots, and that’s probably evident that we only had 8 assists. I mean that, we could get 8 assists in the first 8 minutes of any game and so that tells you the rhythm wasn’t there, but let’s give Minnesota credit. I thought they came in well prepared and really made it difficult for our 3-point shooters.
I thought Moses [Kingsley], you know we missed some easy shots inside, as well as Moses missing some, but yeah that’s a learning curve for our basketball team. When you go on the road man, it’s going to be physical. There are going to be some things that don’t take place that you get at home that take place on the road and you got to be able to fight through some adversity and we didn’t and got down early. It was an uphill battle in the second half. We cut it to maybe 14, 16 – 14 points, with the basketball and we still had some bad turnovers too, so it’s a lesson learned for our players and this is the big stage.
As I told some of our guys, some of our guys had a little stage fright going into it…
… I just think nerves. Not necessarily fright, but I just think nerves, but we came out. I thought we came out and our defense I thought was pretty good, but we didn’t, I didn’t think we were very efficient from a scoring stand point in terms of spacing the floor, because they packed their defense in there. I think, I just think that we had good ball movement, we had … like I said, when you get 8 assists in a game of this magnitude… We had opportunities to score at the basket and whether they blocked it or we misses layups, that really gets you, and so if you’re trying to mount comebacks it’s hard to do that.
Phil Elson: Every shot that the Razorbacks took was defended and you couldn’t really even get many three-point attempts up today, so I mean even the easy baskets like you’re saying were not made and every basket that they ended up making looked like it was a contested shot or a double contested shot. I think you put the nail on the head there, you’ve got to tip your cap to Minnesota. They played a great defensive game.
Mike Anderson: Well they did. They did. I thought they were the more physical team. I think it was evident in this particular game. They did a lot of ball screening, which we knew was going to take place. It just seemed like our rotation was off just by a hair and but you can’t do that against good teams. There were times in the first half where we actually had rebounds in our hands and they would just it out of our hands and just score.
That can’t take place on the road, but Minnesota’s got a good team. Rich has got a good team. They were prepared to play and I guess I didn’t do a good job of getting our guys prepared, but we’re going to learn from this. I think this to me is a learning game. This is the first road game for a guy like [Jaylen] Barford, a guy like [Daryl] Macon, even Arlando Cook, Dustin Thomas, this is their first time. Seven guys have never been on the road in a big time atmosphere and but again let’s give Minnesota some credit.
We got to learn from it. Our anchors, our guys that are coming back from last year, those guys got to be leading the charge. Moses, Dustin, Dusty Hannahs, those guys got to step up. Anton Beard, I thought he gave us something off the bench…
Among NBA Razorbacks, Johnson now ranks No. 1 in points, rebounds and assists
This post means I am officially an old, old man.
In the late 1990s, Joe Johnson and I attended LR Central High School together. As a ridiculously fluid, skilled 6’6″ “point center,” he had “future pro” written all over him from the start of his sophomore year. It surprised absolutely nobody when he ended up being taken in the Top 10 of the 2001 NBA Draft.
But who thought he would end up playing more minutes than any other NBA player besides LeBron James in these last 15 years? Or become such a coveted prospect that even at age 34 James would openly petition him to join Cleveland to push the Cavaliers toward its first world championship?
Johnson is blessed to have enjoyed such longevity over the course of his career. While not quite as powerfully built as James, Johnson is close at 6’7″ and 240 pounds. No doubt, that sturdy frame has helped. So has the hatha yoga he started regularly doing in 2008.
I also think he can credit his inability/unwillingness to jump very high around the rim. In the painted area, I’m certain Johnson has prevented a few injuries to his lower extremities by simply pulling up and jumping 16 inches in the air for a quick floater where other players might have attempted to explode to the bucket (and open themselves up for a higher risk of injury upon landing).
It’s hard to blame Johnson for his reticence to attempt dunks after this play from the 2005 NBA Playoffs:
While Johnson can’t/won’t jump very high these days, he has certainly leapt to the top of the class among his NBA Razorback peers.
Seasons ago, he surpassed fellow Little Rock native Sidney Moncrief as the top-scoring NBA Hog of all time. This past season, he’s actually lapped Sid in field goal attempts and he is on track to lap him in points in the next couple years.
