Arkansan NBA pioneer to be Inducted in Hall of Fame, Featured in Major Motion Film

In 1958, Arkansans Nat Clifton (L) and Goose Tatum teamed up again a decade after starring as Harlem Globetrotters

In 1958, Arkansans Nat Clifton (L) and Goose Tatum teamed up a decade after starring as Harlem Globetrotters

Technically, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton was the second black player to sign with an NBA team. He was also the first black player to play in the NBA Finals, as well as being the oldest player in NBA history to make an All-Star game debut (at age 34).

Technicalities aside, it should be obvious Clifton’s place in sports history is significant. Basketball, after all, is the world’s second most popular sport primarily because of the exploits of African-American players. There is no Julius Erving, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan without the efforts of Clifton and his contemporaries.

This is why, come August, Clifton will be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame alongside Nolan Richardson. It will surprise some to learn Clifton was born in central Arkansas in the early 1920s and spent the first six years of his life in England, Ark. He and his family then moved to Chicago’s South Side, where he starred in baseball and basketball for DuSable High School. He landed in New Orleans for college, then served three years in the U.S. Army before bouncing around a few pro leagues. He wasn’t exactly a scrub journeyman, though: In 1948, Clifton signed a $10,000 contract to become the world’s highest paid black pro basketball player with the Harlem Globetrotters (which featured fellow Arkansan Goose Tatum, considered by many the greatest Globetrotter ever).

In 1950, he signed with Knicks, where he became one of the franchise’s most popular players and helped lead New York to three Finals appearances. According to the Chicago Tribune, Clifton was primarily a rebounding forward and center, who at 6-foot-6-inch, 200 pounds averaged 10 points and 9 rebounds a game in eight NBA seasons.

A tenacious defender, Mr. Clifton was called on night after night to guard some of the league`s toughest players, including George Mikan, Dolph Schayes and Ed McCauley.

Following his retirement from professional basketball in 1958-seven years before the league instituted a pension plan-Mr. Clifton played two seasons for Globetrotter spinoffs, the Harlem Magicians and the Harlem Americans. After injuring his knee in 1960 while playing with the Magicians, he began driving a Chicago cab.

`I might not be, but I think I`m the best cab driver out there,“Clifton once said. “The way I look at it, if you`re gonna be something, be good at it.’ ‘

Indeed, at age 63, Clifton died of a heart attack at the wheel of his Chicago taxicab.

The story of Sweetwater’s life appears to be adventuresome, inspiring and possibly sad.  It’s remarkable he lived in a world – the pro basketball circuit of the late 1940s and 1950s – that as far as I know hasn’t yet been portrayed in a major motion film.

Others have noticed this too. That’s why spring 2015 is the scheduled premiere of “Sweetwater,” a biopic featuring stars such as Nathan Lane, James Caan and Brian Dennehy. The film’s currently in pre-production, and appears like it will exercise some creative license to widen its appeal. As an example of how this could happen, look at this character outline (which is six years old and could have changed in the meantime).

In it, we see Sweetwater has the ambition of the becoming the “Jackie Robinson of basketball” and is disappointed when the distinction of being the first black to play in the NBA goes to Earl Lloyd. I haven’t yet researched Clifton’s life in detail, but I would guess this distinction wasn’t so important to Clifton. For starters, the NBA had just started a few years before and was nowhere near as established as Major League Baseball. At that time, there was no guarantee the NBA would even survive and one day become a league as important and influential as it is now. I could be surprised, though. Obviously, Clifton was a competitive man and Jackie Robinson was still on everybody’s mind.

Another likely history twist: Clifton had a blues-singing white woman lover soon after arriving in New York City . I’m 99% sure this didn’t happen, but injecting this affair and blues singing will definitely help at the box office. Romance or not, I’ll be fascinated to see how the movie actually comes together. I certainly salute its producers for seeing it through despite complications over the last six years.

My goal in the coming months is to learn as much about Clifton’s Arkansas years and family as I can. There’s scant info out there now. It’s been said his grandmother apparently used snuff, and young Nat – who loved sweets – put cocoa in his cheeks to emulate her and get a bit of sugar rush. We know he lived with his mother and an aunt in Chicago, and that’s about it.

It’s unclear what year he was born, although the best guess is 1922. It also appears he was born as “Clifton Nathaniel” so now the task is to find any Nathaniels who used to live around England, Ark. (Lonoke County). If you have any tips, please reach out to me.

More than six decades after he became a pioneer, Sweetwater will again make headlines in the coming year. Help me make sure his life’s full story is told.

 

The above is Part 2 of a series about Chicago and Arkansas sports ties. 

 

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Marco Rubio, Ashley Judd & Anders Holm as Final Four Announcers

http://instagram.com/p/jxjgOCzVwV/

It appears the “savior of the Republican Party” may be a baller. He’d be an even better halftime shot caller.

The broadcasts of this year’s Final Four games feature a new twist. As usual, national television viewers can tune in to a main broadcast a semifinal game on TBS with familiar, established announcers. But on Saturday we will will also see the debut of two other broadcasts that will simultaneously air on separate channels.

These broadcasts will showcase team-centric announcers catering to the fans of Florida, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Kentucky. There will be four “teamcasts” overall to be  shown on TNT and truTv – games which you can find odds for by going to MyTopSportsbooks.com.

