29 May

Jim Barnes: The First NBA Arkansan No. 1 Draft Pick (Part 2)


Back to stocking feet

The shoes Barnes had received from Calhoun two years earlier no longer fit as his feet grew to size 17. Barnes said he was back to playing in his socks. Newton was happy to have Barnes back at his school, but it wouldn’t last long. During a game with a team from Vanndale, Jim Barnes scored 64 points and had 38 rebounds.

“Neither team had uniforms,” Barnes said. “They all were wearing bib overalls and I had on jeans. We were playing outside on a dirt court with lines that were marked in lime. The baskets were two telephone poles with a rim and backboard nailed to it.” Barnes’ performance drew a one-line write-up in the local paper, which just happened to be read by traveling insurance agent Dan Toma, who was also a recruiter for Stillwater High School Coach “Red” Loper.

“He wanted to see the phenomenon,” Jim Barnes said. “He visited our house, and we played some one-on-one.” By the end of the day, Toma had convinced Barnes to transfer to Stillwater. Jobs were arranged for Barnes’ mother and stepfather, J.L. Person, and a home was provided.

It is not known exactly when Barnes moved, but he didn’t suit up at Stillwater High School until his junior season, Haskins said. “I was glad to be out because I thought I would have a better opportunity at an integrated school,” Barnes said. “In Tuckerman, I spent all my free time picking and chopping cotton.”

Barnes, 6-8, 220, played the entire regular season before the Oklahoma Activities Association intervened. They discovered he had been recruited illegally and ruled him ineligible for one year, Haskins said.

Stillwater claimed the state boys basketball title despite the loss of Barnes.

While ineligible the first part of his senior season, Barnes played pickup games with the Oklahoma State players to stay in shape until he became eligible for district play. “The [Stillwater] team had won like one game during the year before that, but when Jim came back they didn’t lose and won another state title,” Haskins said.

Out of Stillwater

Oklahoma State basketball Coach Henry Iba figured he had a lock on Barnes since he had been scrimmaging with his team. Jim Barnes dropped a bombshell when he opted to attend Cameron Junior College in Lawton, Okla., instead.

“They were mad,” Barnes said of Iba and his staff. “I just didn’t think academically I had the foundation to make it at a big college.”

Jim Barnes averaged 29.8 points per game and shot 64.7 percent from the floor in his two years at Cameron. He scored a high of 50 points against the Oklahoma City freshman team and 40 or more on four other occasions. He broke all the school records and got on track academically.

Haskins on the prowl

Numerous coaches made the trek to Lawton to see Barnes play. None were more often than Haskins, who was just in his second season at Texas Western in 1962. “I came in on Aug. 3, [1961] and the team was pretty well set,” Haskins said. “The next year I spent all my time after one guy — Jim Barnes.

“I spent my entire $5,000 recruiting budget putting gas in my old car and driving to Lawton and feeding Jim. He didn’t eat just one steak, he ate two. [Texas West-ern Athletic Director] George McCarty told me I was crazy, putting all my eggs in one basket.” It worked. Barnes said Haskins and [Nolan] Richardson, then a junior, won him over with their persistence and honesty.

This was Part 2 of an article entitled “Jim ‘Bad News’ Barnes: ‘Bad News’ stopped the presses” which originally published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Untold Stories: Black Sports Heroes Before Integration. Read Part 1 here.

Plenty more from this chapter is available for those who pay primo for the book online or get a rare copy at a library. Sadly, this wonderful, valuable piece of public history is out of print and will not be considered for republication unless sufficient demand is proven, I’ve been told by Democrat-Gazette brass.

To that end, I’m gathering a petition of those who want to see this book back in print, perhaps as a more affordable softcover or e-book. If you want to join the petition, email me at info@heritageofsports.com or leave a comment below.

16 May

Jim Barnes: The First Arkansan No. 1 NBA Draft Pick (Part 1)

Jim Barnes


Legendary Texas-El Paso Coach Don Haskins was at a small high school in Headley, Okla., when he first heard about Jim “Bad News” Barnes. Barnes was a junior at Stillwater (Okla.) High School and his team was facing mighty Pampa, Texas, which had won a number of state titles in a row, Haskins said.

“I heard the score was 94-40,” Haskins said. “I figured Stillwater had met its match. I could-n’t believe it when they told me Stillwater had won. That was long before I knew I’d be recruiting him.” Three years later, Jim Barnes put Haskins’ Texas Western program on the map. The Tuckerman native then starred on the 1964 U.S. Olympic gold medal basketball team before being selected as the No. 1 pick in the 1964 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks. “There’s not been another No. 1 pick from Arkansas,” said former Arkansas Razorbacks Coach Nolan Richardson, a teammate of Barnes at Texas Western. [Au contraire, Nolan. There has been another—Joe Barry Carroll.] “He has to be one of the best to ever come out of the state.”

Recruitment of Jim Barnes, now 61, began much earlier than college. Barnes, who has suffered three strokes and three heart attacks in the past few years, doesn’t remember the exact dates he played at each school, but he is fairly certain he started playing varsity basketball in seventh grade at his hometown black high school in Tuckerman. His journey to basketball stardom began even before that.


Barnes was always the tallest student in his class, said McKinley Newton, former Tuckerman principal. His height might have come from his mother’s side, where his grandfather was 7 feet tall. But hoop dreams were not always Barnes’ aspiration, despite his height. “I was in love with baseball because that was the only sport I knew about,” said Barnes, who lives in Washington.

“Bernice Newton was the cornerstone behind me learning to love basketball. During recess, she made sure we had the semblance of a basketball in our hands.” Barnes learned the game fast, but not as fast as his body was growing, Newton said. “His feet were always getting tangled up,” Newton said. At 13, Barnes was an imposing 6-6 giant, who looked and played like someone much older, Newton said. Barnes helped Tuckerman upset rival Branch High School of Newport, which had dominated the series before Barnes arrived.

