In the early 1990s, Arkansas joined the SEC and the conference began awarding a baseball player of the year award to complement already established football and basketball MVP titles. Since then, the conference has soared to lofty heights, becoming arguably the NCAA’s most powerful organization. Much of that has to do with stretches of dominance by Alabama, LSU and Florida in football; Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida in basketball and the likes of LSU (five national titles 1993-2009) and South Carolina in baseball.
Many of these programs have produced multiple players of the years in various sports, yet no one school has yet been able to hit a POY trifecta by having a male player win the ultimate individual honor in each major team sport in one calendar year.
That may soon change.
In 2015, the Razorbacks athletic department has a chance make SEC history by sweeping these honors. The push started earlier this spring with sophomore Bobby Portis winning basketball SEC Player of the Year. Then, on Monday, sophomore Andrew Benintendi was announced as SEC baseball’s player of the year. Benintendi, of course, has helped spearhead the Hogs’ surge from a 1-5 start in SEC play to 18-7 finish including two wins so far in the SEC Tournament. The outfielder from Cincinnati, Ohio leads the nation in slugging percentage (.760) and ranks first in home runs. “He’s probably the best player in college baseball right now,” Tennessee coach Dave Serrano told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Bob Holt.
I write more about this unique record in the context of SEC sports and the Razorbacks’ upcoming football season for Sporting Life Arkansas, but here I want to look beyond the SEC.
Specifically, how many times has a school pulled off this one-year POY trifecta among all major conferences?
Three times – sort of.
Here they are:
In basketball, Grant Hill secured ACC player of the year and first team All-American honors. But thanks to the Razorbacks, “national champion” was one honor he didn’t grab for the third straight year. Ryan Jackson took home ACC POY honors after setting a single-season school record with 22 home runs. In football, bruising back Robert Baldwin won it after helping lead Duke to its highest national ranking in 23 years.
Baldwin was the last Duke player to win ACC player of the year honors in football, but was the 10th such POY in school history (which is a surprisingly high number to my 33-year-old self. It reflects how un-dominant Florida State once was).
Bobby Portis doesn’t have much hair.
But what little he has, he let down in full during a Tuesday press conference after announcing he was taking his game to the next level. In basketball, he’s a potential lottery pick. In singing, he’d be lucky to find volunteer work in Bulgaria. Below is the full conference transcript. Excerpted video of Portis’ serenade is near the middle.
Mike Anderson: This is a day that, you know, you have dreams when you’re a young kid. Coming here, taking this job four years ago, one of the first tasks that I had was to go down to Hall High School, and see this young man work out. In that spring, in that summer, this committed to the University of Arkansas. His sophomore, you’re talking about finishing his sophomore year, so when you talk about a guy committed early, this guy committed early, so to sit here four years after that, and he has an opportunity to realize his dream. It’s kind of a more sweet than it is bitter day. Why, because this kid, he’s part of my family, and that’s Bobby Portis, as well as all my other players on our team. When you talk about a young man who’s had two unbelievable years, it’s amazing what has taken place. In his freshman year, he’s second team All SEC. His second year. You got to understand this. He’s second team All-American. That is a special, special year, and that’s why we are here today.
His teammates are here in attendance, as well as our staff, as Bobby has announced that he will be moving beyond that, and I’ll let him talk more into that. As a coach, he’s been a great ambassador for our university. He’s a great basketball player, we know that, but he’s been a great, great ambassador, a great, great role model for a lot of young players around, young people in the state of Arkansas and around the country. We could not have a better representative than Bobby Portis. To be here today as he makes his statement, I couldn’t be no more proud of Bobby Portis. Player of the year in our league. Things that haven’t taken place here in 20 years. That tells you how special he is. Not only special Bobby is, but his teammates as well. He’ll be the first to say that. I can’t talk any more, because I get a little emotion, but to Ms. Tina, I want to thank her for entrusting me with her son. I told her, “You send me a young boy, I send you back a man.” Well, he kind of expedited the process. I told him to go at his own pace, as a freshman, because coming in, you can imagine, McDonald’s All-American, all the pressures, and I said go at your own pace. His pace was a tremendous pace, and that’s why we’re here today. I just pass over here to Bobby Portis.