This is for the most part a good idea. But CBS/Turner Sports missed out by not including celebrity fans who could appeal to the tens of millions of viewers who are only casual college basketball fans and appreciate insight that veers off into other entertainment worlds like the movie business. As of now,  the teamcasts will feature regional sports channel announcers and former players like UConn’s Swin Cash and Kentucky’s Rex Chapman.

That’s fine for diehard UConn or Kentucky fans, but why not complement those announcers with non-basketball celebrity fans who know the game? Put the following famous fans on the pre or post game shows, or half time, and let them do what they do best: entertain the masses with interesting life stories.

It’s not too late. If CBS/Turner Sports were to at the last second announce teamcast cameos, here’s who should be chosen. Each Final Four program gets a favorite and at least one “darkhorse” candidate.

 

Kentucky

Favorite: Ashley Judd – who else?

She, along with Jack Nicholson and Spike Lee, are as iconic as celebrity fans get.

Judd’s ties to her team run very deep. She believes Big Blue Nation has so many fans is that it binds a geographically diverse state “that has had its hard times. She adds “basketball has given us something to distract us from hardships, from coal mines and strikes and poverty, and given us something positive about which to dream.” Judd herself had a traumatic and fluid childhood, attending 13 schools in her first 18 years. Through all this turmoil one thing she could count on was the joy Kentucky basketball brought her. I’d guess she feels gratitude toward the program.

Judd’s super-close connections to UK basketball would spark enough stories for 20 pre-game shows. For example:

“The 2002-03 squad came to our house (fan nirvana, anyone?) after they beat IUPI … in Nashville and my friend Cathy, Aunt Dot, and I cooked for them. We were all mutually awestruck, so they ended up eating a whole heck of a lot less than the boosters who came over the next night and were far less numerous! Coach loved our countryside setting, and he kept trying to get the town boys to believe he wanted them to take a walk in the woods with a kerosene lantern. One guy was nearly hysterical at the thought.”

Darkhorse #1: Of the rest of Kentucky’s seemingly never-ending list of famous fans, Drake would probably provide the most interesting commentary. Two questions for him: 1)  Does he feel anything is wrong with the fact he got his own UK championship ring before Judd? 2) Can he produce a basketball-centric rendition of his hit singe “Started from the Bottom”? I want it relay the emotional narrative of this year’s Wildcats, who started as the nation’s #1 ranked team before losing 10 games.

Suggested title: “Started at Top, Then Fell to Middle,  Now Close to Top Again.”

Darkhorse #2: The actress/superfan who would provide the most interesting visual:

 

 

Wisconsin

Favorite: Anders Holm

This comedic actor, best known for his role as Anders “Ders” Torpin Holmvik on the Comedy Central show Workaholics,  has the Badger background and improvisational chops to be the no-brainer choice here. Holm’s was a swimmer for Wisconsin in the early 2000s and has been outspoken in his support for the basketball team:

Holm is known to freestyle, which opens the door to the tantalizing possibility of a battle rap showdown between he and Drake..

I pray you, CBS/Turner Sports, do not slam this door shut on me.

 

Darkhorse: Aaron Rodgers.

 

When you can make a head coach look like this just by showing up, your star power is no joke. Rodgers could simply dish out stories as a Super Bowl-winning quarterback for 90% of the time and still hold the audience in thrall:

H/T to Phil Mitten of Buckys5thQuarter.com for insight

Read the rest of this entry »


Before Derek Fisher, Dexter Reed Put Parkview High Basketball On the Map

A year before Eddie Sutton's arrival, Dexter Reed passed on a chance to join the Triplets in Fayetteville.

A year before Eddie Sutton’s arrival, Dexter Reed passed on a chance to join the Triplets in Fayetteville.

It’s March, which means basketball fever is spreading through Arkansas. Interest in the high school state tournament is extra high this year as the state enjoys a high school basketball golden age thanks to headliners like junior KeVaughn Allen and sophomore Malik Monk. Both highly recruited shooting guards are accomplished beyond their years. Last year, Allen helped lead North Little Rock to a state title as a sophomore and picked up Finals MVP along the way. Monk, ranked by some outlets as the best shooting guard in the nation in his class, may one-up him. Despite two late season losses, Monk has helped turn Bentonville into a powerhouse for the first time in a long time while racking up obscene box scores. (Who else hits 11 of 12 three-pointers, as Monk did in one January game?)

Allen and Monk, who both stand around 6-3, aren’t the first sophomore wing players to dominate the local high school scene. In the early 1970s, another great high school golden age was tipping off and Little Rock native Dexter Reed was in the thick of it. The 6-2 guard went on one of the most devastating tourney tears of any era to lead Little Rock Parkview to its first state title.

In 1971, Parkview had only existed for three years. All the dynastic names affiliated with the school now — Ripley, Flanigan, Fisher — were still far off in the future. These ‘71 Patriots finished their regular season with a 15-12 record, but caught fire in the state tournament at Barton Coliseum, knocking off Jacksonville, McClellan, Jonesboro and finally, Helena. Through those four games, Reed averaged 27 points including 43 to secure the Class AAA title, then the state’s second largest. Ron Brewer, who regularly played pickup ball with Reed in the 1970s, said his friend was among the best scorers in state history: “He was like a choreographer out there, just dancing and weaving and getting the defense all discombobulated. And when it’s all said and done, he just destroyed you. He destroyed you by himself.”

