30 Sep

Arkansan Mike Dunaway, Whom Greg Norman Called World’s Longest Driver, Dies

Mike-Dunaway-Golf-Magazine-Covers

Dunaway was the first professional long driver to   grace the cover of Golf magazine

It was in 1985 that Conway native Mike Dunaway announced himself to the world as not only one its most powerful drivers, but possibly golf’s savviest self promoter. On the cover of Golf, the former UCA linebacker stood atop a mound of money and boasted that he would pay anyone who could drive a golf ball farther than he could, that person could take the entire $10,000 beneath his feet.

“One soul stepped up to the tee, was thrashed, and the magazine bested its previous single-issue sales record,” the  Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Bobby Ampezzan wrote in 2009. That exposure and success propelled Dunaway, who died Monday at age 59 in Rogers, into becoming a one-man marketing hurricane in the niche sport of long driving, in which the act of hitting as much hell out of a ball as is physically possible with a piece of graphite becomes something like science.

“Long driving back then, you kind of got your name out there from folklore,” Dunaway told Ampezzan. “I mean, I’d do exhibitions, and I would hit the ball farther than anybody. But then if I came back in five or six years, to hear people talk about the distance, it would take two shots to match it — with an air cannon! Folklore and bar talk. But that’s all fishing was until they started those $1 million bass tournaments.”

Over the decades, Dunaway penned numerous instructional articles and appeared in videos touting his technique. In the 1990s, he hosted the TV show “Golfing Arkansas” and appeared at events with 1991 PGA champion and fellow Arkansan John Daly. PGA Tour great Greg Norman said of Dunaway: “This is the longest driver in the world,” according to a 1991 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article.

For Dunaway, the notion “Drive for show, putt for dough” did not apply. For years, he used a pure technique honed at the feet of the sport’s Yoda and a powerful 5-11, 245-pound frame to make a living from whacking living daylight out of pebbled sphere. In the early 1990s, he won a $25,000 distance shootout in Texas and $40,000 from the world’s richest long-drive contest in Japan. His longest drive in competition was a 389-yarder in Utah.

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05 Jun

New Financial Disclosures for Arkansas’ Division I Athletic Programs

USA Today just released the most up to date financial reports for all 230 Division I athletic programs in the nation. In terms of total revenue, the University of Arkansas sits 14 spots from the top. Ten spots from the bottom you’ll find the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (the nation’s largest intra-university system disparity). In between sit three other Arkansas schools.

I’ll break down these numbers later, but for now, let’s simply celebrate in the splattering of them on the wall.

Take what you will:

No. 14 nationally ($99.77 million revenue)

arkansas

No. 131 ($16.28 million revenue)

A State

 

No. 194 ($10.77 million revenue)

UCA

No. 206 ($9.4 million revenue)
UALR

 

No. 220 ($7.1 million)

UAPB

(PS – Notice how the total revenue plummeted from 2010 to 2011. That’s what an NCAA Tournament appearance and win will do for you.)

 

How about you, cherished reader? Any numbers jump out as significant or worth extra scrutiny?

26 Sep

Corliss Williamson on Conway-Jacksonville “Pipeline” & Possibility of a UALR-UCA-UALR-UAPB tournament

I had a good talk with UCA head basketball coach Corliss Williamson a couple days ago. While I’ve met most of the other basketball luminaries from the state, I’d regrettably never gotten around to Big Nasty. I’d met his son, Chasen, when he was a second grader at the New School in Fayetteville and I was a college student moonlighting as a playground supervisor. I told Corliss that Chasen, who’s now a senior at Fayetteville High School, had quite the leg in kickball.

Our talk mostly revolved around his longtime friend Derek Fisher, the subject of an upcoming magazine profile I’m writing. Corliss told me he met Derek at North Little Rock’s Sherman Park community center around age 10. They played together to win a national championship (in AAU in 1990) and played against each other for a world championship (2004 NBA Finals). Corliss, who then played for Detroit, said the Pistons’ ’04 title was especially sweet since  he felt he owed his friend one: Fish’s high school (Parkview) beat Corliss’ team (Russeville) two out of three meetings. Indeed, were it not for Parkview beating Russellville in the state tournament of their senior years, Corliss might have accomplished a rare quad-fecta by winning and AAU national title, a high school state title, an NCAA title and an NBA championship.