His family was so poor and his feet so large that Barnes couldn’t afford shoes for his size 13 feet and played in his socks. Branch Coach Norman Calhoun used this to his ad-vantage to get Barnes to transfer to his school. “He told my mother that he would make sure I had shoes and was fed,” Jim Barnes said. “I had never had a pair of basketball shoes before that.” Off he went to Branch High School, which was 12 miles away. By this time, Barnes was either in eighth or ninth grade, and he had grown to 6-7. “Teammates called me ‘Big Stoop’ because I had stoop over so I didn’t hit my head,” Barnes said. “Others called me ‘High Pockets’ because my rear end was so big.”

Barnes helped Newport finish third in the 1957 black state basketball tournament behind North Little Rock [Scipio] Jones and Merrill High School of Pine Bluff. He made the all-tournament team as a freshman. “He was moved up to varsity because of his size and ability,” said Richard “Deer” Smith, who graduated in 1957 and later played basketball at Arkansas Baptist College. “Newport always had an abundance of athletes, so Jim developed his skills from his surroundings.” The next year Barnes was on the move again; this time to an integrated school in Poplar Bluff, Mo., a team Branch defeated the previous year. Barnes caught the eye of the Poplar Bluff coach. “The coach told people I had [to] come there because I was his cousin,” Barnes said.

“Of course, we weren’t related.” Several complaints to the commissioner of the Missouri State High School Activities Association led to an investigation, and Barnes was ruled ineligible. “He told me not to return until I was ready for the pros,” Jim Barnes said. “I was dejected and returned to Tuckerman.”

This is Part 1 of an article entitled “Jim ‘Bad News’ Barnes: ‘Bad News’ stopped the presses” which originally published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Untold Stories: Black Sports Heroes Before Integration. Read Part 2 here. Sadly, this wonderful, valuable piece of public history is out of print and will not be re-published unless sufficient demand is proven, I’ve been told by Democrat-Gazette brass.

To that end, I’m gathering a petition of those who want to see this book back in print, perhaps as a more affordable softcover or e-book. If you want to join the petition, email me at info@heritageofsports.com or leave a comment below.

01 May

When the all-black Muskogee Hustlers Played in Gentry and Green Forest

In the early 20th century, it appears demand from the all-white communities of Benton and Carroll counties for black baseball was higher than expected. In 1932, for instance, the Muskogee Hustlers, a black team out of Oklahoma, was slated to play a Gentry team made up of local talent.


According to the September 29, 1932 edition Gentry’s Journal-Advance, the local boys included “Clyde Glass and Hawn of the Southern League, Browning and Berry of Des Moines [what the what?!], perhaps Pea Ridge Day, and other players of the Western and other leagues.”

Then, three years later, two black teams were scheduled to play in the Carroll County town of Green Forest. This time it was to be the big-league Kansas City Monarchs, a perennial championship contender in the Negro leagues, versus Muskogee again. Unfortunately, the idea of the Monarchs playing in lil’-ole Green Forest was simply too good to be true, as the below report from the September 10, 1935 Green Forest Tribune shows:

The Green Forest Champs beat the Muskogee Hustlers in a free[wheeling?] affair played on a soft field Monday afternoon. The Hustlers go 12 hits to 11 for the Champs, but the Champs made [theirs] good for 8 runs while the Hustlers counted 7. Coxsey pitched for the locals…except for four unearned runs in the first inning, was [invincible?] until the eighth when a…tally was pushed over. In the ninth the Hustlers added two more. The locals kept pecking at at Ousley and Gains to score persistently, once in the first, twice in the second, once in the third, twice in the fifth and again twice in the ninth, every run being earned.

The locals were playing the scheduled game to have been played between the Hustlers and the Kansas City Monarchs. The team which showed up to play Sunday was shown to be a fake. However, they were allowed to play Sunday to avoid totally disappointing the largest crowd that gathered expectation of seeing the genuine Kansas City Monarchs perform. It may be [said?] in all fairness, that neither the Muskogee manager nor the local manager knew a fake team was to play here until just before the scheduled game Sunday. It seems as the though the manager of the fake Monarchs had misrepresented his team.


Muskogee Hustlers

Green Forest baseball

I don’t know of any first-hand accounts of Muskogee Hustlers playing in these towns, but we do have 2013 testimony from Porter Reed, a former Hustler, that later in the 1930s and 1940s playing in Arkansas was not a pleasant experience.

“I’d go down in Arkansas  and play [location unknown, as the Hustlers also played in bigger towns like Ft. Smith, too] and say ‘My name’s Porter Reed. That’s my name’” Reed said at the 5:05 mark below. “But I wasn’t Porter Reed when I went to Arkansas. I was ‘nigger.’ But didn’t make no difference—I was down there making good money.”

This evokes another testimony from black Oklahoman baseball player Eugene Golden, according to a thesis of Oklahoma baseball historian Jake Cornwell:

“Golden says that during a road trip in 1947 to Rogers and Siloam Springs, a young boy in Rogers, no more than five or six years old, pointed to Clearview old-timer Whitson Weaver who often traveled with the Rockets. The child tugged on his father’s pant leg and motioned toward Weaver exclaiming, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, that is a old nigger there! He’s older than Abraham Lincoln!”


Want to learn more about Arkansas ties to the Muskogee Hustlers should sign up for my upcoming book, African-American Athletes in Arkansas. I delve into story of Louis McGill, a former Hustler and Fort Smith native, and his ball-playing travels into the bootleggin’ hills of Washington County.

Add your email address here to reserve a copy of this nearly 200-page, one-of-a-kind collectible now.


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].




*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.