Bobby Portis: How everybody doing today? Ain’t nobody sad or nothing, is it? Everybody good? You know, today’s a good day
for me, to try to take that next step and go to the NBA. As a kid, all kids grow up wanting to go to the NBA. For me, myself, I finally had that first chance to go to the NBA this year, so I took the opportunity and tried to run with it. Thanks for Coach A for always having that trust in me, on and off the court. He made me a captain this year, as a sophomore, and I think that’s big for me and my teammates. Thanks for my teammates, always having their trust in me, on the court, passing the ball to me, even though I’m hollering, “Give me the ball! Give me the ball!” All that stuff. Thanks to Coach [Matt Zimmerman] staying late in the gym with me, and always rebounding for me and all that. Thanks to the managers, too, and Coach Watkins and Coach Cleveland. You’re all a part of my family, now, and this is something that I’m proud of, so thank you all and God Bless.
Reporter: You really talked a lot about your mom and what she means to you. How big a part was her, how hard she works and what she does, in your decision?
Bobby Portis: It was a big part, just because, my mom, she works 2:00 AM to 1:00 PM. That’s an 11 hour shift. For any person, that’s a tough burden on anyone, so I just want to take that next step, not just for her, but for myself. I’m not doing this for my mom, or anything, I’m doing this for Bobby Portis, just because I feel like I’m ready to take that next step, and go on about my basketball career.
Reporter: In the beginning you said it was going to be a committee decision. In the end, was it just you that made the call?
Bobby Portis: I believe so, just because, my mom wanted me to make the decision for me and not her. That’s something that she always preaches. Not trying to make me make a decision for her, just to change her life and my little brother’s life. She wants me to live my dream and try to be the best basketball player I could be.
Q: I understand it’s a basketball on one side, but how nice is it that you’re going to be able to help your family out?
Bobby Portis: I think it’ll be nice to help my family out, but I still have to work as hard as I can every day, and just try to be that same person that I was, and just stay humble and hungry. Just because, if I get my name called and put that hat on, that doesn’t mean that it’s just the end of the road and I get money. It’s more than just money. It’s a job, too, at the same time.
Q: What kind of feedback did you get from the NBA folks about where Bobby’s likely to be drafted?
Mike Anderson: First of all, this wasn’t an easy decision for Bobby. This guy, again, he committed as a sophomore to be a Razorback, and trust me, he’s been wrestling with this. I know you guys, whether it be social network, or we continued at the banquet last night, “Hey, Bobby, what you going to do?” It wasn’t an easy decision for him, so we gathered information for him, in terms, of where, what’s going to take place. Obviously, from the lottery to first round. He’s going to be … He’ll be a first rounder, there’s no question about it. Where? That remains to be seen. I have all the confidence in this guy, right here. He’s on the fast track, on the fast track to do some great things. No one can knock his work ethic. For a 6’11” guy, that can do the things that this guy does, is remarkable. He has that burning desire, to not only be a good player, so even as he goes to that next level, he don’t just want to be a good player in the NBA, he wants to be a great player in the NBA. I don’t question anything this guy puts his mind to. The feedback we got was very positive, and so we sat down, and just discussed it. At the end of the day, it was Bobby’s decision, and I think, one thing about it is that, I think, for him, I think he made the right decision.
He’s done some great things here for us, here at the University. Took us some places we hadn’t been in a while. I think he just starting something that’s really going to continue to take place, and when you talk about elite players, having the opportunity to come in, and have a chance to showcase the God gifted talents. He took my word, when I sat there with he and his mom, because there’s a lot of places he could have went. There’s a lot of programs he could have went. He chose the University of Arkansas. In the matter of a year, two years, now he’s had an opportunity to go and live his dream. It’s a big statement in a lot of ways. I’m sure the basketball people out there, the NBA teams, and hopefully, the recruits understand that, you know what – we get it done here at the University of Arkansas. Our kids, they develop. They do it the right way on and off the floor and when they leave here they will be ready, not only for the NBA, but they will be ready for the real world.