Reed was a different kind of player from Monk and Allen but effective in his own way. The new schoolers are both extremely explosive athletes with deep three-point range. Reed didn’t play above the rim, and he didn’t see much reason to shoot 21-footers in his three point shot-less era. “I wasn’t the best of shooters,” he says. “I was more of a scorer. I could get by people, you know — I tried to be like Earl the Pearl.”

Reed won another title as a junior and by his senior year was a second-team Parade All-American who had hundreds of scholarship offers. The University of Arkansas was an early favorite. Reed had grown up a Razorback fan, and many in his inner circle wanted to see him play for coach Lanny Van Eman. Among those was local coach Houston Nutt, Sr., who had taught him the game’s fundamentals. “He had a lot of influence on me,” says Reed, who as a boy had sold popcorn at War Memorial Stadium with Houston Nutt, Jr.

Memphis State University, fresh off a national championship appearance, also entered the recruiting picture. Reed’s parents liked the fact that its campus was more than an hour closer to their home than Fayetteville. Other factors tipped the scales Memphis’ way. For starters, the Tigers played in an arena that didn’t make Reed uncomfortable. One area of the Hogs’ Barnhill Fieldhouse where the football team worked out was covered in sawdust. “I had sinus problems, and I’d be coughing there during summer basketball camps,” he says. Moreover, Reed’s older brother already attended the UA but had had trouble socially acclimating. Reed’s brother told him to strongly consider a larger city as Fayetteville was then a small town and there “wasn’t but a handful of black kids.”

Dexter Reed chose Memphis State and as a freshman immediately made a splash, racking up more than 500 points and leading the Tigers to a 19-11 finish. A serious injury to his knee ligaments the following season diminished his quickness, but he bounced back to average 18.8 points a game as a senior and landed on two All-America teams.

One highlight his last year was a return to Little Rock to play a surging Hogs program under new coach Eddie Sutton. As Sutton’s first great Hogs team, that 1976–77 bunch only lost one regular season game. On Dec. 30, 1976, a then record crowd jammed into Barton Coliseum to watch Reed, the greatest scorer Little Rock had ever produced, square off against Hog stars like Brewer, a junior, and sophomores Sidney Moncrief and Marvin Delph. They were all friends and ribbed each other in advance of Reed’s only college game in his hometown. Brewer recalls, “Me, Sidney and Marvin kept saying ‘You can come back all you want, but you ain’t gonna win this one.’ And he single handily kept them in the ballgame.”

Arkansas led for most of it, with Reed guarding Moncrief and then Brewer. But Reed and the bigger Tigers finished strong, with Reed hitting free throws down the stretch to clinch a 69-62 win. “I didn’t really think it was that big to my teammates, but after it was over, they all came over jumping on me,” Reed says. As he left the arena, he recalled seeing some of the same people in the crowd who had watched him burst onto the stage seven years earlier as a Parkview sophomore. “It was like a time warp,” he says.

Fast forward to the present, and Reed still lives in Memphis, where he runs sign and flower shops and hosts a sports radio show every Saturday morning. His parents have passed, so he doesn’t make it back to Little Rock much anymore. But he still follows the Razorbacks, and he’s heard from friends and Memphis coaches about some of the state’s great high school guards like KeVaughn Allen. Reed is glad to know the tradition he helped nourish is in good hands. He concludes, “My heart has always been with Arkansas.”

An earlier version of this story was originally published in this month’s issue of Celebrate Arkansas.


History’s First Dunkers (w/ Arkansas-centric Twist)

This is the second-earliest known photograph of a dunk shot. (Jan. 9, 1938; The Hutchison, Kansas News-Herald)

As a child I used to think about the fate of the first interstellar spacecrafts launched in the 1970s to study the outer Solar System. These brave hunks of metal, named Pioneer and Voyager, did their task and after Neptune have just kept going – they are going still, far past our solar system and into the dimly lit airlessness beyond. These spacecraft have ventured farther than any manmade object before them, heading into unknown dark.

A not-dissimilar feeling of endlessness washes over me when I think about searching for record of the first dunk. Given the likelihood that basketball’s first actual dunk was never recorded, this is close to an impossible piece of investigative history. I’d have more luck finding the Garden of Eden’s coordinates on Google Earth.

And yet, I could not help myself in a recent piece for the Daily Beast.

Something deep within compelled me to suss out the earliest known dunks in history and I did (for now, at least). The first known in-game unassisted dunk happened in California in 1935, but – as you can read here – a cage-assisted dunk happened more than 20 years before that. I also tracked down the earliest known photograph of a dunk – which dates to 1937.

I don’t pretend to be able to even get close to finding the first known dunker in Arkansas basketball history. It is simply too big of a project to mess with. However, I did pick up some kernals that will serve anyone else willing to go down this path.  Here are some piecemeal insights:

1. Rick Schaeffer, Arkansas’ former sports information director, doesn’t know who the first Razorback dunker was, but if he had to guess, he’s going with 6-10 George Kok, who was Arkansas’ first All-American center in the late 1940s.

At the end of this passage is the first known reference to a dunk (Jan. 12, 1935; Woodland Daily Democrat)

At the end of this passage is the first known reference to a dunk (Jan. 12, 1935; Woodland Daily Democrat)

2. It doesn’t appear there was much dunking at the University of Arkansas around 1960, when Jerry Carlton lettered for the Razorbacks and earned All-SWC honors. “During my college playing days (1958-62) I can not ever recall anyone “dunking” the ball during a game or during warm-up,” he wrote in an e-mail. “If it was legal during this time I am sure someone would have ‘dunked.’ Showboating would be a term our coach would use for the ‘dunk’ shot as well as behind the back passes. Try a behind the back pass in a game with Coach [Glen] Rose and I am sure we would be on the bench.”