In recent years, Johnson has also surpassed Alvin Robertson as the top rebounding pro Hog. This one is definitely a function of his longevity, as Johnson has only been a mediocre rebounder for his size. He’s essentially got this one locked down for the next seven years, and the only way he loses it after that is if Bobby Portis starts snagging eight or nine boards a game on the regular.
The new Razorback assistant and top-rated recruit share their thoughts on the 2016-17 season.
I recently had a good talk with Hog signee Jaylen Barford, the nation’s No. 1 JUCO player, on behalf of OnlyInArk.com. Barford’s heading to Fayetteville in late May. For those of you salivating for some Hog factoids, here are a few little nibbles:
Jaylen Barford talks to Daryl practically everyday. He’s looking to go to Daryl’s place one weekend in Little Rock and work out. He and Coach Anderson talk every few days and talks to T.J. Cleveland almost every day. “I’m just ready to get up there and be coached by one of the greatest coaches in the country,” he says. “They are just excited for me to get up there and lead the team, to bring a lot of energy and excitement.”
He hadn’t talked to Moses Kingsley except when he visited campus, but believes his return is huge. “On offense and defense especially he affects the game a lot.”
On Jimmy Whitt, who transferred earlier this spring: “He would have helped probably, but him leaving I guess we’ll cover that spot by playing a couple more guys. I think our backcourt should be in full effect, really. I think we’ll show a lot of people next year.”
On incoming Hogs freshman C.J. Jones, who has played against in a camp and in high school: “He’s an athletic wing who can really knock down a shot. He was a shooter in high school, but athletic too. He could be a great wing for us.”
As far as summer ball goes, Barford typically stays around his hometown of Jackson, Tenn., although he has played in the Nashville Pro-Am before. Casey Prather, a former Florida Gator who plays in Australia, is one of the few Division I players from Barford’s hometown. When he comes home, he has given Barford pointers and advice about what SEC basketball is like. He told him “play tough, and go out with a chip on your shoulder. Where we’re from, not too many people get out like that. Go there hungry, and realize you’re blessed.”
The next day, I asked new Razorback assistant coach Scotty Thurman how he would take advantage of time to be able to work directly with rising senior Razorback Dusty Hannahs. Hannahs has already established himself in the pantheon of great Hog three-point shooters alongside the likes of Pat Bradley, Rotnei Clarke, Alex Dillard and Scotty Thurman himself. Does Thurman have any ideas to take Hannahs’ shooting to even another level?
“Definitely, I have some ideas,” Thurman said. “I’m not at liberty to say those today. I definitely have some ideas and things that I think I can maybe share with him that will allow him to be even more effective, more efficient. He’s a great shooter already, but there’s always some old tricks that we have that maybe he can be able to utilize.”
And just like that, Thurman had smoothly pivoted around the question while still technically answering it. Not bad media navigation for a rookie coach!
Below are some more excerpts from Thurman’s insight via a recent press conference:
Q: What’s your reaction to being named assistant coach? Scotty: I’m very excited about the opportunity. Obviously, I know that it’s a huge task. It’s my first time doing it, but I’m very, very excited about it.
Q: You’ve been a month now or so, just recruiting. What’s it been like out there on the road? Scotty: It’s been pretty good. I had an opportunity to connect with some people that are in the business, and I had an opportunity to compete against every player, and obviously, had the chance to get to know some of them as well in the business. I’m real excited about continuing trying to establish relationships both on a high school level, AAU level, as well as collegiate level…
Q: You’ve obviously been here, been involved with the program, but this is a new role for you. Do you have any qualms or nervousness about doing this for the first time at a really high level? Scotty: I don’t really get nervous too often. Obviously, having played here, having an opportunity to work here, and be able to set the foundation of what we’re trying to do, I wouldn’t say I’m having qualms. Obviously, there’s always going to be some nerves. Every time I’ve ever played in a big game or had to go and speak in front of a group, there’s always been butterflies. Once those go away, there’s still a job that has to be done, and I’m prepared to do the job.
Q: What makes you feel that you’re ready for this? Scotty: Well, I’ve done it. Aside from having the opportunity to do on the floor here, I’ve had the opportunity to recruit some athletes to this campus when they arrive here. I had an opportunity to go out with coach when he first came in, to go out and identify those guys who were in transition on whether or not they were going to stay with the coaching change and all. I had an opportunity to do it there, so I do have experiences outside of what popular belief is.
