NBA Arkansans In The 2013 Playoffs

This isn’t the best of times for NBA Arkansans.

The playoffs began this weekend with defending champion Miami Heat as the most overwhelming favorite to win it all since the early 2000s Lakers. Back then, Arkansans played pivotal roles on a few title contenders. Little Rock native Derek Fisher, of course, manned the point for Los Angeles, which had to push through powerful Portland teams featuring Scottie Pippen.

A few years later, Corliss Williamson aided the Detroit Pistons’ push to a championship and an injury to Little Rock native Joe Johnson might have been the biggest reason Steve Nash’s run-and-gun Phoenix Suns never made the NBA Finals.

Eight years later, Johnson again finds himself in a supporting role. This time, though, instead of sprinting beside Nash and Amare Stoudemire, he’s jogging with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez on the No. 4 seed Brooklyn Nets. These days, production from Johnson, age 31, is trending downward. This season Johnson averaged 16.3 points on 42.3% shooting – the lowest averages since his second season.

The biggest reason for the drop has been nagging injuries – plantar fasciitis and a quad contusion – since February. Johnson, a six-time All-Star, needs a big playoff series against the No. 5 seed Bulls to give the Nets’ legitimate hope of dethroning Miami. If he’s looking for inspiration, he need look no farther than a series preview which ran in the Chicago Sun-Times.

In it is a position-by-position matchup analysis that pits Johnson, a six-time All-Star who has plenty big-time playoff experience, with Jimmy Butler, a 23-year-old who had played four playoff minutes in his career. The advantage went to Chicago.

By far, the most Arky-fied matchup is in the West, where Junction City native James Anderson and former Razorback Patrick Beverley helped Houston finish the season strong to lock up the eighth seed. Beverley, though, projects to play a much larger role than Anderson against No. 1 Oklahoma City. The 6-1 guard with a 6-7 wingspan joined Houston in January and has proven to be every bit the disruptive defender in the NBA that he was at Arkansas and in Europe. Beverley’s defense of Russell Westbrook is critical to Houston’s upset bid. [The task won’t be easy]

It should be no surprise to Hog fans that P-Bev is the NBA’s second best guard in offensive rebounding rate. In 2007-08, he was Arkansas’ shortest starter yet led the team with 6.6 rebounds a game.

Guards Derek Fisher and Ronnie Brewer are Oklahoma City substitutes. Fisher keeps ticking at age 38 but as his overall numbers continue to dwindle year-by-year it’s apparent he won’t be able to postpone his career’s end much longer. Still, it should not be taken for granted that dude is still playing point guard in the NBA at 38. That in itself is amazing, 33.3% FG shooting be damned.

Brewer, a former Razorback All-American, is a conundrum. He looked like a long-term NBA starter early in his career for the Jazz but in the last three years has bounced between four other teams. These playoffs could determine whether future teams are willing to invest millions more dollars into the 6-7 28-year-old or not.

Brewer’s long-term pro future hinges on his ability to improve his shooting, which has nosedived in the last two seasons. But, realistically, the Thunder don’t need Brewer to shoot even once to prove valuable in these playoffs. His true calling will likely come in a potential Finals rematch with Miami, when he would be summoned from the depths for the most grave task of climbing Mt. Defense. At the summit, above him, will glow LeBron James. Nothing short of a full-fledged living sacrifice will be expected.

“Human pinata” is not the sort of future Hog fans envisioned for Brewer when his career seemed so promising in Utah. Still, there’s no shame in being an NBA Arkansan who is expected to do not-so-big things in the playoffs. Everybody, it appears, is in the same boat.

But just because these guys don’t project to take center court on a national level, they still grab  the spotlight right on this blog.

If Fisher wins a sixth NBA title, he joins Pippen as the NBA Arkansan with the most rings. Where does Fisher rank, though, in other statistical categories?


Stay tuned for Part 2 for a breakdown of the Top 5 NBA Arkansans in each statistical category.