He recalled the dunk was not allowed in his Southwestern Conference, not even in practice (n.b. I have not double-checked this; I do know the dunk shot was outlawed in the entire NCAA in 1967). The game was played a little more above the rim in other parts of the state, he added: “I lived in Pine Bluff from 1963-65 and would go to see AM&N play. Was an all black school at that time. They had a drill in warm-up where all the team would ‘dunk’ the ball with one exception. They had one player who could not “dunk” the ball so the guy in front of him would lean over and this guy would step on his back and ‘dunk’ it. They put on a show for the fans. However, they could not ‘dunk’ during game.”

3. Arkansas basketball was starting to emerge from its floorbound ice age in other parts of the state, too. In the mid 1960s, William Hatchette, a freshman at the College of Ozarks who had a 42-inch vertical jump, angered fans when he dunked the ball in warm ups at Arkansas Tech. He “kind of hung on the rim. The crowd was ready to kill him,” then Ozarks coach Sam Starkey recalled in Untold Stories: Black Sports Heroes Before Integration. “We hadn’t beaten them in 17 years, but we won that game.” [N.B. Hatchette would go on to transfer to UALR, where he was that program's first black player]

By the late 1960s, there were skyrisers doing their thing in actual games. In Altheimier, 6-3 superstar guard Jackie Ridgle was inspiring Earl Manigault-like tales of being able to grab a dollar off the top of the backboard. Ridgle would go on to average more than 30 points a game as a UC-Berkeley freshman. Around this same time, 5-11 guard Al Flanigan was earning a reputation as an explosive dunker at the all-black Columbia High School in Magnolia and later as a two-time Little All-American for Magnolia’s Southern State Muleriders.

********

In recent years, Arkansas players have produced some of the best dunks in the world. With the levitating likes of Michael Qualls, KeVaughn Allen, Malik Monk and Victor Dukes, the future looks very bright.


Arkansas leads Nation in Home/Road Wins Disparity. Guess Who’s #2?

Nothing ever seems to get better for these road woe-erriers.

Nothing ever seems to get better for these road woe-erriers.

Razorback fans, you can rest easy now.

If you had any doubt  that under Mike Anderson, the Hogs have been the nation’s most Jekyll and Hyde program, fret no more. I have scoured the back alleys of the World Wide Web, and have found not a single other Division I program which so predictably cranks out win-at-home, lose-on-the-road outcomes in recent years. As you can see in the graph below, Arkansas has been extremely strong at home since 2011-12, Anderson’s first year. But the Hogs’ simultaneous struggles on the road (which I have explored for the New York Times and Sporting Life Arkansas) have been even more remarkable.

Season

Overall

Home

Road

RPI

2013-14

13-6

12-1

0-3

76

2012-13

19-13

18-1

 1-9

93

2011-12

18-14

17-3

1-9

106

Home Winning %  90.2
Road Winning %    8.7
Disparity: 81.5%

If the heart were a neck muscle, 98% of Hog fans would be suffering some degree of whiplash by now. Will it surprise anyone if Arkansas knocks off a good Mizzou team at home tonight [Mizzou has never won at Bud Walton], but then proceeds to lose handily to LSU on the road, then beats Alabama at home, then goes to Vanderbilt and shoots either 12% on three-point attempts or 52% on free throws for the game?

Sadly, this is the whipsaw future almost all Arkansas fans expect these days.  Home heroism mixed with road woes have come to rival up-tempo defense as the Razorbacks’ most well-known trait. Arkansas is not alone in this boat, though. There are a few other programs who have mightily succeeded/struggled in the same way. Again, not to the extent Arkansas has, but enough to lock down the #2, #3 and #4 spots in college basketball Jekyll and Hyde-dom.

Without further adieu, I present to you the three fan bases who are most likely to be able to empathize with Arkansas’:

Maryland

Season

Overall

Home

Road

RPI

2013-14

11-8

7-2

1-4

67

2012-13

25-13

18-3

 3-7

65

2011-12

17-15

13-4

1-8

103

Home Winning % 80.9
Road Winning %  20.8
Disparity: 60.1%

Now in his third year, Mark Turgeon hasn’t yet been able to return the Terrapins to their glory days of the early 2000s, when they won the national title in 2002. This was supposed to be the year Maryland returned to the NCAA’s but the team still isn’t winning enough conference road games to fulfill that potential. “Too often, the Terrapins have appeared rudderless,” one Washington Post columnist opined while discussing the team’s point guard problems. Another big reason is the road shooting woes of its most explosive wingman, Jake Layman.

Razorback fans know the feeling. Wing Michael Qualls looked like a darkhorse All-SEC type player before faltering so far in conference. Qualls shoots 49% on field goals at home, and 8% on the road.

Wake Forest

Season

Overall

Home

Road

RPI

2013-14

13-6

11-0

1-4

62

2012-13

13-18

11-5

 1-10

168

2011-12

13-18

9-7

3-8

176

Home Winning %  72.1
Road Winning %   18.5
Disparity: 53.6%

When it comes to emotional roller coaster rides in the last  five years, I doubt any program has been so high, and fallen so low, as Wake Forest. The alma mater of Tim Duncan and Chris Paul was ranked #1 nationwide in January, 2009. A little less than a year later, their coach was fired and Jeff Bzdelik hired.