Q: What was the tipping point when you decided everything?
Bobby: Last Tuesday me and Coach Anderson sat down and talked about everything. He just laid out two or three scenarios and from there, I kind of ran with it. I sat down and told him then that I thought I was ready to make that next step. I made it last Tuesday.
Q: … How tough a decision was it? … Like Mike said, it was something you had to wrestle with.
Bobby: Man, last night I played this song, “I don’t want to leave, but I got to go right now.” That was cold, though. No, it was a tough decision for me just because growing up in the state of Arkansas and being a native of this state, I felt like I was a great ambassador for our basketball team and for our program, not only for the basketball team, but for the whole, entire Razorbacks. I believe I showed kids that you don’t have to go to Kentucky or Florida just to try to live your dreams. Coach Anderson and his staff gets it done here, too.
I had the chance to talk to the Razorback legend for a North Carolina-Arkansas mini oral history which runs on Sporting Life Arkansas today. Kleine, who recently finished his eighth season as an assistant coach with UALR, was pivotal figure in leading Arkansas to an historic 1984 win over No. 1 UNC. I couldn’t help also ask him about what will happen in Saturday night’s second round game between the programs, in which Arkansas has a shot to break into its first Sweet 16 since 1996.
Q: What’s your take on the Tar Heels?
A: I think they’re talented. Especially Marcus Paige – he’s a really good point guard. Any time you’re pressuring as much as Arkansas does, a really good point guard worries you. Because he gets through there, he can cause a lot of trouble.”
Q: Bobby Portis has had a great season, you agree. In order for him to take his game to the next, where do you think he must most improve?
A: I’m a little leery to critique him because I’m not there, seeing him every day. These are things I’ve noticed just one or two times – in his post play, as with all young post players, he’s got to develop a counter move with his left hand.
I’ve seen him do some things with his off hand but he’s got to get the point where he can put it up over his shoulder with his left hand as well as he does on the other side. Still, I love his face up game and his rebounding. He has a tenacity there that is a really, really good sign … He just has to continue to work on his face up game, get to the point where he can drive as well with his left hand as with his right.
Q: Sounds like he would do well to spend a little time in Hakeem Olajuwon’s post-up training academy.
A: I’m 53 years old, and I would be well served by spending time in that academy. That man is simply amazing.
Q: How good can Bobby be?
A: Worst case scenario, for Bobby Portis, I see Joe Kleine – a guy who can play a long time in the league, can spot shoot, can defend. Whether he can be a big time scorer, that remains to be seen. His ability to score against bigger, taller, more athletic guys is going to be indicative of what kind of career he’s going to have.
Q: Overall, who do you expect to win on Saturday night?
A: You could make an argument either way. You’ll have two good teams playing on edge, that have a lot to lose, with a lot of emotion. It’ll bring out the best in both of them … I’m a fan of Arkansas – that’s gonna push me toward them. I wouldn’t want to make a living having to pick the outcome of that game.
Q: UALR head coach Steve Shields was just let go. It’s hard for me not to ask: What are your plans now?
A: I want the job. I’ve thrown my name in, I’ll put that way.
Arkansas assistant coach Matt Zimmerman couldn’t believe it.
As ushers swept the seats of a cavernous Bud Walton Arena behind him, he sat courtside, looking down at the box score of a game that had just finished. It wasn’t the 81-75 final score that surprised him. These days, it seems, his No. 18 Hogs go into every game legitimately expecting to win. No, it was the way in which Arkansas had sewn up its seventh straight win.
On this bitter cold night, Texas A & M had outrebounded Arkansas 44 to 23. In the Razorbacks’ 40 Minutes of Hell style, getting out rebounded happens. Usually not by this much, but it happens.
The weird part?
While giving up so many boards – a stat stronger, bigger and more athletic teams usually win – Arkansas somehow also held a 12 to 0 advantage in block shots. Which is, of course, a stat that also usually goes to the taller, more athletic team. In this game, Alandise Harris likely had the defensive game of his year, chipping in four blocked shots, while Moses Kingsley and Bobby Portis added three swats each. Yet the fact that not a single Aggie touched an Arkansas shot attempt is a testament to the Hogs’ discipline and shot selection on offense.
Matt Zimmerman couldn’t recall such an unlikely disparity in his decades of coaching. Same goes for his boss Mike Anderson. “I’ve had some teams that have gotten out-rebounded by about 20, yeah, and [still] win the game” the head coach said. “On a of lot of those rebounds [the Aggies] would shoot it and go back and get it, shoot it and go back and get it. But we’ve got to correct that. To have 12 blocked shots and for them to have zero, that tells me our guys were pretty accurate. And in the first half we were blocking those shots and we were coming up with them, we were heading down the other end on the fast break. So, to do that against a team like Texas A&M – that tells me we are getting better.”
So, has anything like this ever happened before?
It’s very rare. I have confirmed Arkansas has pulled off the only -20 or more rebound/+10 or more block disparity in a Division I game this season. But, thanks to a tip from HogStats.com, it appears one Razorback team did something similar on December 11, 1990. In that game, a 10-point Arkansas win, Hogs center Oliver Miller went off for nine blocks and the team tallied 15 in all, according to separate records found by the HogStats editor.
Yet perhaps Miller was too hungry for a record-setting block night to corral many defensive rebounds, because South Alabama out-rebounded Arkansas 60-34 (Miller finished with seven total rebounds). We don’t know how many blocks South Alabama got this game (team blocks aren’t recorded in that season’s media guide), but it’s likely the number was less than five. If anybody can find record of that stat, please let me know.
N.B. Anderson would have actually coached in this game, as an assistant under Nolan Richardson, but I won’t hold it against him for not being to recall this one specific time in the .60 seconds he had to respond to me.
Dear readers, do you recall any other crazily anomalous statistical disparity games in college basketball history?
In few realms does the state of Arkansas travel the Middle Way. In politics, we’re among the reddest of the red. In education, we’re near the bottom of nearly all national metrics. Income stats, too.
It’s hardly a long shot to say Arkansans don’t do moderation well.
Except when it comes to producing world-classily average deep shooters. Arkansas ranks No. 25 among 50 states in three-point shooting in the NBA and the now-defunct ABA. That’s an accuracy only ranking, tallied by adding up all three-point makes and attempts by all NBA/ABA players born in each state. New Hampshire, South Dakota and Nebraska are tops here, with New Mexico, Delaware and Wyoming groveling at the bottom. Click here to nerd out more on this stuff, as I did for SLAM.
Looking at only native Arkansans, we see one reason for the state’s supreme averageness is the lack of any elite deadeye gunners. No Kyle Korvers, Hubert Davises, Dell Currys – or even Martell Websters or Anthony Morrows -have ever come out of our state. While Joe Johnson did briefly hold the NBA record for three point makes in one quarter (8), he hasn’t consistently been able to sustain the elite accuracy he showed early in his career with the Phoenix Suns.
Indeed, when it comes to accuracy, the best Arkansan long bomber isn’t even know for being an Arkansan. Mike Conley, Jr., son of Razorback track great Mike Conley, moved in childhood from Fayetteville to Indiana.
14 Best NBA/ABA Arkansan Three Point Gunners
|3 PT%||Made||Attempted||Native Town|
|Derek Fisher||0.374||1248||3341||Little Rock|
|Joe Johnson||0.372||1671||4497||Little Rock|
|Marcus Brown||0.333||13||39||West Memphis|
|Quincy Lewis||0.333||37||111||Little Rock|
|Jeff Webster||0.333||2||6||Pine Bluff|
|James Anderson||0.33||173||525||El Dorado|
|Fat Lever||0.31||162||523||Pine Bluff|
|Dennis Nutt||0.294||5||17||Little Rock|
|Sidney Moncrief||0.284||110||387||Little Rock|
*I don’t consider Jasper Wilson the most accurate NBA Arkansan three-point shooter of all time. He just lucked out with a small sample size. A “not-small” sample size, in the context of this ranking, should probably begin around 200 career attempts.