This piece is slated to publish in SYNC magazine.

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Which Southern State Have Integrated Record Books?

I had a good interview with Wadie Moore, the assistant executive director for Arkansas’s organizing body for high school athletics, about the enduring issue of incomplete records. Here’s the resulting article:

When Wadie Moore started compiling a record book for the Arkansas Activities Association around 1996, he wanted it to be as comprehensive as possible.

The assistant executive director for Arkansas’s organizing body for high school athletics combed through archives and drew on the contacts he’d made in his decades of sportswriting for the Arkansas Gazette.

All the while, though, Moore knew the record book he was creating told an incomplete story of his state’s athletic past. He knew there had been two high school sports associations divided by race until 1967, when the all-white Arkansas Activities Association integrated with the all-black Arkansas State Athletic Association.

When compiling the book, which includes a list of state champions in various sports and all-time leaders in statistical categories, Moore used official records kept by the AAA dating back to the early 1900s. But he didn’t find any records kept by the ASAA. The paperwork, if it existed, apparently wasn’t transferred to the AAA headquarters. So, Moore didn’t include marks set by all-black powerhouse programs in basketball, football and track like Pine Bluff Merrill, Little Rock Dunbar, Horace Mann, Scipio Jones, Hot Springs Langston and Texarkana Washington high schools.

The result affects not only the AAA record book, but all the news reports that use it as a source.

Read the rest of the Arkansas Times piece here.

In researching this topic, I’ve discovered every Southern state has made different degrees of progress in exhibiting the history of its pre-integration, all-black athletic association.

West Virginia appears to have made the most headway of all non-Northern states with a deeply segregated racial past. The border state appears to have the oldest all-black association – dating back to at least 1925 – and today has an active All-Black Schools Sports & Academic Hall of Fame that holds ceremonies to celebrate an aspect of that state’s heritage that likely would otherwise remain vastly under-reported.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Arkansas Activities Association Should Integrate Its Record Book

5a boys

Hall’s Evan James, center, is surrounded by teammates after making a last second basket to beat Jonesboro 32-31 in the 6A boys high school championship. It was the fourth straight title for LR Hall, a feat only accomplished by two other programs – Scipio Jones and LR Central. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

In the scope of world history, high school sports isn’t all that significant.

You could study a 1,001 more subjects which have more of an effect on our everyday lives. My wife, who works as a pediatrician, deals with more life and death matters in the course of half of a minute than I will in a lifetime of work.

So there may only be a handful of people who care that a large part of Arkansas’ high school history is kept in the dark almost every time a major record is set.

Last year, I discussed this issue in the context of career scoring records set in basketball. The essential issue was that the Arkansas Activities Association only recognizes records that were set by the white student-athletes – but not black student-athletes – who played before integration.

Before the school integration that swept through the state in the late 1960s, there were two state athletic associations – one for whites, the other for blacks. Black students ultimately joined the white students in what had been the white students’ schools, leaving the black schools – typically in worse shape – behind. The same happened with the athletic associations. If the black athletic association kept its own records (it is unclear that such records were ever kept and if they still exist), then they have long been lost.

All that remain, officially, are the records that were kept in by what had been the all-white Arkansas Athletics Association.

This became most evident on Saturday, when Little Rock Hall High won its fourth consecutive state basketball title. This is a very rare Read the rest of this entry »


Justin McCleary’s Recruiting, Dederick Lee’s Offers And Arkansas’ New Representative in the Nike EYBL

 

Justin McCleary talks to me while wearing a shirt repping the Arkansas Wings, the AAU program for which the Lee bros will play this summer.  Photo by Matt McClenahan.

Justin McCleary talks to me while wearing a shirt repping the Arkansas Wings, the AAU program for which the Lee bros will play this summer. Photo by Matt McClenahan.