So, did Corliss keep track of the head-to-head matchups between he and Fish in the NBA?

“C’mon man, it was the Lakers!” he replied, laughing.  “It was tough. I was with Sacramento, Toronto, Detroit when we weren’t that good, then to Philadelphia… I think he might have the edge on that one but when it came down to the Finals I was definitely happy we could beat them then.”

I assured Corliss even if I looked up the head-to-head win-loss record between his and Fish’s NBA teams, I wouldn’t publish them. “That’s cool man. You can put it in there. I’d like to know it anyway.”

We also talked some about his UCA Bears, who will be looking to improve on last season’s 8-21 overall record and 3-13 mark in conference. One of 2011-12’s bright spots was the emergence of 6-5 sophomore LaQuinton Miles, who averaged 15 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals. Miles is one of three Jacksonville, Ark. natives – along with DeShone McClure and Terrell Brown – on this year’s roster, which begged the question:

Q) Has a recruiting pipeline been constructed stretching east from Faulkner to Lonoke County?

A) (chuckles) Yeah, I guess you could say there’s a pipeline developing between Conway and Jacksonville. There are some talented kids coming out of Jacksonville. Sometimes they get a little overlooked, they don’t get as much publicity as some of the other kids. We were lucky to get the three kids we got from out of Jacksonville. That’s one thing we take pride in – recruiting out of the state of Arkansas.

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26 Jun

Six Highlights of Scottie Pippen in the “The Dream Team” documentary

To this day, memories of Monte Carlo bring a smile to many a Dream Teamer’s face.

Twenty years ago, on July 22, the Dream Team began its training camp in La Jolla, California. By the time this edition of the U.S. national basketball team secured a gold medal a month and a half later, it had set a standard many people think will never be broken. Yes, the 44-points-a-game winning margin was impressive. Even more impressive, though, was the talent: 11 of the team’s twelve players have been individually inducted into the Hall of Fame. Had the team chosen Shaquille O’Neal instead of Christian Laettner for its requisite rookie representative, an unbreakable mark would have been set.

By 1992, it was clear Arkansas native Scottie Pippen was on a path toward a Hall of Fame career. As a key member of the two-time defending Chicago Bulls, he had already established himself as one of the league’s best all-time defenders. Since his 1987 rookie season, Pippen had sharpened his skills by playing plenty one-on-one against teammate Michael Jordan and the payoff soon became apparent: In 1990, he joined Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as one only three NBA players to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in the same season; a year later, he helped slow down Magic Johnson enough to help the Bulls win Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the first of four consecutive wins ending in the Chicago’s’ first title.

Despite that loss, Magic Johnson still believed he was the league’s alpha dog by the time summer 1992 rolled around. Jordan, again with the help of Pippen, rather vigorously disabused Johnson of this notion during a series of game in one Dream Team practice. Video footage of these scrimmages are one of the most interesting parts of NBA TV’s new “The Dream Team” documentary, which next airs on July 4.

Other interesting excerpts, with a focus on UCA’s Pippen, follow:

1. On his invitation to join the Dream Team – “I didn’t feel like I truly deserved to be called, but I truly wasn’t gonna tell them that.”

2. On Isiah Thomas, leader of the Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boys” and top nemesis of the Bulls: “Isiah was the general. He was the guy who’d yap at his teammates and say ‘Knock ‘em on their ass. Do what you gotta do.’ I despised the way he played the game.”

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11 Jan

Megan Herbert: Arkansas Razorbacks’ Loss is UCA Sugar Bears’ Gain

The question begs to be asked.

How does a superstar prep athlete grow up in the backyard of the Razorbacks but not come close to signing with the program? No scholarship offer or even the hint of one?

Such was the case with college junior Megan Herbert, who is taking the University of Central Arkansas basketball program to new heights. Before she was a Sugar Bear, though, the Northwest Arkansas native was raised a Razorback fan. The five-foot-11 power forward starred at Shiloh Christian School in Springdale and played on summer traveling teams for more exposure. In the end, though, she was offered only one scholarship – to UCA. Naturally, Herbert remains grateful.

“I was more than ecstatic to come to UCA,” she says. “It did not hurt my feelings at all” that Arkansas didn’t offer a scholarship, she adds.

The most obvious reason why she likely didn’t offers from bigger programs is size. SEC post players are typically 6-foot-3 and above, and Herbert would likely have had to transform into a wing player (which she played in junior high before shooting up eight inches from 5-feet-3 in the span of a couple years).

“I knew I was undersized,” Herbert says. “I also knew it didn’t matter if I played hard.”

Herbert’s stepfather, Mike Wakefield, says he was surprised Herbert didn’t get more attention from Arkansas and its head coach Tom Collen.  “In all the time she was right here in Arkansas’ backyard, she got one Christmas card from them [as] total recruiting material. She got more from Pat Summitt at Tennessee than she got from Tom Collen at Arkansas.”

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09 Jan

“I think it would be good for both of us.” – Megan Herbert on possibility of UCA-UALR basketball

 The recent football successes of UA and ASU have triggered new rounds of debate whether those teams should play against each other. Still, despite recent strides made by the ASU program, it’s a hypothetical clash unlikely to happen any time soon.
 Following is another possible matchup that’s a lot closer to reality, and could be just as interesting for its colleges’ fans:

  No two women have meant more to basketball in central Arkansas in the last few years than Chastity Reed and Megan Herbert. Reed, who graduated last year, became UALR’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder while leading the Trojans to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. Herbert, a junior, could make a similar splash in UCA’s record books. The Southland Conference Player of the Year is a conference tournament title away from helping UCA crash its first March Madness.
The women’s legacies may end up looking similar on paper, but the players have hardly been more different on the court. Reed, a wing player, dazzled crowds with superior athleticism, a quick crossover and a devastating mid-range game. Herbert is just as skilled but has a much more subtle game, filled with deft high-low passing, flip shots and an almost Tim Duncanesque economy of movement.
Their personalities seem near opposites as well. Always intense, Reed jawed much of the game, as flamboyant as her New Orleans roots. Herbert’s more measured, quick to smile but slow to let her competitiveness boil over in front of fans.  Both women have made their programs extremely proud.
  It’s a shame, though, they never played each other.
The women of UALR and UCA already compete in soccer and volleyball. They should compete in basketball, too.  Herbert agrees: “They have a great program and we’re trying to get our  program where we’re highly recognized in the state, too. I think it would be good for both of us.”
02 Jan

UCA women seek to avenge men’s Philander Smith loss

A shot at redemption bounces UCA's way

On November 16, the UCA Bears fell to an NAIA team, 97-90.

When it comes to low points of a nascent head coaching career, it will be hard to top this one for Corliss Williamson, the former Razorbacks star now entering the conference portion of his second year at the helm of a Division I school.

“Philander Smith had a great game,” says UCA Sugar Bear Megan Herbert, who attended the game. “They outplayed us, they outhustled us, they basically outworked us. Nothing against the men’s team, but Philander wanted to win that game.”

If there is any silver lining in that loss for UCA athletics, it reminds the women’s team to not take any win for granted. Instead, it motivates the reigning Southland Conference player of the year: “The men shouldn’t have lost that game, and now that we get to play them, we shouldn’t lose. So, I think there’s inspiration to go out there and show them really what UCA basketball is all about.”

After losing to Philander, the Bears won five consecutive game, then lost four in a row. At times, its young players seem to be auditioning for the lead roles in a Southland Conference Theatre rendition of “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.”

The women have been more consistent. They have lost only three games and only one of those losses (UMKC – Summit League) came against a team that wasn’t from a high D1 conference. In order for the Sugar Bears to take another step toward becoming a mid-major power, the program must win a Southland Conference and advance to the NCAA Touranment.
For that to happen, it needs to build momentum throughout the conference schedule.

That means, like in the past couple seasons, consistently winning at home – by springing upsets against the likes of Alabama and Indiana … and avoiding them against the Philander Smiths of the world.

Exacting revenge against Philander is “in our head,” says freshman Sharlay Burris. “We owe them one.”

image

   Faulkner County may be a dry county, but wet’s the word on the video room wall of its best women’s basketball team.
There, on a board, Sugar Bear coaches lay out goals for their players and their chart progress on a game-to-game basis. Raindrops signify a goal was accomplished, while writing in black means the goal was nearly done.  The numbers in red mean there was a lot of work left undone.