The resulting downward spiral and apparent dysfunction reads like a jock’s rendition of Requiem For a Dream. Last season was a season of protests directed against Bzdelik, as well as  a radio show fiascobrutal public relations, a highly active Internet campaign, and thousands of dollars in local media ad buys, as ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan points out.

Bzdelik hasn’t exactly righted the ship this year despite notching wins over UNC and North Carolina State at home. While the Demon Deacons did nab a conference road win last week, that only makes WF 2-27 in ACC road games during Bzdelik’s tenure. Wake Forest fans have come to expect  “jubilation at home and misery on the road,” Robert Reinhard wrote for SB Nation. “It’s completely unacceptable that a team can perform that well at home yet so miserably on the road.”

Nebraska

Season

Overall

Home

Road

RPI

2013-14

9-9

8-1

0-6

86

2012-13

15-18

11-6

 2-10

98

2011-12

12-18

9-8

3-9

145

Home Winning %    65.1
Road Winning %     16.7
Disparity:  48.4%

At home, this season, the Huskers have come within a point of beating Michigan while knocking off Minnesota and  Ohio State (a win apparently every bit as satisfying to Husker Nation as the Kentucky win was to Hog Nation). But second-year coach Tim Miles is 1-14 in true games, the last being a loss to an extremely bad Penn State team. “We’re right there,” star player Terran Petteway said earlier this month. ”Every day everybody has to come with a positive attitude, come ready to work. As you can see, the past couple games were pretty close. Once we get over the hump, it’s going to be special.”

N.B. Nebraska forward David Rivers, a former teammate of Bobby Portis at Little Rock Hall, has struggled this year on the road and at home. He’s found his groove at neutral sites, though.

Just for kicks, here are Neutral Court results from the last three seasons:
Maryland: 10-9
Nebraska: 3-5
Wake Forest: 3-8
Arkansas: 1-7

* Maryland, Wake Forest and Nebraska records and RPI rankings are through January 24, 2014. 


NBA Arkansans Ranked In Order of Highest Scoring Game

joe johnson 29-points-quarter

You go, Joe.

On Monday night, Joe Johnson had a quarter for the ages. In one twelve-minute span, the Brooklyn Net scored 29 points including eight three-pointers. That’s historic stuff – tying an NBA record for most threes in a quarter and four points away from the record for most points in a quarter.

But Johnson’s spectacular play in the third quarter didn’t extend to the rest of the game. In the first half, he scored eight points and declined an opportunity to play in the fourth. He ended up totaling 37 points – only the 11th highest scoring game of his career.

Johnson’s third-quarter explosion was noteworthy because he’s never been a supremely explosive scorer. Although he was a main scoring option in Atlanta for years, his career high is 42 points. Where does this career high rank all-time among NBA Arkansans?

Wonder no more. Below are all instances of an NBA Arkansan scoring 40 or more points, ranked in order of highest scoring games.

Carroll, a Pine Bluff native, holds the top spot.

Carroll, a Pine Bluff native, holds the top spot.

1. Joe Barry Carroll

Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     24-224 1983-03-05 GSW  UTA W       22  32 .688 22           0          8  13  .615 52     
2     22-211 1981-02-20 GSW  SDC L       17          17           0         12  17  .706 46     
3     28-192 1987-02-01 GSW  NJN W  1 55 15  37 .405 15  37 .405  0   0     13  18  .722 43 
4     24-196 1983-02-05 GSW  SAS W       14  26 .538 14           0         12  14  .857 40
Age = XX-YYY; XX=Years Old, YYY=Days Old

2. Scottie Pippen

Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA   2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     31-146 1997-02-18 CHI  DEN W  1 41 19  27 .704 17  22  .773  2   5  .400  7   7 1.000 47 
2     25-151 1991-02-23 CHI  CHH W  1 31 16  17 .941 16  17  .941  0   0       11  15  .733 43 
3     26-156 1992-02-28 CHI  MIL W  1 42 17  24 .708 17  23  .739  0   1  .000  7   7 1.000 41 
4     30-146 1996-02-18 CHI  IND W  1 44 14  26 .538 10  19  .526  4   7  .571  8  10  .800 40 
5     29-167 1995-03-11 CHI  LAL L  1 40 16  26 .615 12  19  .632  4   7  .571  4   5  .800 40
One of the few stats where he outdid the Sid in the pros.

One of the few stats where he outdid the Sid in the pros.

3. Ron Brewer

Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     26-055 1981-11-10 SAS  LAL W       19          19           0          6   7  .857  44     
2     26-052 1981-11-07 SAS  NYK W       16          16           0          8   8 1.000  40

4. Sidney Moncrief

Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     26-059 1983-11-19 MIL  DEN L       13  17 .765 13           0           17  19  .895 43     
2     25-156 1983-02-24 MIL  HOU W       14  24 .583 14           0           14  14 1.000 42

5. Joe Johnson

Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     24-251 2006-03-07 ATL  GSW W  1 48 14  27 .519 10  17 .588  4  10  .400 10  10 1.000 42 
2     27-181 2008-12-27 ATL  CHI W  1 44 16  31 .516 12  25 .480  4   6  .667  5   6  .833 41 
3     28-173 2009-12-19 ATL  CHI L  1 48 16  32 .500 11  25 .440  5   7  .714  3   4  .750 40 
4     24-263 2006-03-19 ATL  ORL W  1 48 17  24 .708 12  19 .632  5   5 1.000  1   2  .500 40 
5     24-240 2006-02-24 ATL  IND W  1 47 16  24 .667 11  19 .579  5   5 1.000  3   3 1.000 40 
6     24-213 2006-01-28 ATL  CHI L  1 46 16  25 .640 12  21 .571  4   4 1.000  4   4 1.000 40