Some extra tidbits from interviews for my profile of the amazing Lee brothers:

1) Jacksonville’s star senior guard Justin McCleary is considering  offers from Harding, Oauchita Baptist and a couple of junior colleges. UAPB, Henderson State, Arkansas Tech and UA-Fort Smith  are also showing interest. Looks like the Jacksonville-UCA pipeline won’t continue with J-McC.

2) Frederick Lee, the Lee brothers’ father, told me how his family ended up as likely the most dominant basketball family in NWA prep history (along with the Brewers). Out of high school, he moved from Marvell in east Arkansas to Little Rock in the early 1990s. He attended UALR, but was appalled by the violent crime – fueled by the rise of youth gangs – in the surrounding neighborhoods. “Little Rock was horrible,” he said. “I didn’t have a lot of money to stay somewhere nice, so I was right there in the middle of all that.”

When his oldest son, C.J. was born, he knew it was time to move. Lee transferred to the University of Arkansas and soon got a job selling cars in Fayetteville. Seven years ago, he moved the family to Clarksville where he runs a car dealership.

C.J. Lee, who preceded Dederick, Kenderick and Freddy as a Clarksville High basketball star, shortly attended Arkansas Baptist College but has since transferred to Arkansas Tech. He left Little Rock for the same reason his father left UALR, Frederick Lee said.

3) When Dederick Lee decomitted from the Razorbacks, a flood of scholarships offers came his way. He got offers from Southern Illinois, Creighton, Tulane, New Orleans and Missouri State but eventually chose Oral Roberts University (which had also extended offers to his brothers at the same time), Frederick Lee said.

4) The most prestigious youth basketball tournament in the summer has become the Nike Elite Youth Basketball tournament, or EYBL. In its two-year long existence, the Arkanssas Wings have been the only Arkansas team to participate in it.

This AAU program returns this summer, under the same name of the Wings 17-U squad, but in actuality the team will the Nolan Richardson Arkansas Mustangs, the AAU team which Frederick Lee created and through which he has coached his sons since their elementary school. Frederick Lee told me the Wings president Ron Crawford asked him to take the team’s reins for this summer. He knew that the way that we played would be great for the EYBL this year because he didn’t much of a team coming back.”

Lee agreed to come on as the , but only if he could bring aboard his own coaches and players.

So far, the only locks are Freddy, Darren and Kenderick Lee, Clarksville teammate Jerron Thompson, and a couple out of staters. He’ll decide who to promote from last summer’s Wings 16-U at tryouts this weekend.


Lee-ders Of The Pack: Clarksville’s Basketball Brothers

Former Hog commit Dederick Lee and his  brothers have left behind one era at Clarksville High. Could another one be around the corner? Photo by Matt McClenahan.

Former Hog commit Dederick Lee and his brothers have left behind one highly successful era at Clarksville High. Could another one be around the corner? Photo by Matt McClenahan.

One of the most unique chapters in Arkansas sports history closed Saturday night in a half full Pine Bluff Convention Center.

The three-year reign of the Lee brothers is over.

Dederick, Kenderick and Freddy Lee had won two straight 4A basketball state titles and led Clarksville High to consecutive undefeated conference records. It didn’t matter that Dederick, 18 years old, is barely six feet tall and 17-year-old Kenderick and Freddy hover around 5’6″. Or that their adopted brother, Deven Simms, plays inside at 6’3″.

These Davids have not only welcomed the challenge of battling Goliaths, but actually sought them out, slingshots in hand, Nike Air Maxes on foot.

In the last two years, Clarksville has taken on – and typically lost to –  powerhouse programs two or three classifications larger: Hall, Parkview, Jonesboro, Fayetteville and North Little Rock.

These programs are a far cry from the Panthers’ normal Class 4A competition. Or even competition in the 5A, into which Clarksville ascended this season because a recent influx of new students increased the high school’s enrollment ( many of the new students were political refugees from Myanmar).

Clarksville coach Tony Davis knew this season’s reclassification whittled his team’s chances at an unblemished record and a three-peat at the state tournament.

Still, he welcomed the challenge.  “We felt like if we would’ve stayed at 4A, we wouldn’t have been challenged. Last year, we won every game in the state tourney by 20 or more.”

On Saturday night, Jacksonville provided Clarksville with plenty of challenge in the 5A semifinals. The Red Devils, who a year ago played in 6A, beat the Panthers 52-44 to secure a spot in the finals vs. Alma this Friday at 7 p.m. in Barton Coliseum.

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Why Tyler Scaife Ultimately Chose Rutgers over Arkansas, Tennessee, Baylor et al

Latest SLAM issue profiles nation's top-ranked PG out of Little Rock.

Latest SLAM issue profiles nation’s top-ranked PG out of Little Rock.

Franklyn Calle has a nice article in SLAM magazine on the most dominant guard in recent Arkansas basketball history.

He talked to Tyler Scaife, Little Rock High’s McDonald All-American, about why she chose Rutgers over the likes of Tennessee and Baylor. Turns out, Scaife’s favorite player is Cappie Pondexter, the 5-9 Rutgers alum who in 2011 was voted as one of the top 15 players in WNBA history. Scaife, who also stands 5-9, told Calle: “[Rutgers] Coach Stringer does a great job of molding guards and putting them in the WNBA. I felt that Rutgers fit my style of play.”

Scaife will try to finish her high school career in style by bringing Hall a long-awaited title in the state playoffs over the next week and a half. In 2011-12, Scaife averaged 25.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 3.7 steals but Hall finished the season at 23-6 after losing in the 7A state semifinals to Fort Smith Northside. This year, Scaife’s numbers had dropped through early February (24 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 3.1 steals and 1 block) but in recent weeks she has ramped up her performance as her team has steamrolled to a 26-2 record and #1 state ranking.

Depending on how Hall finishes this season, Scaife could have a legit argument to be the best female player in state history. As I see it, her main competition for this designation is Shekinna Stricklin, who was a force of nature at Morrilton High 2005-08. Stricklin, like Scaife, won two Gatorade player of the year honors to go along with the McDonald’s All-American honor. Here are some other Stricklin benchmarks Scaife will be measured against:

  • Named all-state and all-conference all four years of her high school career
  • Started in all 120 games played and totaled 2,690 points, 1,400 rebounds, 726 assists, 474 steals and 605 blocked shots
  • Had 45 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in the 2008 state finals her senior year
  • Parade Magazine All-America Second Team (2008) and Third Team (2007)
  • 2008 USA Today All-USA First Team
  • The 2006 MVP of the Arkansas State AAAA championships after her 30-point, 16-rebound, four-assist and four-block performance in the championship game to lead Morrilton to the title

Check out this month’s issue of SLAM  (Russell Westbrook cover) for the complete Scaife article. 

ADDENDUM

I just got this insight from longtime Arkansas sportswriter Walter Woodie. The man has seen plenty of good ball in his day:

Before you call her the best in the 5-on-5 era, you might want to think about Wendy Schoeltens of FS Southside.
 All-American at Vandy, played in Europe/Asia before WNBA. Also in Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. Besides Stricklin, do not forget Hot Springs’ Shemeka Christon, who was the SEC Player of the Year at Arkansas.
 
She is in the argument, yes, but not the best. At least, not yet.

On the Shoulders of Non-Giants: Stellar Guards Lift Little Rock Parkview, North Little Rock programs

 

Although only a sophomore, Allen is already one of the state's best guards.

Only a sophomore, Allen is already one of the state’s best guards. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


Two years ago, as an eighth-grader, Kevaughn Allen decided to seriously prepare for high school competition.

So he started a training regiment that would make some NBA players balk.

Every weekday, year-round, he has met his AAU coach Kahn Cotton at the North Little Rock Athletic Club at 5 a.m. For two hours, they work on skills, strength and quickness. In the offseason, Allen tacks on an afternoon session of plyometrics.

For the love of just being a kid, why does he do it?

