This is the second in a series of columns related to the Arkansas athletic department’s request for a vote on the top five basketball players in Arkansas history.
It’s hard to think of the below players being called “second teamers,” but when you look at our all-time first team it begins to make more sense.
Beginning with Eddie Sutton’s 1977 appearance in the NCAA Tournament and heading through the Nolan Richardson era, the Hogs played in a national postseason tourney in 23 of 24 years. Only two of those were in the National Irrelevant Tournament.
Since then, we’ve had a 4-year drought and a 5-year drought for March Madness. Don’t expect to see a lot of players to be profiled from those eras.
This was a tough pick between the famed Triplet, Ron Brewer, and his accomplished son, Ronnie Brewer. No question, they were both great players, but in the end I had to go with the dad. Not only did he hit the winning shot against Notre Dame in the 1978 Final Four consolation game but he was solid throughout his career. Look at these stats:
—2 time: All-SWC and All-American (1977 and 1978)
—2 SWC Championships (1977 and 1978)
—1 Sweet 16 (1977)
—1 Final Four (1978)
—15.8 png over career/18 his senior year
—1 SWC tournament title
—Combined 77 wins in 3 years
When compared to “Re-Boot,” the elder’s teams just accomplished more. While some of that came down to strength in numbers — he won with two guys who were also pulling down their own stats — I just had to give the nod to dad.
ORACLE OF DELPH:
Marvin Delph (another Triplet) had a corner jumper that was deadly. The triplets brought basketball back into sight of Hog fans across the state. He played right alongside Brewer, so all of the team accomplishments for Delph are the same as Boot’s.
Remarkably, in four years he made over half his shots from the field (52.9%) as a long range shooter. He also made 81.3% of his free throw attempts. He contributed as a freshman, but really turned it on as a scoring threat and rebounder for the rest of his career and averaged nearly 20 points per game his Junior year.
—Freshman: 6.2 points/2.5 rebounds
—Sophomore: 16.3 points/7 rebounds
—Junior: 19.7 points/5.5 rebounds
—Senior: 16.8 points/5.7 rebounds
It’s hard to imagine how many points he would’ve scored had 3-point line existed back then. The Triplets made the Hogs relevant and Marvin Delph deserves every bit as much credit as Brewer and Moncrief.
Hey, he hit the go-ahead game winner against Duke to win the National Championship!!!!! That alone might qualify him to be on the list.
Unlike Delph, Scotty Thurman got hot early in his career and never looked back. He was on the SEC All-Freshman team in 1993 and was first team All-SEC in ’94 and ’95.
Yes, the shot against Duke (at the 10:25 mark above) defines him in a good way, but he hit a whole lot of shots over his career before that to get himself in a position to take the National Championship shot. This all started the day he walked on campus. He was one of the smoothest players we’ve ever seen in a Hog uniform. It almost looked like he was asleep at times, but then he’d make it rain.
He, Corliss Williamson and a cast of other characters made it rain a lot and then they made Arkansas history by following up Sweet 16 appearance as freshmen with winning the title against Duke as sophomores making it back to the title game as juniors.
—Freshman: 17.4 points per game
—Sophomore: 15.9 points per game
—Junior: 15.4 points per game
Oh, and by the way, he also had 147 steals and 254 assists in his 3-year career. He declared early for the NBA draft, but his professional career never really materialized on a major level. He spent a couple years as an assistant for Mike Anderson in Fayetteville and now coaches Parkview High School in Little Rock.
At first glance this would be a tough one to pick. Like Todd Day, who hit on my current girlfriend, the Oliver Miller hit on a girl I was going out with in college. So, I have the distinction of having two girlfriends being hit on by two of the top 10 best basketball Razorbacks of all time…….lucky me.
The four that I looked at were Daniel Gafford, Scott Hastings, Bobby Portis and Miller). Gafford, Hastings and Portis all had better scoring and rebounding stats than Miller, but not by much in either category. However, none of them were better shot blockers and Miller blew the other 3 away with his ability to make assists.
What really separates Miller from Portis, who did win an SEC Player of the Year award, is the success of his team. The Big “O” anchored teams that made the second round twice, Sweet 16 once and the Final Four.
—Freshman: 7.7 ppg/3.7 rebounds/2.0 blocks/1.4 assists
—Sophomore: 11.1 ppg/6.3 rebounds/2.4 blocks/1.4 assists
—Junior: 15.7ppg/7.7 rebounds/2.5 blocks/2.7 assists
—Senior: 13.5ppg/7.7 rebounds/3 blocks/3 assists
He also shot nearly 64% in field goals, an all-time Hogs record.
You can see the improvement throughout his career. He more more than doubled his rebounding numbers from his 1st to 3rd year and steadily improved his shot blocking. He more than doubled his assist numbers.
That made a tremendous difference on teams that had great success. There’s no telling where this list would end up if Gafford (clearly the most athletic of the bunch who ran up and down the floor like a gazelle) and Portis (who put up the best overall individual numbers in this two years) had stayed for all four years. It’s very possible that either one of them would be on the first team, but it is what it is.
I’m not gonna lie to ya. It was hard to leave Joe Johnson off the first team. He’s had a longer NBA career and has out earned any Hog in any sport in Razorback history. However, this is not about what was achieved after college, but during college by the teams he played on. It’s no mistake that four of the top five players made it at least made to the Final Four.
Unfortunately, for Johnson, he played during the decline of the Nolan era in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 seasons. Sme of his statistics also declined from his Freshman to Sophomore year.
—Freshman: 16.2 points/5.7 rebounds/2.2 assists/2 steals
—Sophomore: 14.2 points/6.4 rebounds/2.6 assists/1.4 steals
While Johnson did lead the Razorbacks to their one and only SEC Tournament championship, and did make two appearances in the NCAA Tournament, they failed to win a March Madness game. At the time that seemed massively underwhelming but, in retrospect, back-to-back tournament appearances is a big achievement for the Hogs program in the 21st century.
Joe Johnson carves up Kentucky
Ain’t nothing grainy about those skills
Johnson looked like someone with undeniable talent, but may not have been assertive enough for the Hogs. (At least that was my take watching him play.)
Despite that, he was drafted 10th overall in the 2001 NBA Draft and went on to spend 18 seasons in the league, which is a true testament to his talent, work ethic and conditioning.
HERE’S THE DEAL:
All of these top 10 players made their teams far better than they would have been without them. Would Joe Johnson’s teams have even made it to an NCAA Tournament without him? Would Day and Mayberry have made it to the Final Four without the Big 0? Would we have a National Championship if we had Corliss, but not Scotty? Or vice versa? (Don’t forget Corey Beck who played a huge role, but didn’t make the first two teams.)
The answer to those question is: I doubt it.
Jordan needed Pippen and, to some degree, even Horace Grant and later Dennis Rodman. In team sports, you need teammates. It might be unfair to place the value of one player over another because one had a supporting cast and one didn’t. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
Dominique has his “human highlight reel,” but he doesn’t have an NBA championship under his belt. Jordan has six.
These are the facts. They are not in dispute.
Check out my top five Razorback basketball players here: