If Derek Fisher Had Been a Razorback: Insight from Nolan, Corliss & Derek Himself

Courtesy: Ferris Williams, Sync magazine

Courtesy: Ferris Williams, Sync magazine

There aren’t many blank spots on former 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, now New York Knicks head basketball coach. On every big stage the Little Rock native played, he left his mark.

Yet there’s the stage he never played on.

It doesn’t matter how many big-time events Fisher was a part of in his 18-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.

As a Hog, Fisher likely would have helped stabilize the state’s flagship program during one of its most tumultuous periods and provided guard depth in a season in which it was sorely needed. In the 1995-96 season, for instance, the Hogs at times started four freshmen, including guards Pat Bradley and Kareem Reid. That team ended up making Arkansas’ fourth consecutive Sweet Sixteen, but how much further could it have gone with a seasoned leader like Fisher?

All aboard the speculator, folks. Alternate history isn’t just for Civil War and JFK buffs any more…

FOCUSED ON THE FUTURE

Before delving into conjecture, let’s look at the facts: Fisher grew up in Arkansas basketball’s 40 Minutes of Hell heyday of the early 1990s and, like so many other young ballers in Little Rock, would have loved to join in on the fun. As a Parkview High School student, he looked up to the Hogs’ All-American point guard Lee Mayberry.

Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson knew about Fisher. He and his assistants had seen him play plenty of times in the summer circuit while scouting Arkansas Wings teammates like Corliss Williamson and Reggie Merritt. Fisher, never the most talented or most athletic player on his AAU or Parkview teams, didn’t yet shine like he would a few years down the line.

Instead, he was grinder. “He has one of the best work ethics I’d ever seen, at that age or even now,” Williamson said. “You know how a lot of us are as teenagers,” he added. “We want to hang out and do different things, whereas Derek was more focused. He was always trying to go out and lift weights or get up extra shots.”

Still, Richardson didn’t offer him a scholarship. He said the six-foot, 173-pound Fisher was then more of a shooter than pure point guard and wasn’t yet a player who could compete for playing time in a deep backcourt. In hindsight, though, Richardson said he considers his decision not to pursue Fisher as one of the biggest mistakes of his life.

STEPPING UP

Fisher, who grew up west of Boyle Park, landed near home at UALR. It wasn’t easy. The Trojans’ head coach Jim Platt doubted he was worth a scholarship, according to Fisher’s autobiography Character Driven. But a couple of assistant coaches (he had played for one on the Wings) convinced Platt otherwise.

Fisher earned the starting job a few games in, and as his stock rose over the next couple of seasons, so did that of the team he’d so wanted to join in Fayetteville. From 1992 to 1994, the Hogs made the leap from national contender to national champion. Fisher often visited Fayetteville to see his Razorback friends, hang out and go to dinner, recalls one such friend Reggie Merritt. In the summers, they played pickup together in Little Rock.

Fisher was familiar with Arkansas’ program and its players. That’s a main reason he briefly considered transferring there, said Merritt, recalling a conversation he had with Fisher in the spring of 1994.

Over the preceding seasons, Fisher and his teammates had gotten progressively more fed up with the attitude of Coach Platt. By January, they were ready to go public with their grievances, according to Character Driven. They chose the even-keeled Fisher as unofficial team spokesman: “It was really something that came from my teammates,” Fisher said in a telephone interview in early October. “It wasn’t something I assumed would be my responsibility.”

It became his charge when he and other Trojans boycotted a practice by taking a trip to the mall instead. An ad hoc summit was called. Assistant coach Dennis White visited him at his apartment along with UALR’s former athletic director, Mike Hamrick.

Teammates wanted Fisher to request a meeting with the entire staff, minus Platt, to air concerns — that in preceding months he’d become too negative, too sarcastic, crossing the line between barbed motivation and verbal abuse. They had Fisher voice an ultimatum: Either fire Platt, or we won’t play in an upcoming rivalry game against Arkansas State. “Once I was asked by my teammates to fill that role, at that point I embraced it 100 percent and really immediately took on that leadership and protector mentality of looking out for what’s best for my teammates, even more than for myself,” Fisher said.

LEADING THE TROJANS

At the meeting, Fisher explained the team’s decision to boycott the ASU game unless Platt was immediately replaced. Hamrick explained contractual terms made this impossible, but did promise to investigate the complaints and evaluate the situation at season’s end, Fisher wrote in Character Driven.