“I just wanted to be get better as a person and as a basketball player,” Allen said. “I just didn’t want nobody else to be better than me.”

For the most part, all that sweat has paid off. Allen, one of the nation’s most promising sophomore guards, has earned scholarship offers from a host of schools including the University of Arkansas. He helps lead a North Little Rock Charging Wildcats team that has won 23 games in a row and has spent nearly all the season ranked #1 in the state.

He has teamed with fellow guard Dayshawn Watkins to form one of the state’s best backcourts. The duo combines for about 36 points and 10 assists a game, and has already helped NLR defeat other top teams around the state – Jonesboro, Little Rock Hall, Fayetteville, Jacksonville, Clarksville.

Their statistics, though, wouldn’t fuel as many wins were it not for an on-court chemistry springing from off-court friendship. Last season was hard on Watkins. The point guard had just transferred from North Pulaski and had trouble jelling with new teammates. “It wasn’t easy for me to get used to my teammates, and it wasn’t easy for them to get used to me,” Watkins told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Tim Cooper in December 2012. “We liked each other, but we didn’t always have the chemistry on the court.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Anton Beard, Kevaughn Allen, Imara Ready, Dayshawn Watkins: Recruiting and Prep Statistics Update

The Future: Anton Beard, Dayshawn Watkins, Imara Ready, Kevaughn Allen (L-R) Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The Future: Anton Beard, Dayshawn Watkins, Imara Ready, Kevaughn Allen (L-R) Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

  Last Saturday, during Arkansas’ 73-71 win against Missouri, Hog fans glimpsed on the court of Bud Walton Arena what they hope will become a common occurrence in the future – a scrambling, clawing squad which regularly knocks out the best SEC teams.

  A critical part of that future might have also been glimpsed among the fans themselves. Two Razorback recruits who rank among the nation’s best guards in their classes attended the game, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Richard Davenport. Freshman Adrian Moore (6-4, 170 pounds) of Conway is ranked by Future150.com as the No. 4 shooting guard in his class. Sophomore Kevaughn Allen (6-3, 170) of North Little Rock is ranked as the No. 7 shooting guard. Last summer, ESPN ranked him as the nation’s No. 21 player in the class of 2015. Arkansas has already offered scholarships to both players.

  I caught up with Allen, along with some of the state’s other top guards, in a feature article for this week’s Sync magazine. Allen has roughly 15 scholarships offers, from schools like Florida, Nebraska, Connecticut and Louisville. So far, he’s taken three unofficial visits: Arkansas, Baylor and Mississippi State. Allen doesn’t yet have a Top 5 or anything like that, but says his favorite player is former Razorback and Little Rock native Joe Johnson. Allen met Johnson after seeing him play at the  Dunbar Summer Recreational Basketball League.

  I also profiled Little Rock Parkview junior Anton Beard, who recently reopened his recruitment after decommitting from Missouri.  “I just wanted to see all my options,” the 6-0 combo guard said. “I think I committed a little bit too early. Me and my family decided that wasn’t what was best.” His Parkview coach, Al Flangian, added one factor in Beard’s decision was uncertainty swirling around the future of the Mizzou basketball program and its head coach Frank Haith. Haith had long faced allegations of unethical conduct stemming from his previous job at Miami. A Miami booster and convicted felon, Nevin Shapiro, alleged he paid $10,000 to the family of a Hurricane recruit during Haith’s 2004-11 Miami stint.

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Jeremy Evans on Scottie Pippen, Bobby Petrino and Competing Against Streetballers in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

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Evans is the second Arkansan to win an NBA Slam Dunk Contest. He’s also the second Ashley County native to compete in one.

In January, I interviewed 2012 NBA Slam Dunk champion Jeremy Evans for SLAM magazine. We discussed the redundancy that’s come to pervade the dunk contest and possible remedies. I proposed allowing the general public into the contest, and Evans welcomed the challenge of competing against pro streetball dunkers. Tonight, Evans will defend his title against a field of NBAers including Gerald Green and James “Flight” White, who has promised to unveil dunks never before seen by the public.