Notice the rankings only consider birthplace, not where the player actually went to high school. That’s why even the most hardcore NBA Arkansan fan will see unfamiliar names on these lists. And while I technically shouldn’t have included Ronnie Brewer on account of his spending his first four years in Oregon, where his dad played basketball, I couldn’t help myself. Too many Arkansans would want the exception to be made.
Ronnie has never been known as a great shooter, so it comes as no surprise he ranks No. 14 in the
Worst 21 NBA/ABA Arkansan Three Point Shooters
|Jeff Martin||0.282||29||103||Cherry Valley|
|Ronnie Brewer||0.254||90||335||Portland, OR|
|Andrew Lang||0.25||5||20||Pine Bluff|
|Ron Brewer||0.248||30||121||Fort Smith|
|Sonny Weems||0.241||19||79||West Memphis|
|Jim McElroy||0.206||7||34||Cotton Plant|
|Keith Lee||0.167||2||12||West Memphis|
|Archie Goodwin||0.159||7||44||Little Rock|
|Bryant Reeves||0.074||2||27||Fort Smith|
|Joe Barry Carroll||0||0||13||Pine Bluff|
|Michael Cage||0||0||25||West Memphis|
More of a surprise is the depth to which second-year pro Archie Goodwin’s shooting has submarined. Sure, Goodwin’s strength has always been driving to the basket. But he had made strides shooting from deep his senior year at Sylvan Hills and was better than this in his lone season at Kentucky. We’ll see how much he improves with more minutes, and more opportunities to get in a groove.
I should also be noted Sonny Weems has in recent years become a 37% three-point shooter in the world’s second-most competitive league.
Of course, some of the best NBA Arkansans never had a chance to prove their not-so-middling mettle in this realm. Below are mostly native Arkies who either played before played before 1979, when the NBA adopted the three-pointer, or who played but not in the ABA – which used the three from its 1967 get-go.
Entering tonight’s game against Alabama, the Razorback basketball program’s identity still isn’t set. In theory, its foundation is a tenacious defensive “40 Minutes of Hell” philosophy which is supposed to turn foes into whimpering newts. In reality, three weeks into the SEC conference season, the Hogs are a far more impressive offensive team while ranking at the bottom or near the bottom in multiple SEC defense categories.
The extent to which Arkansas can improve here – especially on the road – will determine how many fans believe head coach Mike Anderson has finally, unequivocally turned the program around.
With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to chart how Anderson himself monitors the progress – and lack thereof – of his team’s performances on a week-by-week basis. He provided the following insight early this week on his own show – Full Court Press with Mike Anderson:
@ Tennessee 74
“To me, it’s a lesson for our guys. You got to show up and play, no matter where you’re playing. You got to show up and play with energy, you got to show up and play with toughness, and you got to play together with teamwork.”
“I want us to be less predictable. I think we’re more predictable now, and I think that’s why teams are really attacking us. We got some time to get it right, and we will get it right.”
Hogs’ Conference Record: 2-1
Hogs’ Conference Road Record: 1-1
Ole Miss 96
@ Arkansas 82
“Our defense has really, really, really got to get back on track as far as guarding people.”
“They played a lot of zone against us, and we hadn’t seen a lot of it, and they came out with the win.”
“Our guard players got to pick up defensively, our forward players got to pick up defensively, and I think just overall we’ve just got to be connected with our bench – which has been our strength. They didn’t have one of those particular nights that we really love.”
Hogs’ Conference Record: 2-2
Hogs’ Conference Road Record: 1-1
“We’re better than where we were last year, but we’re nowhere where we need to be as contenders,” Hog legend Corey Beck* told Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly. “We’ve still got a long, long way to go.”
*Whom the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective tongue-and-cheekily qualified as one of the NBA’s biggest partiers of all time (when taking into account FG% difference between Sunday games and all other games).