The players decided to keep playing but, predictably, UALR sputtered, dropping nine of its last 14 games. At season’s end, Platt was let go. New coach Wimp Sanderson had work to do. “When I got there, it was chaos, kind of,” Sanderson recalled. “It was just a bad situation.” All of his players were quitting the program and looking into transfer possibilities. Indeed, shortly before Sanderson was hired, standout freshmen Malik Dixon and Muntrelle Dobbins had entered Hamrick’s office and requested transfers.

They eventually stayed, as did Fisher. I asked Fisher if he considered transferring to Arkansas, as Merritt had recalled: “Once I was at UALR I don’t think I had any questions about wanting to be there but I do recall the uncertainty of the situation requiring me to look at what else may be possible,” Fisher said. “But I don’t think those thoughts ever went to a place where I formally thought I would transfer from the university.” Fisher is careful not to slam the door on the possibility of a consideration, though: “Reggie’s memory may be better than mine.”

Trojan fans have no problem recalling the accomplishments of Fisher’s final two seasons on campus: Sun Belt Player of the Year honors as a senior and a career that left him second on UALR’s all-time lists for scoring, assists and steals. Yet the question remains: What if he’d packed his bags for the Ozarks after that sophomore year?

IF HE’D BEEN A HOG

Almost certainly, Razorback Fisher wouldn’t have put up as big of numbers playing in the SEC as he did in the Sun Belt. He likely would have sat that first year — 1994-95 — per NCAA transfer rules. Still, he would have scrimmaged with Williamson, Scotty Thurman, Corey Beck, Clint McDaniel and Al Dillard, keeping his game plenty sharp.

And he would have absorbed lessons from those veterans that would have proved immensely valuable in the following two seasons.

The 1995-96 team started off with so much promise, yet ended up with so many question marks. Yes, the ‘96 Hogs lost nine scholarship players from the year before, but were also prepared to welcome in the nation’s top recruiting class — including junior college players such as forward Sunday Adebayo, center Kareem Poole, point guard Marcus Saxon and shooting guard Jesse Pate. Saxon and Pate had formed the nation’s best JUCO backcourt at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College.

Academic issues prevented Saxon and Poole, however, from ever making it to campus. The team’s depth was further depleted when freshman guard Marlon Towns had to sit out the first couple months as an ACT score eligibility issue was cleared up. This meant almost the entire bulk of the point guard duties fell on the shoulders of 5-10, 165-pound Kareem Reid. “He’s got to be the man right off the bat,” Richardson told theArkansas Democrat-Gazette in October 1995.

Fisher, who’d put on significant muscle since Parkview, would have alleviated Reid’s burden while providing more size against opposing guards. Fisher’s role would have increased even more when the team’s leading scorer, Jesse Pate, was ruled ineligible to play in February 1996 because the NCAA said his transfer grades had not been certified properly.

Despite all the flux (Adebayo was also ruled ineligible), the team managed to finish 20-13 while leading the SEC in rebounds, three-pointers and assists. But Fisher would have helped do more than anchor the backcourt; he also would have provided much needed maturity, especially for the young guards. In the summer of 1996, Reid was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana in a dormitory room along with Marlon Towns. “I think [Fisher’s] leadership would have benefited our team,” said shooting guard Pat Bradley, “We were immature, but talented.”

The actual ‘95-‘96 team lost in the Sweet Sixteen to Massachusetts 79-63. Center Marcus Camby was UMass’ star, but the team’s engine belonged to its Puerto Rican backcourt of Carmelo Travieso and Edgar Padilla. Against UMass, Reid and Bradley had to log 37 minutes each. Fisher would have allowed them to stay much more fresh while likely chipping in 13-17 points of his own. It would have been a nailbiter, but it’s possible that these alternate history Hogs would have beaten UMass, then taken down an Allen Iverson-led Georgetown in the next round. They likely still would have lost to eventual national champions Kentucky in the Final Four, but making it that far would have been plenty impressive. Granted, Arkansas fans at the time wanted more, but in the last 16 years they have learned how rare Final Four berths are.

For Fisher’s part, he doesn’t dwell on all these what-ifs. He insists he’s a Trojan, through and through. I asked him during that pivotal spring of 1994 if he’d ever imagined how he would do playing with the likes of Corey Beck, Clint McDaniel and Kareem Reid. “Not really,” he said.

Instead, he was out to prove himself from Little Rock. “Had I had the opportunity to play at the SEC level or ‘big college’ level, I could have been as or more impactful as those guys were. And I had a lot of respect for what those guys accomplished in their years at Fayetteville — no question about it.”