Evans, a Crossett, Ark. native, and I also touched on other subjects in the interview.  Here are some highlights:

1. Evans isn’t the first “Arkansan” to win the NBA’s slam dunk contest. Fred Jones, who grew up in Malvern and moved to Oregon in middle school, won the 2004 contest.

2. Ashley County in southeast Arkansas has about 22,000 people but has produced two NBA players besides Evans. The first was Myron Jackson, a 6-3 guard who played for UALR.  Jackson, a Hamburg native, played eight games with the Dallas Mavericks in 1986-87. The following season another Hamburg native, Scottie Pippen, made his NBA debut.

Evans said Pippen inspired him as a young player. Hamburg is only 15 miles from Crossett, and as a teen Evans believed “if he can make it, I can make it.” Evans twice met Pippen – at a basketball game in Hamburg and at Wal-Mart in Crossett.  In Wal-Mart, Evans (who is an introvert) said his mom took him over to introduce him to Pippen. “He signed my shoes and that’s about it,” he said with a chuckle.

Pippen, by the way, participated in the 1990 NBA slam dunk contest, where he threw down a free-throw line dunk (Evans says he’s completed one of these only once – during a practice in high school).

3, Evans loves to draw. “I do everything – airbrush, portrait, oil painting, colored pencils, landscapes – just about anything you can imagine.”  After his playing days end, he wants to open his own studio.

As far as he knows, he is one of the only NBA players who seriously draws. He recalls one erstwhile Oklahoma City Thunder player had a similar interest, and ultimately opened a studio in Oklahoma (he’s forgotten the player’s name).

My sportswriter friend David Harten attended Western Kentucky University with Evans in the late 2000s and told me Evans drew a portrait of CBS announcer Mike Gminski before a 2009 NCAA Tournament game. “Someone came up to me and asked me to do it,” recalled Evans, who enjoys portrait drawings the most. “I did it just because they asked me to.”

Evans’ favorite type of art is portraiture. He likes the challenge of trying to get a person’s face exactly right.

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If Mike Gminski one day needs to be portrayed in a raucous comedy titled “Announcerman,” I know exactly who should play him.

Read the rest of this entry »


Razorbacks & St. Louis Hawks In Blytheville: The Deleted Scenes

Did you know that in 1960 Hog basketball players faced off against Ole Miss in – of all places – Blytheville, Arkansas?

And that through this game at least three firsts were accomplished?

Courtesy Jerry Carlton

Courtesy Jerry Carlton

1) only UA played in northeast Arkansas, 2) only time Hogs employed a river ferry to reach a game and 3) likely only time Hogs played in an Arkansas county (Mississippi County) that shared a name with the university it was competing against.

I wrote in detail about this 1960 game and why Blytheville was chosen for it in this Sporting Life Arkansas article, but I wasn’t able to fit in the game report and box score to the right. As you can see, Arkansas handled Ole Miss that December evening, a far cry from the Hogs’ recent ineptitude in the series.

Another fascinating tangent of this story involves an NBA exhibition game that was played in Blytheville, Arkansas in 1958. I had always assumed the first NBA preseason games were played at North Little Rock’s Alltel Arena in the early 2000s. How pitifully wrong I was.

The NBA champion St. Louis Hawks played the Philadelphia Warriors at Blytheville High School gym (which sat 3,200 people) on October 8, 1958.

Yes, the world champions of basketball – with all-timers like Bob Pettit and Slater Martin – played in a Arkansas high school gym. That place must really have been the “Taj Mahal” of gyms from Memphis to St. Louis, as the one Blytheville longtime resident termed it.

If you don’t believe me, check out this game program on eBay. (unfortunately, I cannot find the result of the game, so please tell me if you know it)

By the way, this particular eBay seller has some very interesting items for the Mid South sports fan. Here are two of my favorites:

This just wasn’t a very good idea.

:

Souvenir Program


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