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.
It hasn’t been a good last couple weeks in the world of Arkansas sports. The Hogs baseball team lost two of three against LSU, then badly stubbed its toe on Nebraska. Broadcasting legend and UA alum Pat Summerall died. And Hunter Mickelson added to the seemingly never-ending instability of the basketball team when he announced he will transfer.
Everybody knows Arkansas didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but – to make matters worse – it turns out that the “Natural State” didn’t even make it into “Big Tree Madness.” The state, well known for its trees, didn’t qualify as one of the 16 contestants in an annual national tournament pitting the biggest trees of each state against each other in a Facebook fan vote-based contest.
Making matters worst, Missouri won it all.
Arkansans should taken some solace, though, in the fact that their state is home to two national “champion trees” as determined by a register kept by American Forests, the self-declared oldest national nonprofit conservation organization in the country. Arkansas has two species representatives which are bigger (in terms of width, height and trunk circumference) than any other state’s:
1. Common PERSIMMON, measured by Lynn Warren in Yell County. Ninety-four feet high!
2. Shortleaf PINE, measured by Don Bragg in Ashley County. This 136-footer is located three miles south of Hamburg, the birthplace of Hall of Fame basketball player Scottie Pippen. Two other NBA players – Jeremy Evans and Myron Jackson – also hail from Ashley County, which seems to do “tall” pretty well.
So there you have ‘em, Arkansas. The trees that make ya proud on a national scale (even if you do want to consider that more than 780 such national champions exist and there are nearly 50 different kinds of registered Pine trees).
For more information, keep an eye out for AETN’s upcoming documentary on the largest trees of each type within Arkansas itself. Mark Wilcken is producing the film.
It’s one of the most emotionally charged Facebook posts ever written by a superstar athlete.
At 3:30 a.m on Saturday, just hours after crumpling to the floor with a torn left Achilles’ tendon in a win against Golden State, Kobe Bryant expressed a bewildering range of emotions – confidence, doubt, rage, resolve – while coming to grips with the repercussions of a season-ending injury at age 34. “Why the hell did this happen ?!?,” he wrote. “Makes no damn sense. Now I’m supposed to come back from this and be the same player Or better at 35?!? How in the world am I supposed to do that??”
Later in the post, Bryant decides he won’t get too down on himself because “there are far greater issues/challenges in the world than a torn Achilles.” Indeed, the five-time world champion doesn’t have to look far to see them. In the 71, 738 comments left in response to his post is an amazing array of inspirational stories left by people who have wrestled with issues far more grave than Bryant’s.
It’s clear Kobe Bryant’s renowned work ethic has been a great inspiration to his fans over the years. It’s also clear that those same fans could inspire Bryant more than he ever thought possible. If he takes time to read their stories.
Here are the top 10 most inspirational stories left on his Facebook page:
10. Jenni Norris Glasco: My 14 year old cousin broke her neck, shattered it cheer leading. The drs told her parents the best they can hope for is for her to breathe on her own and would be paralyzed from the chin down… Yesterday 22days after crushing her spinal cord and losing 99percent of the nerve function, she walked…20 steps. Like I said nothing is impossible!
9. Kat Corey kobe my husband is a devoted Laker fan and knows how u feel. He became a quadraplegic at the age of 51 when a crane operator at his work dropped a 750 lb air conditioner on his head.doctors said he would never walk again and or have very minimal use of his hands if he got anything back at all.He has your mentality he didnt listen to them he rehabed for 2 years and kept pushing everg day
and today he walks drives and try’s to do everything he can.
nothing is impossible when you believe in yourself, and you do.
8. Greg Mahosky Kobe, I am a 56 year old professional tennis instructor. I had a full tear of my my achilles tendon 2 years ago and was back on court playing full out in 3 months. I was teaching out of a wheel chair three days after surgery because I had to pay my bills as I don’t have a contract worth millions of dollars. Two months ago I was diagnosed with Chordoma Cancer and had to move from Toledo to Boston for six weeks of treatment, now I have two weeks for surgery and two more weeks of radiation treatment again to save my life. I was really rooting for you and the Lakers to make the playoffs and you did a hell of a job getting them there. But don’t complain about your bad break. There are people that look up to you that are much worse off. Count your blessing along with your championship rings. I would love to be where you are, care to trade places??
7. Lisa Rossi Oh what a humble man. You have a right to be angry!!!!! Life sometimes sucks!!!!!! Unfortuntatly we have no control!!!!!Life sucks!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I lost my 27 year old son to cancer in 2011- yes that’s different, but not really…
6. Micki Castillo I feel your pain!! I’m 36 and had a stroke a week ago. Im in rehab now learning how to walk again and use my left hand. It’s very hard but I just take one day at a time. The only reason I’ve made it this far is because of my friends and families thoughts and prayers!!! Oh and lots of hard work in therapy!!! Just hang in there and I will prAy for you!!!! Good luck with everything you will have to go thru!!
5. Jonathon Ulmem: me and my wife where in a house fire in which she sustained 5 metal plates and 30 screws in her leg and ankle and for months she was determined to somewhat walk again so she could walk and hold our sons…… she did it 6 months later….she may never walk for more than 30 feet at a time but those 30 feet to her feel like 30 miles….its all in the inner strength of someone the will power the courage and kobe you both have it….we will see you on the court next year.
4. Aaron Horsley If this is the real Kobe and if you happen to read this . I am 22 now when I was 17 I was a motocross racer but on 10/10/07 I was hit then drug 200 yards under a truck then ran over literally snapping my spine in half leaving me paralyzed from my chest down . Unless there is some miraculous treatment that comes in the future I will spend the rest of my life in a wheel chair. Don’t give up you have made it to your dream don’t just let it go like its dust in the wind. Show the world you are who they said you were . I will pray for you . If you don’t believe what I said about my accident google my name .
3. Pete Huttlinger So Kobe, you’re 35 years old. When I was 49 years old I was a very good guitarist with a thriving career. I had a stroke on November 3rd, 2010. It was a major stroke. I was completely paralyzed on the right side of my body and I was unable to speak. They did surgery on me and I was on the road to recovery. I could not play the way I used to play but a friend said that maybe I would come back as a better player with a different perspective. Then 6 months later I suffered from End Stage Heart Failure. I was dying. After nearly 5 months in the hospital (without playing my guitar at all) I emerged with a heart pump installed. I had gotten down to 110 pounds. I had to relearn how to walk, eat, use a pen – I couldn’t play a lick on the guitar. Fast forward a little bit – I walked a half marathon in Nashville where I live a year to the day from when I was life-flighted out to Houston, TX. Fast forward a little more – I’m back! I’m playing better in many ways than I ever did before and not so much in other ways. But I have an appreciation for life that I’ve never had before. (And I was always appreciative of my life!). You Can get through this. If I did it, you can too.
2. Brian Bair Kobe. I am a 40 year old diver that has destroyed my left leg five times. The last two where falls that snapped an ankle and a knee cap in half and the last snapped my femur right above my four time broken knee. And both in the last four years. I am coming back slow nut still coming back. I can’t give up. It’s what I do it’s what I know it’s what I love. My head gets me there while my knee catches up. So hang in there and do what you do, know and love no matter what. Cuz that rocking chair will kill you faster than anything. Hang in there Mamba. You have been all I got since Big Game James.
1. T-1000 Hey Kobe I am a robotic assassin from the future with a mimetic poly-alloy that allows my body to copy various shapes and other people. I’ve had a really tough time trying to hunt down this kid named John Connor who’s the future savior of mankind, but you won’t catch me giving up. A few minutes ago, while zeroing in on John’s mother like a rabid vulture, I crashed a liquid nitrogen truck into a steel mill! That stuff leaked out of the truck and really froze me up and then things got even worse when a T-800 blasted me with its big-a** gun and shattered me into millions of pieces.
I’ve recently been perusing my copy of Sidney Moncrief’s autobiography “Moncrief: My Journey to the NBA.” On the surface, it’s seems pretty standard fare: Chapter One is entitled “Childhood” about Moncrief’s upbringing in southwest and east Little Rock. Then, chapters named “Youth” and “High School” interspersed with pictures of an adult Moncrief mingling with the folks back home. One caption reads “Moncrief and his fellow Razorbacks became role models for many Arkansas youth.”
Another picture shows Moncrief sharing a tender moment with his Little Rock Hall coach Oliver Elders during a post-retirement ceremony at the high school. Clearly, Moncrief is a good guy who appreciates where he came from and the gifts that he has. Andrew Bynum, this is not.
And yet, in the fourth chapter, entitled “College,” things get a little hazy.
It starts on page 51, at the tail end of a paean to Moncrief’s Arkansas coach Eddie Sutton: “Coach Sutton taught us to excel in all walks of life,” Moncrief writes. “He insisted on sportsmanship, ethical behavior, and integrity.”