But he was also driven to carve out a career that would also be worthy of much respect, “to work as hard as [he] possibly could to put UALR on the map.”

 

The above is an update of an article that originally ran in 2012 in Sync magazine

 

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NBA Arkansans In The 2013 Playoffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

This piece is slated to publish in SYNC magazine.


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.


Derek Fisher’s Next NBA Team

I’m fairly certain no player who has averaged less than six points and three rebounds in his most recent year, and has gone unsigned heading into the start of the next NBA season, has ever gotten as much attention in an offseason as Derek Fisher.

If you doubt me, first consider there are no less than 15 Bleacher Report articles written in the last month that all center on the same question – should the Los Angeles Lakers resign the 38-year-old Fisher?

The two sides of the argument each have legitimate reasons.

On one end, Fisher is old and has definitely slowed down in the last couple years. He never had the lateral quickness to stay in front of the league’s quickest point guards, and that shortcoming likely cost the Lakers a few wins in the 2011 Playoffs (Fish matched up with Chris Paul in the first round, then Russell Westbrook in the second round).

As Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer put it in March, 2012:

Fisher, to be quite frank, has been absolutely brutal on both sides of the ball over the last two seasons for Los Angeles. He can’t stay in front of even the NBA’s slowest point guards, at this point, and he offers precious little offensively save for the occasional (as in, “32 percent of the time he shoots one”) 3-point basket. By every conceivable standard, he was a millstone for the team on the court. No amount of leadership and smarts (two things Fisher provides in spades) could make up for his shortcomings.

At the same time, it’s those smarts and leadership qualities – along with a strong friendship with Kobe Bryant – that make him an enticing possibility for the Lakers to resign. Even if the once-clutch Fisher doesn’t have another .4 second miracle in him, his intangibles will eventually land him a spot on somebody’s roster.

The Bulls were apparently showed interest last summer, but according to various reports since then Fisher isn’t interested in playing for a team till mid-season, only to be shoved down the bench once Derrick Rose returns from injury.

Other possibilities besides the Lakers include the Thunder again, the Nets, Mavericks and Celtics. The most logical place for Fisher, if he wants to play an entire season, is the Cleveland Cavaliers, which lack a dependable point guard behind Kyrie Irving (sorry, Booby Gibson).

The safe bet, though, is that Fisher waits it out until spring and goes to a team that has the most attractive combination of postseason potential and available minutes at the point guard position. There’s a strong chance this will be determined by an injury yet to happen.

If the Lakers want him again, it’s likely he’ll want to resign despite the cold way the franchise jettisoned him last season. The combination of staying near his LA home and likelihood of winning a sixth title with his buddy Bryant would seem too strong to pass up.

Let’s say this happens.

Would Fisher represent an upgrade over the current backup point guards – Steve Blake, Chris Duhon or Darius Morris? Instead of looking at basic box score stats, or relying on younger-vs-older player stereotypes, let’s look at the advanced statistics which better tell us the whole story.

Take a deep breath. Do not fear the “pocket squares,” dear reader. For their path is one to enlightenment.

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Kobe Bryant Vs Derek Fisher One-On-One = Near Fight

Despite one of the  most talented starting lineups in NBA history, the Los Angeles Lakers started this preseason with an 0-8 record. The general consensus is that once Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard recover from nagging injuries and start syncing with Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, everything will be relatively fine in Laker land. That by the time spring rolls around, the veterans will have mostly figured it out,  and LA’s 18th championship banner will come ever more into focus for the bleary-eyed unbelievers.

There’s also a contingent that holds out hope around this same time next spring, former Laker Derek Fisher will make his long awaited return after being cast out of the promised land last March. No matter how old Fisher gets (he’s 38 now), some of these fans believe he will never run out of the same .04 magic that propelled the Lakers to the 2004 NBA Finals.

But it won’t be Fisher’s on-court prowess that will ultimately cause Los Angeles to resign him. If that happens, it will be because one of his best friends remains Kobe Bryant, and he commands a respect from Bryant few other teammates ever have before.

Because before all those champagne-soaked June nights, before the cable show cameos and the millions of Twitter followers, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant were just two NBA rookies hungry for more court time. Before passing the tests which have made them household names, they first tested each other.

It happened early in the 1996-97 season, at a practice in Milwaukee, Fisher recalled in his autobiography “Character Driven.” The duo played two-on-two with fellow Laker rookies Corie Blount and Travis Knight, then went one-on-one after Blount and Knight left.

It quickly got physical. Bryant, then 18 years old, kept using his off hand to hook Fisher and part a path to the basket, Fisher wrote.

“I told him he was fouling me and he didn’t say a thing, just looked at me with that Kobe glare.”
“I was not going to back down, so the next time he tried to hook me, I fouled him – hard and with a push. He didn’t say anything, just took the ball out again. I fouled him again. Things went from heated to boiling.”
“We got in each other’s face about who was pushing whom. Finally we were chest-to-chest jawing at each other, and even though Kobe is six inches taller than me, I was not going to back down. Besides, I weighed nearly as much as the skinny little dude. I’d had enough and I said, ‘You hook me like that one more time, and we’re going to go? Understand me?'”
“Kobe spat back, ‘Why wait? Let’s go at it right now.’
‘Okay?’
“Fortunately, it didn’t come to our punching each other. We let it drop, and I think we both looked at each other a little bit differently after that. We had tested each other and we’d both passed and earned each other’s respect.”

Respect, indeed. Bryant, of course, would star in the Lakers’ five championships over the next 13 seasons. Yet, his three worst seasons in that span came during the only years  – 2004-2007 – Fisher played elsewhere. Which is why in 2010 Bryant didn’t hesitate to call his teammate from Little Rock the “heart and soul” of the Lakers’ most recent title team.

“We spent long nights together as rookies, battling each other, playing full-court one-on-one games,” he told Sports Illustrated. “We’ve been through it, so he can come to me and say, ‘Kobe, you’re [bleeping] up.’ We owe that to each other.'”

By the way, I got a chance to talk to Fisher earlier in October for an Arkansas Life magazine profile article. I asked him who won the game mentioned above.

“I don’t actually recall if we finished the game if there ever if there ever was a score –to be honest – to say that we both finished,” he said. “I scored my share of points, he scored his share of points. We would generally get closer to knocking each other out before finishing a game. So we’ve had our moments where one got the better of the other.”


An NBA scouting report on Derek Fisher, circa 1996

Hard to believe it’s been 16 years since D-Fish made his first splash in the NBA. And this fall marks the first fall since 1996 that he isn’t already signed with a team, whether that be Los Angeles, Golden State or Utah. Whoever he lands with next – whether it be the Lakers again, or the Celtics or even Clippers – he’ll be needed more for his off-court leadership qualities than on-court ability.

Before we start ascribing to Fish Creaky Old Man-dom, let’s first recall he was once  one of the most physically imposing guards in the Sun Belt Conference. And that while he was never the quickest NBA guard [the Iverson-Fisher matchup wasn't pretty in Game 1 of the 2000 NBA Finals] he certainly had the physical chops to impress a few NBA scouts. [Ed: Just found video evidence. This, I believe, is his career's most impressive dunk]

One such scout was Clarence Gaines II, who on his Web site  “A Scout’s Perspective” shares his take on Fisher from the spring of 1996, a couple months before the draft. Gaines reported the following to the Chicago Bulls:

“… Remarkably, nobody in our organization saw Derek play while he was at Arkansas Little-Rock.  First time I saw Derek play was at post season all-star tournament {Portsmouth Invitational Tournament} in Portsmouth,VA in April of 1996. He played well in Portsmouth, but was not extended an invitation to the the Desert Classic in Phoenix, which featured higher caliber players.  However, a player pulled out of Phoenix and Derek was a last minute replacement. Derek played his first game in Phoenix without the benefit of practice and continued to shine. Derek became the 1st round pick {24th} of the LA Lakers in 1996 because of his play in Post Season All-Star games. He did it the old fashioned way, by not being afraid to showcase his talents in an all-star venue. Derek is a class act. One of the most impressive interviews I participated in during my NBA career.

SCOUTING REPORT- DEREK FISHER – April, 1996
Want to know more about him. Will watch tape. Physically developed. Structurally strong. Has been lifting weights since high school. Strong legs and butt. Big hands. Big body for a point guard. Will be able to defend against bigger guards. Left handed. Possible late 1st round pick–high upside. Good speed with the dribble. Like his ability to turn the corner and get his own shot. Able to rise up and over other point guards off the dribble–gets good lift and has very good leg strength. Shoots best off the dribble. Does a good job of utilizing screens and popping jump shot. Plays bigger than size. Good 1 on 1 skills. Sees the floor on the move. Vision is good in the open court. Has the ability to get all the way to the basket in the open court. Shows deep shooting range–career 38% from the 3 pt. line. Needs to develop more consistency in spot shooting ability. strength of game is currently off the dribble. Can get too infatuated with one-on-one play, but I like his offensive aggressiveness.

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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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