Archie’s choice: Good win for Kentucky. How bad a loss for Arkansas?

Archie's still holding onto Kentucky after dropping Arkansas, Memphis, UConn and Kansas. photo credit: Sync magazine

Tuesday night, Archie Goodwin became the first commitment of Kentucky‘s class of 2012.

With the single single tap of a “Tweet” button, the prep basketball star elated thousands of Wildcats fans while crushing the hopes of those wanting him to commit to Memphis or Arkansas.  He told ESPN’s Dave Telep the choice was a “business decision,” a phrase reflecting his desire to prepare himself for the NBA and a belief Kentucky provides the best, and most efficient, platform for that.

Even before he begins his senior year of high school, though, the decision appears to have paid off in terms of boosting Goodwin’s personal brand. In the 16 hours following the 11 p.m. tweet,  Goodwin picked up about 2,000 Twitter followers.

Meanwhile, Arkansas Razorback fans lamented. Many hoped Goodwin would team with Rashad Madden and B.J. Young next year to form what would likely become one of the best back courts in program history. Some fans believe it’s still a possibility. Oral commitments are nonbinding, which allows a last-second change of mind before a recruit signs a letter of intent.

Austin Rivers, last year’s top prep recruit, took advantage of this to back out of a commitment to Florida and become a Blue Devil.

Still, the sheer amount of blue-blooded love flowing between Goodwin and Kentucky followers on Twitter makes his reneging seem doubtful.

If Goodwin does end up signing with Kentucky, he’ll go down as one of the biggest “what-ifs” in Arkansas basketball program history. It’s likely fans haven’t been this disappointed since Al Jefferson, the immensely talented big man from Mississippi, decided to declare for the 2004 NBA Draft rather than play for the Hogs.

Goodwin “is the biggest recruit Arkansas has ever lost on,” says Tim Cooper, prep basketball editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Which opens up a question of Goodwin’ competition for this designation.

So, who are the best in-state Arkansas  recruits to sign with other programs?

1. Keith Lee (West Memphis High School) Lee, a spindly 6-10, 190-pound power forward, helped West Memphis win a state-record 60 consecutive games and averaged 22.9 points and 17.6 rebounds his senior year (1980-1981). He was ranked as one of the nation’s best 15 players by Street and Smith’s magazine and pursued by schools such as UCLA, Louisville and Memphis State. Arkansas coach

Eddie Sutton had made Lee a recruiting priority, but Lee had eliminated Arkansas from contention after his sophomore season, writes Billy Woods in 60-0: The West Memphis Basketball Dynasty.  Still, Sutton called him often. Meanwhile, Crittenden County native Nelson Catalina, then an ASU assistant coach, started recruiting Lee in 10th grade and grew close to him, according to Woods. This was a major reason Lee verbally committed to Arkansas State before his senior season.

In late March of 1981, Lee got a job crushing aluminum cans in the recycling department of a beer distribution center owned by Hasselle McCain, then a member of the Arkansas State University Board of Trustees, Woods writes.

This employment was illegal, and an NCAA investigator who confirmed it told West Memphis’ head coach if Lee signed with ASU, the Indians would be put on NCAA probation and Lee would be ineligible.

Long story short – Lee backed out of his verbal commitment to ASU and eventually signed with Memphis State.

To this day, Arkansas State laments the loss of a player which could have changed the trajectory of its entire program.

Lee had great success in Memphis. There, he was an All-American all four years, and led the program to a 1985 Final Four appearance.

2. James Anderson (Junction City High School) – Like Goodwin, Anderson was voted the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s state player of the year as a junior and is a favorite to repeat his senior year. ranked Anderson as the 34th-best player nationally going into his senior season (2006-07), the 6-7 wing chose Oklahoma State over the likes of Kansas, Arkansas and Florida. He went on to average 38.4 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 assists a game that last season before his Cowboys career.

In Stillwater, Oklahoma, he further honed his scoring ability and became the Big 12 Player of the Year as a senior. Anderson spent much of last season backing up NBA star Manu Ginobili in San Antonio, but since the NBA lockout has become one of the seemingly endless stream of ballers migrating to Las Vegas, looking to stay sharp at the training facility Impact Basketball:

3. Richard Scott (Little Rock Central), averaged 21 points,  12 rebounds and six assists a game during his senior year in 1989-1990. Recruiting guru Bob Gibbons named the 6-7 forward the nation’s 68th best player.

Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson recruited him hard, and Scott said he “strongly considered” becoming a Razorback. But, basically, I just wanted to get away from home,” he told the Democrat-Gazette’s Pete Perkins in November, 1991.

Scott signed with Kansas, and contributed to two Final Four appearances for the Jayhawks. He was starting by his junior year, and often led the team in rebounding during his last two seasons.

4. Nick Bradford (Fayetteville High School) – The 6-6 wingman averaged 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists as a senior in 1995-1996, and was ranked as the nation’s 36th-best player by Bob Gibbons.

Like Scott, he chose Kansas, but had less success as a collegian. In his best season, he averaged 9.2 points and six rebounds a game. He then went to Europe to play in a bunch of cold places.

5. Benny Green (Northeast High School [merged into North Little Rock High] – Some of the best coaches of the 1980s, from John Thompson to Bob Knight, coveted this multi-talented 6-3 guard who averaged 20.9 points, six rebounds and four assists his senior year on his way to McDonald’s All-America honors.

Ron Ingram, Green’s high school coach, said Green announced his decision to attend Kansas State over the likes of Arkansas soon before the 1985 state tournament. Ingram recalled Green received a lot of flak for his decision from Razorbacks in that tournament but handled it with maturity.

One wonders, however, if Green could have so easily kept his cool if he’d  made his announcement earlier in the season. An attitude problem had reemerged Green’s senior year which had been under control junior year, according to articles then written by Wadie Moore, the Arkansas Gazette prep sportswriter. In 1985, Green told Moore he chose KSU because he needed a change of scenery and wanted to “start a new life without people wondering what he was up to.” [the Internet has sure put a wrecking ball through that antiquated notion]

Like Goodwin put stock in Calipari’s history of developing NBA-ready guards, there’s a good chance Green saw similiar benefit in learning from KSU’s head coach Jack Hartman.

Hartman had produced NBA guards in Walt Frazier at Southern Illinois and Rolando Blackman and Mike Evans at KSU, and expected Green to fullfil the tradition, according to an April 1985 Arkansas Gazette article. Green didn’t pan out as an elite college player. After transferring to Tennessee-Chattanooga, he entered the 1989 NBA Draft only to go unchosen.

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