6. Alvin Robertson

Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     23-152 1985-12-21 SAS  DEN W  1 43 14  19 .737 13  18 .722  1   1 1.000 12  14  .857 41 
2     25-272 1988-04-19 SAS  LAL L  1 44 17  28 .607 16  25 .640  1   3  .333  5   6  .833 40 

7. Todd Day
Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     25-349 1995-12-22 BOS  MIN W  0 38 11  18 .611  6  10 .600  5   8  .625 14  16  .875 41 

8. Corliss Williamson
Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     24-090 1998-03-04 SAC  DET W  1 40 16  23 .696 16  23 .696  0   0        8   9  .889 40 

9. Archie Clark
Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA FG% 2P 2PA 2P% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     30-134 1971-11-26 BAL  ATL W       15                               10  11  .909 40

O.K. Hard as I might try, I just can't slam the door on folks who nearly scored 40 points
but fell a shade short. Here are members of the 39-Point Club:
Eddie Miles
Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA 2P% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     27-251 1968-03-12 DET  SEA W       18                                 3   3 1.000 39

Darrell Walker
Rk       Age       Date  Tm  Opp   GS MP FG FGA  FG% 2P 2PA  2P% 3P 3PA   3P% FT FTA   FT% PTS 
1     26-014 1987-03-23 DEN  UTA L  1 36 13  18 .722 13  18 .722  0   0       13  16  .813 39 
2     26-002 1987-03-11 DEN  UTA W  1 40 14  21 .667 14  21 .667  0   0       11  14  .786 39

Requiem for the Small College NBA Player

earl monroe

Earl Monroe, like so many of his contemporaries, vaulted from a small college to NBA stardom. Are those days over for good?

In 29 years as NBA commissioner, David Stern has led his league to unprecedented heights by opening its doors to nearly every corner of the world.

He expects its next generation of stars, some of whom are playing on their franchises’ summer teams, to continue fueling growth through diversity and global expansion. A quick scan at the statistical leaders for the NBA Summer League, which wrapped Monday in Las Vegas, seems to indicate everything is on track.

There are foreigners like Candian Kelly Olynyk, Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunus and German Dennis Shroeder. There is an American, Jeremy Tyler, who played abroad after skipping college altogether.  Other Americans, like C.J. McCollum of Lehigh University, starred at the mid-major collegiate level. This fall, McCollum will start his career in Portland beside NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, who played at Weber State University. Mid major, high major, when it comes to predicting future NBA stars, the difference seems increasingly minor.

But the path has not widened for all.

The NBA player who hails from a small college has all but disappeared. In past decades, the NAIA and schools from what is now NCAA Division II and III produced All-Stars like Earl Monroe, Dick Barnett, Jerry Sloan, Walt Frazier, Nate Archibald and Willis Reed. Later, Terry Porter, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen came from these ranks.

But in the 21st century, the well has gone dry. There has not been a player from DII, DIII or NAIA to make a substantial splash in the NBA since Flip Murray, Devean George and Ben Wallace nearly a decade ago. As those players have retired, it appears nobody will step in to carry the small college banner into the next era.

Indeed, small college alumni are having a harder time than ever even making an NBA squad: of the ten such players in Las Vegas, only two off them – Glen Dandridge of the now-defunct Lambuth University and Othyus Jeffers of Robert Morris University – averaged more than 10 minutes a game. Jeffers led the pack with 8.3 points a game for Minnesota but none of these ten players – including John Stockton’s son Michael Stockton – appear to be a favorite to make a final roster.

How did this happen?

An influx of foreign players in the last 30 years is a big reason, says John McCarthy, director of the NAIA’s Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship. Perhaps the most important reason, though, is the NCAA Tournament has become enormously profitable in recent years and more and more small colleges have elbowed into Division I to get a piece of the pie. Many of the historically black colleges which produced Reed, Monroe, Frazier et al have migrated to the lower fringes of Division I – which now swells at about 340 program and more than 5,000 players.

The elevated cachet of Division I, due to boosted financial dividends and exponentially increased media attention, have at the same time downgraded the appeal of the lower divisions and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. More high school and summer league coaches believe the only route to the pros is Division I, and they pass those convictions to their players.

Which means, recruits often choose to play in Division I even when it’s not in their best interests. “I think that there are times where a Division II program may actually be a better fit for a player,” wrote McCarthy, who runs this small college basketball blog. “A good Division II program may be a better fit for a player (academically, class-size, geographically, need for his position, coach, etc.), but a player will often choose the Division I program because of the label.” The player often finds the level play at the top DII schools is higher than than the lower tier DI program he might have left.

As a tribute to the NBA’s small college legacy  - which unfortunately seems to be shrinking – below are the Top 16 small college NBA/ABA players of all time. I’ve limited the list to only players who played at schools that are still DII, DIII or NAIA today. That’s why you won’t see greats like Jerry Sloan, Dick Barnett and Maurice Stokes, Willis Reed and Bob Love, whose programs have since joined DI.

Since I’m ranking players based on performances during college and pro careers, you also won’t find scoring phenomenon Bevo Francis, who averaged more than 48 points a game for Rio Grande College in the 1950s. He chose not to play in the NBA.

