What is Razorback basketball’s all-time starting five?
This is, by no means, an easy question. It’s one Hog fans love to debate and one that the university itself recently asked for feedback on:
Now’s your chance to build your 5️⃣ with these Razorback legends. Who you got?— Arkansas Razorbacks Basketball (@RazorbackMBB) March 23, 2020
Choose wisely… ? pic.twitter.com/HsDR9UP2VO
There is a lot of starpower here. After the first two shoe-ins, narrowing this list of best Razorback basketball players ever is about as easy as the choice between having an eye gouged out or being shot in the knee cap. Still, let’s give it a shot.
You’ll notice quite a few players on the list played on the same teams to put together some of the best seasons in Hogs history. That shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s also notable that a father and a son are on it.
—Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and the “Big O” Oliver Miller
—Marvin Delph, Ron “Boot Head” Brewer, Sr. and Sir Sidney Moncrief
—Corliss “Big Nasty” Williamson, Scotty Thurman and Corey Beck
—Daryl Macon, Jalen Barford and Daniel Gafford
—Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls
—Joe Kleine and Alvin Robertson
Ok, let’s take care of the easy part first: the first two choices on any best basketball Hogs list.
BY A MILE (Guard):
In the late 1970s, when Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph were seniors, Sidney Moncrief was a junior. We ran through the SWC undefeated, made it to the Final Four for the first time in program history and won the consolation game against Notre Dame on a top of the key shot by Brewer. The three of them together rescued the program from irrelevance — not only nationally, but within the state.
After Delph and Brewer graduated, Moncrief almost single handedly took us to the Final Four. I saw that 1979 NCAA Tournament Regional Finals game against Indiana State in person when he guarded Larry Bird. Moncrief was the heart and soul of the program. He scored, rebounded and played phenomenal defense in a nail-biting two-point loss It would be hard to imagine anyone keeping him off the list.
—16.9 ppg/8.3 rebounds
—22 points as a senior
—78% free throws
Moncrief then went on to have a great, albeit short-lived, NBA career. While his pro production isn’t the criteria on which he’s based to make this list, it’s worth noting he’s the only former Hog to be a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year — and the only former Razorback player to be named to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
“BIG NASTY” (Power Forward):
It’s tough to leave the guy who hit the game winner in our only national championship out, but Scotty Thurman was to Corliss Williamson what Scottie Pippen was to Michael Jordan. Corliss Williamson and Moncrief are the only two Hogs to have their jerseys hanging from the rafters of Bud Walton arena. While that says a lot, I’ll say more.
Like Sir Sid, Corliss is an Arkansas boy. He grew up in Russellville and was an inch or two shorter than the 6’7″ listed on the roster. But good night was he was nasty. He could hang with anyone inside. Don’t forget that in 1995, a year after the ’94 national championship, we lost in the title game to UCLA. We were a hair away from repeating as national champions and most of that can be attributed to the nastiness of Corliss.
—19 points points per game
—58.7% field goal percentage (astonishing)
Williamson went on to play 12 seasons in the NBA, but to show you what kind of guy he is, all you need to see is what he did at the end of the King Cotton Classic in his senior year.
In front of nearly 8,000 people, he led his Cyclones against one of the nation’s top teams led by Californian Jason Kidd. Williamson blocked Kidd’s last second shot attempt out-of-bounds, and Russellville won by a point. Williamson was named MVP of the tournament, yet at the podium honoring the all-tournament team, he gave his MVP medal to Jason Kidd.
For more about the legacy of Pine Bluff area hoops and the King Cotton:
HERE’S THE DEAL:
It’s possible that if this list was put in the future, current Razorbacks Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe would be on it — if they chose to continue playing for the Hogs (which is less likely with Jones declaring for the draft). The two of them are as good as I’ve seen at Arkansas and they did what they could to power an undersized team to a 20-win season that was cut short.
Still, that’s all in the potential future.
A lot of what would push Jones and/or Joe into the top all-time five will come down to how good the Hogs will be in the near-term future. If, for instance, one or both of them led Arkansas back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996, that would go a long way to helping their case.