Except, possibly, when he didn’t.
After leaving Arkansas, Sutton ended up at Kentucky and there was caught up in a messy recruiting scandal that involved $1000 cash mailed to a high profile Kentucky recruit. Sutton and his assistants ultimately resigned and the program was put on probation.
Moncrief writes that this episode saddened him but that Sutton “never hinted at any impropriety with me.” Then he decides to pull the ring on this grenade:
“I can say that during my time in Arkansas I wasn’t offered anything extra. I can’t say that occasionally an alumnus or overzealous fan didn’t walk up to me after a game and put a hundred-dollar bill in my hand when he shook it.”
That’s about $360 in today’s money, folks. The next line insinuates he accepted the money:
Geriatric smack talk.
It’s not a fledgling punk band, or some ridiculously titled new lipstick flavor.
It’s what star players from two of the most dominant college basketball teams in the 1940s haven’t seemed able to curtail every time the topic is brought up: Did Adolph Hitler, Hirohito and the University of Wyoming swipe a national championship which should have belonged to the Fighting Illini?
The Wyoming Cowboys won the NCAA championship in 1943, then beat the NIT champions for good measure, but many contemporaries believed Illinois was by far and away the nation’s best team that year. The “Whiz Kids” of Urbana-Champaign were two-time defending Big Ten champions, ranked No. 1 in the nation, won 11 of their 12 conference games by double digits and finished the season on the type of roll that could put Cinnabon out of business: their last three wins were 50-26 against 1941 national champ Wisconsin, 86-44 against Northwestern and 90-25 against Chicago.
Ahead of Illinois was the NCAA tournament and an eight-team field including Georgetown, Texas and Washington. In later years, the Whiz Kids agreed they would have swept everybody else away. “I think we could have walked through it,” ‘43 team member Jack Smiley told The News-Gazette in 1999. “We weren’t even close relative to competition from below.”
“We would have won it all,” his teammate Gene Vance agreed.
So, what happened?
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.
Today, Little Rock native Archie Goodwin announced he’s officially entering this summer’s NBA Draft.
No surprise here.
While there was some question whether Kentucky’s leading scorer would leave college after a single season, I doubt there was ever a major question in Goodwin’s mind. When he was a junior in high school, he told me he wanted to a be a one-and-done because it was the best way to fulfill his dream of playing in the NBA. While he’s had a far more tumultuous season at UK than anybody expected, I hope he enjoys these upcoming months prepping for the draft.
No doubt, he’s put in plenty of work laying the foundation for a phase in his life in which the term “business decision” is finally applicable in an un-ironic way.
Goodwin received quite a bit of scorn from Arkansas fans when he announced he was choosing Kentucky as the desired platform in the launching of his pro career.
The same cannot be said of Alex Carter, who may the most accomplished female soccer player in the history of the state’s high school sports. Hardly any Razorback fans have heard of the 18-year-old Carter, who burst on to to the scene four years ago as the first Arkansas female to make a national soccer team.
Since then, the 5-5 midfielder has won multiple titles and individual awards at the club level (with the Arkansas Rush) and playing as a junior for Conway High School last season. Carter was so eager to start the next phase of her training that she graduated Conway High early and enrolled at Kentucky – which has twice won the SEC championship – in January.
Alex Carter, the newest member of the University of Kentucky women’s soccer team, has enrolled early for spring classes, graduating early from Conway High School during the winter intersession to enroll early at the University of Kentucky, it was announced by head coach Jon Lipsitz on Wednesday.
“Alex is a very special technical player,” Lipsitz said. “She has a great ability to play in the midfield and we have even talked about her playing some center back also because of how vital it is to have center backs who can set play with our style. We are very excited to have her come early. She felt that she was ready, and we felt that she was ready also.” – UK press release
Carter will start her first season this fall.
It’s been said that many Arkansans loathe Goodwin right now for snubbing the Hogs, but they will embrace him again if he goes on to become a champion at the NBA level and gives back to Arkansas (exhibit A: Keith Jackson).
Women’s soccer isn’t nearly as popular as men’s basketball, and so few Arkansans know who Alex Carter is, never mind care about her college destination. BUT, if in 2015 or 2019, she shows up on an American national team again – this time right before the World Cup – you’d better believe Arkansas will know who she is, and in a hurry.
That may be the first time Carter is asked in public why she decided to roll with the LadyCats and not the LadyBacks.