16. Devean George
College: Augsburg (Minneapolis, Minn.)

NBA Draft: Round 1/Pick 23rd by Los Angeles Lakers
NBA Playing Career: 1999-2010
All-Star Appearances: 0

Career High Averages (for one season)
Points per game: 7.4
Rebounds per game: 4.0
Assists per game: 1.4
Steals per game: 1.0
Blocks per game: 0.5
43.2 % FG
39.0 % 3PT

George was a dominant scorer in Division III, averaging 27.5 ppg as a senior, but will forever be remembered as a sort-of-vital glue guy bench player during the Lakers’ 2000-02 threepeat. His career apex came in 2003-04, when he started 48 games and played nearly 24 minutes a game.

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Top 10 NBA Players Ever From Non-Division I Schools: Part 2

Not one – but two – of the players listed here did this to Wilt.

Continuing on our countdown from last week’s Top 10 list of the best NBA (and ABA) players who played for a Division II, III or NAIA school. And, yes, I fully admit it: I cheated by actually cramming in eleven players.

5. Caldwell Jones

College: Albany State (Georgia)

NBA Draft: Round 2/Pick 32 by Philadelphia 76ers

ABA Playing Career: 1973-76

NBA Playing Career: 1976-90

All-Star Appearances: 1 as ABA All-Star

Career High Averages

Points per game: 19.5

Rebounds per game: 10.0

Assists per game: 2.1

Steals per game: 1.1

Blocks per game: 4.0

50.7 % FG

83.7 % FT

One of six brothers from McGehee, Arkansas to play at Albany State, “CJ” left with his family’s highest career rebounding average at 20.3 rpg. Even before his first pro game, the 6-11 post man made quite an impression on his rookie head coach, 37-year-old Wilt Chamberlain.

Chamberlain, then 7-1 and approaching 300 pounds, was “Godzilla in sweat pants and Converse All-Stars,” with  “nostrils flaring, chest heaving, grinning a grin that had some evil in it,” as former San Diego Union sports reporter Joe Hamelin put it.

On the Conquistadors’ first day of drills, Wilt the Stilt lined up his new players to test their manhood. They “stood in a row until summoned, one by one, to dribble down the lane to their doom, to where Chamberlain was waiting like a Mayan god demanding sacrifice,” Hamelin wrote.

With little apparent effort he rejected their pitifully human layups, fly-swatting them to various distant parts of the USD gym. Contempt was etched into his face. Whap! Whap! Wilt was letting them know who was boss.

And then came CaIdwell Jones.

The rest had tried to go around Chamberlain. Jones, 6-11, built like a fence post and full of flight, chose to go over him!

Launching himself into the air like some enormous bony bird, Jones went up over Chamberlain till his waist was even with the big fellow’s unbelieving eyes. Then he brought the ball down with all the youthful exuberance in him, slamming it through the cords so hard it struck Chamberlain solidly on the shoulder and bounded 10 feet in the air. From the look on Wilt’s face, you’d have thought he’d been shot.

Caldwell Jones put up his biggest numbers in the ABA and went on to serve as a defensive anchor for the Dr. J-led 76er conference champion teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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Top 10 NBA Players Ever From Non-Division I Schools: Part 1

manute bol

Fighting Refrigerator Perry signaled Christ-like humility. Yes, the argument has been made.

EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS RANKING HAS BEEN EXPANDED TO SIXTEEN PLAYERS IN A LATER POST.

In June, we saw an eventful NBA Draft that drew from a variety of sources – Canada, Germany, Greece, Brazil, France, the NBDL and, of course, all levels of Division I basketball.

What we didn’t see – and haven’t seen for a while – is a draftee taken from a non-D1 college basketball program. Perhaps, the days of the Division II, Division III and even NAIA superstar who also ends up making a splash in the pros is over. It’s been more than a decade since anybody of note made this kind of jump.

For the sake of commemoration, let’s look back at the Top 10 “really, really small college” players in pro basketball history. Each of these guys didn’t let a non-D1 college basketball background stop them from achieving their dreams.

You’ll find three Arkansans on the list:

10. Devean George

College: Augsburg (Minneapolis, Minn.)

NBA Draft: Round 1/Pick 23rd by Los Angeles Lakers

NBA Playing Career: 1999-2010

All-Star Appearances: 0

Career High Averages

Points per game: 7.4

Rebounds per game: 4.0

Assists per game: 1.4

Steals per game: 1.0

Blocks per game: 0.5

43.2 % FG

39.0 % 3PT

George was a dominant scorer in Division III, averaging 27.5 ppg as a senior, but will forever be remembered as a sort-of-vital glue guy bench player during the Lakers’ 2000-02 threepeat. His career apex came in 2003-04, when he started 48 games and played nearly 24 minutes a game.

9. Flip Murray

College: Shaw University (Raleigh, N.C.)

NBA Draft: Round 2/Pick 42nd by Milwaukee Bucks

NBA Playing Career: 2002-10

All-Star Appearances: 0

Career High Averages

Points per game: 13.5

Rebounds per game: 2.5

Assists per game: 3.5

Steals per game: 1.4

Blocks per game: 0.3

44.8% FG

38.9% 3PT

(boldfaced statistics are from the 28-game stint Murray spent with Cavaliers in 2006)

As a senior, Murray set a Shaw University record of 23 ppg while racking up Division II Player of the Year honors. He made another splash as a Supersonic in 2003-04, when he scored 20 or more points 10 times in the season’s first 11 games (he started in absence of an injured Ray Allen). During the partial season  Murray played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he averaged nearly 37 minutes a game.