For now, we can only look at past players to round out to the starting lineup for the best Razorback players ever.
Whittling down the list gets a little trickier after Corliss and Sid, but not much on this first one.
SMOKIN’ JOE FROM SLATER, MO. (Center)
It’s no stretch to argue that Joe Kleine was the most consistent center we’ve ever had at Arkansas. The numbers bear that out.
Klein played his freshman year at Notre Dame and then transferred to Arkansas in 1981 and had to sit out a season. Once he hit the court in 1982-83 season, he made an immediate impact by earning SWC Newcomer of the Year.
—Sophomore: 13.3 points/7.3 rebounds
—Junior: 18.2 points/9.2 rebounds
—Senior: 22.1 points/8.3 rebounds
He was an All-American. He played on the 1984 Olympic team, along with Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing. He was the 6th player taken in the draft his senior year. We made it to the NCAA Tournament all 3 years he was here, twice to the Round of 32 and once to the Sweet 16. And, he owns one of the best bar-b-que shops in Little Rock.
Despite the fact that Todd Day came on to my current girlfriend of 6 years, Todd Day cannot be left off the list of great forwards at Arkansas, even if he was a little forward with her.
So was I. I get it.
Before Todd Day came to Arkansas, we thought we had the next Michael Jordan in William Mills. After Todd Day left Arkansas, we kinda forgot who William Mills was. Day was part of the breakthrough for the Nolan Richardson era and helped lay the foundation for the Hogs 1994 National Championship that would follow.
Day was a long skinny guy who could shoot the lights out of the ball. I’ll never forget watching him somehow slide around the rim against Texas in Barnhill Arena after a hammer dunk. Watching him and his teammates fluster the Horns so badly with their trapping and stealing was the beginning of the end for most of our opponents during his time at Arkansas. We were simply playing faster basketball than anyone else and it earned us a Final Four appearance in 1990.
Day was a critical component in all of that. Despite the fact that he took a feeble swipe at Larry Johnson during a game against UNLV he’s the best shooting forward we’ve had at Arkansas, but he could also rebound and he shot 75% on free throws for his career.
—Freshman: 13.3 points/4 rebounds
—Sophomore: 19.5 points/5.4 rebounds
—Junior: 20.7 points/5.3 rebounds
—Senior: 22.7 points/7 rebounds
The guy brought an energy to the floor that was perfect for Nolan’s up-tempo style of play. And, the fact that he averaged over 22 points his senior season playing alongside “The Big O” and Lee Mayberry is nothing short of remarkable.
LEE MAYBERRY (Guard):
Corey Beck was tough as nails and he played a huge role in winning the National Championship and Kareem Reid made a ton of assists in his career at Arkansas, but Lee Mayberry is the standard when it comes to guard play for the Hogs.
If you’re a certain age, you will remember when Arkansas was playing Texas in the Super Drum. We were in the game, but things could’ve been going better. We were down and Nolan saw what he thought was a terrible call. It probably was. But, if memory serves, without even getting a technical, Nolan called it quits and stormed off the court to the locker room in disgust.
Mayberry took over the game and we came back to win by putting the team on his back and willing us to victory……without a head coach on the bench. Not all of his games contained these heroics, but it’s because we didn’t need the heroics and that was largely due to Mayberry’s steady presence on the floor.
—Freshman: 12.9 points/4.2 assists/1.6 turnovers/1.6 steals
—Sophomore: 14.5 points/5.2 assists/1.7 turnovers/1.9 steals
—Junior: 13.2 points/5.5 assists/1.8 turnovers/2.6 steals
—Senior: 15.2 points/5.9 assists/1.6 turnovers/2.2 steals
His points per game average is impressive, but it’s his assist to turnover margin that’s the most impressive. Solid. Steady. Ready. He also went on to play seven seasons in the NBA.
We’ve had a lot of great players at Arkansas and when people can remember various plays that were made by those players in multiple successful seasons, that player deserves to get credit for what he’s done.
Check out the second-team of best Hogs ever here: