Exclusive Q&A w/ Bobby Portis, Arkansas’ Best Big Man Since Corliss

Bobby Portis learned the art of rebounding from Corliss Williamson. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Bobby Portis learned the art of rebounding from Corliss Williamson. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


Big man Bobby Portis is new school. He shoots threes, leads fast breaks and has a shoe collection as diverse as his game. Off the court, he rocks the same nerd-chic glasses and bow tie swag Kevin Durant has helped popularize in the NBA.

But when Portis takes his game to Fayetteville next season, it’s the promise of returning Arkansas to old school glory that most excites Hogs fans. Portis, after all, is the state’s best big man since his former coach Corliss Williamson. He’s already followed Williamson’s lead by leading the Arkansas Wings to an AAU national championship. The 6-10 senior center may also be the most dominant player from Little Rock Hall High since Sidney Moncrief, another Razorback All-American.

Portis, we find out, fully embraces the legacy of all his schools – past, present and future:

Q: Let’s get this out of the way first. You’ve been known to wear some crazy, neon-colored shoes on the court. How many do you have and why do you wear them?

A: I have Nike shoes in the neon pink, orange, blue, red and green.
It’s just a different style. I like to wear different types of colored shoes, you know. It’s nothing serious. My mom sees the shoes, so she buys them.

Q: Who is most responsible for helping you develop as a post player?

A: When I was little, it was Corliss Williamson. He taught me a lot. But then he moved on to coach UCA and couldn’t coach us [in AAU] anymore. Then I started working out with Marcus McCarroll. He’s in athletic trainer here in Little Rock, and he’s also a part of the Wings.  He really helped improve my post game.

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If Derek Fisher had played for the Razorbacks

This was closer to happening than you think. Illustration by Ferris Williams

There aren’t many blank spots on longtime NBA player Derek Fisher’s resume: five world titles, an AAU National Championship, a high school state championship, six years as National Basketball Players Association President. On every big stage the Little Rock native has played, he has left his mark.

Yet there’s the stage he never played on.

It doesn’t matter how many big-time events Fisher has been a part of in his 16-year pro career. Nothing will erase the memory of how close he got as a college senior to making his sport’s most dramatic competition: the NCAA Tournament. His University of Arkansas at Little Rock Trojans were up 56-55 in the 1996 Sun Belt Conference Championship game with four seconds left.

The University of New Orleans had the ball. Fisher closed out quickly on the opposing guard with the ball, but he spun past Fisher’s outstretched arms and drove to the basket, lofting a teardrop shot that resulted in an upset win.

Despite a 23-6 record, UALR would be left out on the doorstep on Selection Sunday. Fisher’s final shot at the Big Dance was gone.

It could have been much, much different.

What if instead of leading UALR, Fish had helped steer the Razorbacks? “I think he could have played at Arkansas, but coming out of high school, he just wasn’t ready,” said Razorback All-American Corliss Williamson, also one of Fisher’s best friends. There’s a strong chance Fisher was ready for Arkansas halfway through his college career, though, and he was closer to making that jump than many people realize.

See the rest of the story at Sync magazine.

PS – This concludes what has apparently become my blog’s  Of(Fish)al Derek Fisher Week.


Corliss Williamson on Conway-Jacksonville “Pipeline” & Possibility of a UALR-UCA-UALR-UAPB tournament

I had a good talk with UCA head basketball coach Corliss Williamson a couple days ago. While I’ve met most of the other basketball luminaries from the state, I’d regrettably never gotten around to Big Nasty. I’d met his son, Chasen, when he was a second grader at the New School in Fayetteville and I was a college student moonlighting as a playground supervisor. I told Corliss that Chasen, who’s now a senior at Fayetteville High School, had quite the leg in kickball.

Our talk mostly revolved around his longtime friend Derek Fisher, the subject of an upcoming magazine profile I’m writing. Corliss told me he met Derek at North Little Rock’s Sherman Park community center around age 10. They played together to win a national championship (in AAU in 1990) and played against each other for a world championship (2004 NBA Finals). Corliss, who then played for Detroit, said the Pistons’ ’04 title was especially sweet since  he felt he owed his friend one: Fish’s high school (Parkview) beat Corliss’ team (Russeville) two out of three meetings. Indeed, were it not for Parkview beating Russellville in the state tournament of their senior years, Corliss might have accomplished a rare quad-fecta by winning and AAU national title, a high school state title, an NCAA title and an NBA championship.

So, did Corliss keep track of the head-to-head matchups between he and Fish in the NBA?

“C’mon man, it was the Lakers!” he replied, laughing.  “It was tough. I was with Sacramento, Toronto, Detroit when we weren’t that good, then to Philadelphia… I think he might have the edge on that one but when it came down to the Finals I was definitely happy we could beat them then.”

I assured Corliss even if I looked up the head-to-head win-loss record between his and Fish’s NBA teams, I wouldn’t publish them. “That’s cool man. You can put it in there. I’d like to know it anyway.”

We also talked some about his UCA Bears, who will be looking to improve on last season’s 8-21 overall record and 3-13 mark in conference. One of 2011-12′s bright spots was the emergence of 6-5 sophomore LaQuinton Miles, who averaged 15 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals. Miles is one of three Jacksonville, Ark. natives – along with DeShone McClure and Terrell Brown – on this year’s roster, which begged the question:

Q) Has a recruiting pipeline been constructed stretching east from Faulkner to Lonoke County?

A) (chuckles) Yeah, I guess you could say there’s a pipeline developing between Conway and Jacksonville. There are some talented kids coming out of Jacksonville. Sometimes they get a little overlooked, they don’t get as much publicity as some of the other kids. We were lucky to get the three kids we got from out of Jacksonville. That’s one thing we take pride in – recruiting out of the state of Arkansas.

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Comparing Hog Freshmen to the Best First-year Classes in Program History

Have B.J. Young and his frosh teammates risen to meet standards set by the likes of Sidney Moncrief, Todd Day and Scotty Thurman? Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Seldom does an Arkansas freshman class enter the season with as many expectations as this year’s quartet of B.J. Young, Hunter Mickelson, Rashad Madden and Devonta Abron. Rarely are they needed to play as urgently as this group, which – following a summer of transfers and winter of injuries – now makes up half of Arkansas’ eight scholarship players.

But there is precedent.

In previous eras, new Razorbacks have made substantial splashes, kicking off the most celebrated three-year runs in program history. In the mid-1970s, the “Triplets,” three Arkansas natives within two years of each other, got it rolling for Eddie Sutton. The next two waves came under Nolan Richardson, and formed the nuclei of three Final Four appearances in the 1990s.
As a whole, this year’s freshmen haven’t played as many minutes as their predecessors. Expect that to change soon, though. As senior Michael Sanchez recovers from a shoulder injury, Mickelson and Abron will play more. Already, the new guys are setting records – Mickelson has blocked more shots than any previous Arkansas freshman, and these Hogs have won 17 home games, the most in program history.

Still, the Razorbacks lost their first seven games outside of Arkansas. Each of the previous celebrated freshmen classes had won at least three road games by this point in the season. By their second years, they led teams among the nation’s best on the road. Sure, the anticipated return of a healthy Marshawn Powell next season helps. But if this year’s freshmen wait until then to start living up to their predecessors’ standards, it will be too late. Their legacy won’t be determined by how many hearts they can win in their own arena. It will be set by how many are broken in other arenas.

Player

First season

Points per game

FG%

FT%

Rebounds per game

Minutes per game

Games

M. Delph

1974-75

6.2

50%

81%

2.5

N/A

26

R. Brewer*

1975-76

11.9

58%

75%

3.8

N/A

28

S. Moncrief

1975-76

12.6

67%

73%

7.6

N/A

28

1975-76 record through 25 games: 17-8
1975-76 record outside of Arkansas thru 25 games: 3-7
1976-77 overall record: 26-2
1977-78 overall record: 32-4
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In two decades since teaming with Corliss and D-Fish, Marcus Brown has become King of European ball

I recently wrote articles for Sync magazine and ESPN.com about Marcus Brown, the West Memphis native who tore up scenes in Arkansas, Kentucky and nearly every European nation worth its salt when it comes to basketball quality.

Here are some choice excerpts from Sync:

How dominant has Brown been in the numerous nations he’s called home since 1998?

Picture Dolph Lundgren’s teched-out uberkiller character from Universal Soldier. Knock that gun out of his supernaturally strong hand, and insert a basketball complemented by an insanely accurate 10- to 15-foot jump shot. Now watch as he marches through France, Italy, Turkey, Russia, Spain, Israel and Lithuania, leaving a wake of destruction that includes at least eight MVP awards and 20 championships. Oh, and this Arkie happens to also be the Euroleague’s all-time leading scorer.

On the way Corliss, Marcus et al used to pack ‘em:

Williamson, along with stars like Parkview’s Maurice Robinson (a Florida State signee) and Dion Cross (Stanford), drew 5,889 people to the state’s high school all-star game at the University of Central Arkansas’ Farris Center. That more than doubled the 2,231 high attendance mark for UCA men’s basketball last season, Williamson’s first as head coach.

Razorback connection:

By the end of the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Brown’s senior year, he was averaging 20.5 points, eight rebounds and four steals, and being recruited by Murray State, Ball State, Alabama-Birmingham and Jackson State. In the end, Murray State signed both Brown and Parkview guard Kenneth Taylor. Its coach, Scott Edgar, had been a Razorback assistant and Memphis area recruiter.

Arkansas didn’t recruit Brown as a basketball player (only as a high jumper), but he’s still part of Razorback history. As a sophomore, he played in Bud Walton Arena’s first regular season game.

Like fellow c/o ’92ers Corliss and D-Fish, Marcus Brown did get some burn in the League, though he wouldn’t be as successful there:

Even in his mid-30s, Brown was still killing folks while playing for Zalgiris. Check out the crafty runners and precision shooting he unleashes in the footage below.

Watch out, Mid South. Such skills could very well one day apotheosize Brown, already considered the “King of Europe,” into “Immortal Emperor of West Memphis Adult League Rec Basketball.”

From France to Russia, Napolean and Marcus Brown both did damage

Yes, Arkansas’ Ballers of ’92 appear to have done quite well in college and beyond. Most know how D-Fish, Corliss and Marcus ended up, but what about the other guys?
In the next few days, I’ll be posting about what to two of them.


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