8. Manute Bol

College: University of Bridgeport (Conn.)

NBA Draft: 1st time: Round 5/Pick 97 by San Diego Clippers (in 1983)

2nd time: Round 2/Pick 35 by Washington Bullets (in 1985)

NBA Playing Career: 1985-1995

All-Star Appearances: 0

Career High Averages

Points per game: 3.9

Rebounds per game: 6.0

Assists per game: 0.5

Steals per game: 0.4

Blocks per game: 5.0

60% FG

60% 3PT

The 7’6” Bol averaged  22.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, 7.5 blocks in leading DII Bridgeport to a 22-6 record in his one season there. His rookie season ended up being his best in the pros, and he remains the only player in NBA history with more blocked shots (2,086) than points (1,599).

Bol’s legacy reaches far beyond his record-setting 8’6” wingspan. He spent most of the money he made as a basketball player to alleviate the poverty and war afflicting the people of his native Sudan. He told Sports Illustrated in 2004  “God guided me to America and gave me a good job. But he also gave me a heart so I would look back.”

Indeed, when Bol’s fortune dried up, he raised quick cash through publicity stunts in which he turned himself into a humorous spectacle – horse jockey, hockey player, celebrity boxer.

As John Shields wrote for the Wall Street Journal after Bol’s death in 2010:

Bol agreed to be a clown. But he was not willing to be mocked for his own personal gain as so many reality-television stars are. Bol let himself be ridiculed on behalf of suffering strangers in the Sudan; he was a fool for Christ.

Shields noted many sportswriters covering Bol’s death from severe kidney problems labeled him a “humanitarian” rather than “Christian.. Shields argues Bol’s Christian faith is fundamental to his identity, and whatever good he did for man was an outcome of first and foremost serving God.

Similarly, the mainstream media has avoided stressing the faith of other famous athletes, Shields wrote. “The remarkable charity and personal character of other NBA players, including David Robinson, A. C. Green and Dwight Howard, are almost never explicitly connected to their own intense Christian faith. They are simply good guys.”

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What Happened to Alan Bannister, the 7-4, 300-pound Arkansas State center?

alanbannister (3)

Big Al’s back in England, and the young people love him.

When it came to sports fandom in the late 1980s, I was but an unformed lump of clay.

A mere elementary school child then, I don’t remember hearing much about Arkansas State basketball. I certainly never heard about the biggest athlete to ever play for an in-state team.

And so it was with great interest that I fell on mention of a 7-4, 300-pound British center who played in Jonesboro in 1988-90 while researching for my most recent Arkansas Sports Anniversaries piece.

Who was this behemoth, this Anglican land leviathan who once stalked the courts of Crowley’s Ridge?

I asked my go-to ASU expert friend Jeff Reed, and he told me: Alan Bannister, who he confirmed was absolutely HUGE. Not very good, mind you, but most definitely GIANT.

Bannister, it turns out, was sort of effective and not horrible in his first season after arriving in the United States to play for Oklahoma State. “When Big Al arrived here from England, it was sad,” his former roommate Grant Buster told Sports Illustrated. “He couldn’t even catch the ball.” Bannister had only one move to the net, an incipient sky hook. Still, as a 245-pound freshman in 1985-86, Bannister started 19 of the Cowboys‘ 27 games, averaged 7.6 points and 4.5 rebounds and blocked 49 shots.

That was pretty much the apex of his career, though. He sat out his sophomore season with multiple stress fractures in his left foot, but he showed good cheer through it all. When SI asked how he got so tall considering his mom was 5’7″ and his dad 5’11″ Bannister retorted with this classic: “We had a tall mailman.”

In reality, it was a benign tumor in his pituitary gland.

Bannister soon transferred to ASU, where one of his OSU assistant coaches had been hired,  according to this 1991 article. Bannister was eligible to play there for three semesters. I can’t find his individual statistics, but I think it’s safe to say he did not light northeast Arkansas on fire. Apparently, he did hit a game-winning shot in Jonesboro. Based on message board recollections, it was in a 66-65 win against Cincinnati in January, 1990.

Later, Bannister did not fondly recall his time in Jonesboro. “It didn’t work out very well,” he said in 1991. “An Arkansas State coach told me I couldn’t play in the NBA. He made me feel like I wasn’t a very good player but it made me more determined. I knew I could do it. I just quit listening to the negative and focused on what I wanted to achieve.”

Bannister’s body, unfortunately, didn’t follow suit. It just kept breaking down on him, even when he did make it on to the Utah Jazz as that team’s first foreign-born player (sidenote: also on that team was 7-5 Mark Eaton, which would have made for a helluva twin tower lineup).

Bannister was invited to Utah’s training camp in October 1990, but was still very slow, still had bad hands and couldn’t jump. He played for three weeks before requiring knee surgery and going on to the injured list. He never logged a regular season minute.

The Jazz released Bannister in August, 1991, and he spent the rest of his playing days abroad in places like Austria and England, where in this photo he looks like a very, very relaxed dead ringer for Mike Dunleavy, Jr.

Bannister stayed in England, where in recent years he has coached basketball clinics.

Curious as to who would be the second-tallest student-athlete to play for an Arkansas team?

Try former Razorback Shaheed Ali, who was also a transfer.


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