Growing up, it always felt like Memphis was de facto part of Arkansas, if not de jure. In the halcyon days of the Arkansas basketball program, Memphis was part of Arkansas. I was reminded of this during halftime of the Arkansas-Fordham game Friday night.
The SEC Network did a great job of highlighting the work of the Musselmans, particularly Danyelle Musselman, with the Northwest Arkansas Suits & Sneakers ‘94 Gala. The benefits from the Gala go to the American Cancer Society to support childhood cancer research, services and awareness, and cancer prevention efforts targeting children. In choosing to honor the 1994 national championship team, Eric Musselman continues to embrace the legacy of the Nolan Richardson-era Hogs.
There were multiple former Razorbacks in attendance at the Gala. It felt good to look up and see Corey Beck flash across the screen, posing for a photo with Elmer Martin and Dwight Stewart from that legendary ‘94 squad. Seeing the trio brought back fond memories of the Memphis-to-Arkansas pipeline of players during the heyday of Arkansas basketball.
Although not a member of the 1994 championship team, Ron Huery should have been there, as well. Sadly, Huery passed away last Saturday in Memphis.
Remembering Ron Huery
As Matt Jones referenced in this fantastic WholeHogSports obit, Huery had issues off the court in college and after his playing days. I suspect, like many of us, he battled some personal demons. Of which I can only say I hope I am remembered for my best moments rather than my worst, too numerous to count, when I shuffle off this mortal coil.
Over the years, it seems clear Nolan Richardson truly cared about Huery. In the dark recesses of my mind, I recall Richardson comparing Huery to the great Todd Day and Memphis State legend Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. Huery was the first of the three slender, 6-foot-7 slashers to come out of Memphis in the mid-80s. I failed to find the exact quote, but it was something to the effect of whereas Day had the ability to score at will and Hardaway could score or pass at will, Huery’s primary concern was to make his teammates better.
Huery always struck me as a humble and unassuming guy. His short induction speech to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame seemed to confirm my suspicions:
Scott Cain wrote a piece in 2005 for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the Memphis to Arkansas connection. He quotes Huery as saying, “I wasn’t that good in high school.” Huery went on to attribute his success to outworking and outsmarting opponents. It should be noted that Huery was Richardson’s first signee who had been a McDonald’s All-American and a Parade All-American. He was very good in high school. In the same article, Day said of the success of the Arkansas basketball program, “None of this would have happened without Ron.”
Thoughts on Arkansas’ Win over Fordham
As for the actual basketball game, I have a few thoughts. In no particular order:
This year’s team may go down as the Arkansas team with the most highlight reel dunks of all-time. Anthony Black threw his hat in contention for Dunk of the Game midway through the first half, only to lose out to Ricky Council IV’s cup-the-ball, one-handed tomahawk slam in the second half. It should be noted that Council wins hands down despite the fact he threw a lob pass to Trevon Brazile for a two-hand slam where Brazile nicked his elbow on the rim. Again, Brazile’s dunk where his elbow was on the rim was only the second-best dunk of the night. Things are looking up, way up, for this year’s highlight reel.
At least seven guys on the team are professional prospects in the near term. I was concerned prior to the season that between the players’ lofty personal aspirations and their youth, sharing the ball might be an issue. However, there are no black holes on this team. The turnovers were mainly from trying too hard to make extra passes. At most, there were three or four bad shots by the team.
In a glass-half-full way, I am beginning to think the injury to Nick Smith Jr. may help long term for this team. Jordan Walsh is getting a chance to be more of a focus on offense than if Smith were playing. He made all five of his shots inside the three-point line — two off-balance drives to the basket, a very clean looking pull-up jumper in the lane, a chippy bank shot and a two-handed dunk. He is a rare player that I wish looked for his shot even more. It also seemed like a great sign that when Pinion scored a lay-up at the end of the game, Walsh was jumping up and down and cheering. Always a good sign when guys on the bench are genuinely excited for their teammates. Kamani Johnson was great about this last year.
Musselman likes to run one of his big guys out at the opponent’s lead ball handler at the top of the key in half court sets. This forces the opposing team to start their action further away from the basket and takes time off the shot clock. Occasionally, the other team also coughs up a turnover. All of this is great in theory. The same big man must dive back down immediately to avoid allowing easy points in the paint. It demands a rare long, quick and agile big to perform this task correctly. Fortunately, Brazile seems to have been created in some kind of lab to perform this role.
Arkansas blew up Fordham in the second half when Musselman threw out his all-stretch lineup: Makhi Mitchell, Brazile, Walsh, Council and Black. It seems likely a few of Fordham’s players will wake up drenched in sweat in the middle of the night after having nightmares about playing this lineup. It was probably unfair to the Atlantic 10 team. Was this the lineup Musselman’s father had in mind when he told his son to put your five longest, toughest guys out there? Possibly.
Potential Problems for Arkansas Basketball
So what was there not to like about the game other than the turnovers in the first half?
Well, the 3-point shooting. But it is always darkest right before dawn. Black made his first 3-pointer of the season and had another one that was halfway down. I think in fairness he should get partial credit for that shot, which would have made him 1.5 of 6 from beyond the arc. Teams will clearly play off Black until he can make them pay as the season progresses.
Walsh continues to get good, clean looks from 3. Unfortunately, he also continues to miss those good, clean looks from three. I predict Walsh will be spending a ton of time in practice working on corner 3s. And let me be clear, I believe he will be making his fair share of those good, clean looks by the end of the season.
Brazile, Davonte Davis and Council seem like they might be streaky all season. Streakiness can lead to a combined 1 for 8, as it did against Fordham. However, outside of a Council 3 from the top of the key early in the shot clock and one or two by Davis, they weren’t bad shots.
Outside of the cold start and the awful end of the first half, I found little to complain about otherwise. The Fordham players seemed to talk a lot of smack for a team having real problems passing the ball to each other on the perimeter. Council and Davis, amongst others, responded well. Brazile did not. He clearly was frustrated with Fordham players chirping a number of times. Toward the end of the first half, he received a technical foul for a pointless chest bump into a Fordham player after he had dunked on the kid. This led to the awful end of the first half, allowing Fordham to go into the locker room on an uptick.
What to make of it all? Arkansas blew the doors off a team without its presumptive best player. So that seems like a good sign. On the other hand, Fordham had a first-year coach and finished eighth in the Atlantic 10 last year. I assumed those two facts were related, but I was wrong. Fordham’s previous coach, Kyle Neptune, left to take over Villanova. The Razorbacks probably had the best five big men of the two teams — six, actually, if you count Walsh as a big.
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