If you follow the posts ’round these parts, you know I love me some all-time “NBA Arkansans” lists. Below is the most recent batch of stats, baked with love through April 15th, 2016. These are, in short, the Arkansans who through the decades have most heavily taxed NBA nets.
As I point out in an upcoming OnlyInArk.com piece, Johnson recently surpassed Scottie Pippen as the state’s top NBA scorer of all time. While Pippen wasn’t exactly Option No.1 for those great Bulls teams, he is a Top 50 of all time player and did put in 17 years. It’s impressive Johnson has surpassed him in fewer years. He has been blessed with largely good health in the face of heavy minutes (indeed, since 2002 or so no NBA player besides LeBron James has logged more court time).
Bravo, Joe, my c/o 1999 LR Central High classmate. You’ve done well. Here’s to hoping you make your long-deserved first NBA Finals appearance this season. Nash knows you certainly should have gotten one in 2005 while playing in Phoenix …
All-Time NBA Arkansans Point Leader
Joe Barry Carroll
North Little Rock
You’ll notice I have included some Razorbacks born out of state. I’ve boldfaced their names. Its worth noting Alvin Roberton is the only non-native Razorback found in the Top 19. That is a result of the program’s inability to lure big-time talent from other areas of the country relative to other (current and former) powerhouses over the last couple decades. Even when the program did bring in great high school talents like Darnell Robinson, BJ Young and Olu Famutimi, those players have failed to develop into NBA players at all, let alone NBA players with long, productive careers.
Of course, we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now had Nolan Richardson stayed another year and signed Andre Iguodala, who has gone on to score 12, 109 NBA points and would rank No. 5 on this list. Around that same time in the early 2000s, Mississippi prep superstar Al Jefferson was also a Razorback lean before bolting directly for the NBA.
An undeniable trend has developed when native Arkansans head to the state of Washington for basketball.
As I detail in an upcoming OnlyInArk.com story, Arkansan Mike Neighbors has done an amazing job of turning around the Washington Huskies women’s basketball program. Under his leadership, guard Kelsey Plum is becoming the most prolific scorer in Pac-12 history. Regularly scoring 25 or more points a game, the junior is on pace to surpass Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike to become the conference’s all-time leading scorer next season.
Long before Neighbors was even born, though, other Arkansans were helping breaking records in the Evergreen State. One of the first was Frank Burgess, who owns the top scoring records in Gonzaga University history and ranks alongside John Stockton as one of only two Bulldogs to ever have his jersey retired. A 6’1″ shooting guard, Burgess paced the nation by averaging 32.4 points per game one season.
Born in 1935, Burgess grew up in Eudora near the Arkansas-Louisiana border. As I wrote in Sporting Life Arkansas, he developed a molten jumper on dirt courts, while not exactly dedicated to the game. “He had no interest in playing. He was more interested in studying,” his childhood friend Nathan Crawford told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2001.
Still, Burgess honed a sweet enough shot to help Eudora High make the state semifinals and rival Johnnie Greer as the best to come out of the area. Like so many other southeast Arkansas black student-athletes of this era, Burgess attended what’s now UAPB in 1953. The coach who recruited him died the summer before he arrived on campus, though, and the successor, Leroy Moore, arrived from Oklahoma with a lot of Oklahoma players, Burgess said in BraveHearts: The Against-All-Odds Rise of Gonzaga Basketball. ”I got the feeling he thought nobody could play ball but folks from Oklahoma. It seemed like he was playing favorites.”
Widespread racism caused Burgess to refer to his hometown as “that little hole I came out of.”
After a season, Burgess ended up following his brother into the U.S. Air Force, where he spent 31 months and developed his groove as a great shooter playing for an Air Force league team in Germany. Colleges such as Kansas and USC started looking at him, but he was sold on Gonzaga when a coach there stressed academics as well as athletics would be an important part of his life at the small, liberal arts school in Spokane, Washington. Plus, it appealed to the 23-year-old that he would not have to sit out a year because Gonzaga was independent. He would have lost a year by going to a conference-affiliated program.
While playing for Gonzaga in 1960, Burgess had one of this finest games against another prolific Arkansan shooting guard — Eddie Miles.