The Readers’ Choice Edition
This weekend, Arkansas’ hoops cognoscenti will descend on Hot Springs for the state high school championships. There, in Summit Arena, teams from each corner of the state will vie for the right to be called the best in 2011-12. Every few years, though, a team is so strong that its on-court competition simply isn’t stout enough to give a serious challenge. When that happens, the team ends up battling history instead, as its coach and fans stake a claim to being the best in state history.
What would happen if the top prep teams in Arkansas history actually met on the court to decide once and for all who truly is the best of all-time? If guys like Derek Fisher, Ron Brewer and Joe Johnson were magically transported to their 17-year-old bodies, and once again wore Patriots, Grizzlies or Tigers gear? It would be like Field of Dreams, but indoors and without so much corn.
I wasn’t able to summon otherworldly powers to actually make this happen, but I did the next best thing: talked to coaches and journalists who saw most of these teams play. With their insight, I created a list of contenders for the title of an all-time hypothetical tourney.
As you’d expect, it’s required that each entry won a state title. Some older teams actually won a couple state titles in the same year. After winning the state tournament against similar-sized schools, the team then tackled the winners of other classifications in a now-defunct “overall” state tournament that ran 1972-1992.
For the sake of simplicity, all teams play under modern rules. This means some of the older teams who’ve never seen a three-point arc will have to figure out on the fly how to defend three-point shots, or get accustomed to seeing crossover dribbles that decades before would have been deemed traveling violations. Admittedly, this gives the modern teams an advantage over the older teams. Although I would counter those older player have a built-in stamina advantage, given many claim to have walked to school uphill both ways.
I realize rule changes and differing styles of play make it extremely difficult to compare teams from different eras, but it’s better to have fun trying than never attempt at all.
You’ll likely disagree with some of my SYNC magazine picks [0307sportschart] for who who’d win different matchup in a single-elimination, all-time 8-team tournament. I welcome that debate. It’s all part of the fun. But on this blog, I’m no longer playing God. It’s time you decide who would win in the first round of an all-time tournament among twelve of the state’s top teams. Below are the eight teams out of those top dozen which don’t get a first-round bye:
Final Record: N/A (3 losses, all to Pearl High, a Memphis powerhouse)
Stars: Eddie Miles (6-5), James Nash, Theodore Hines
Coach: Arthur Calvin
Seniors won four consecutive all-black schools state titles; made finals of 1959 national tournament for all-black schools, lost to Pearl High in triple-overtime
Final Record: 30-0
Stars: Fred Gulley (6-1 guard), Cable Hogue (6-7 forward), Taylor Cochran (6-2 guard)
Coach: Barry Gephart
Finished season ranked No.8 in nation by Sports Ilustrated
Final Record: 34-0
Stars: Larry Grisham (6-3 power forward), Ralph Childs (5-11 point guard), Don Riggs
Coach: Troy Bledsoe
Averaged 77 points in first three state tourney games, a state record at the time
Final Record: 29-3 (Joe Johnson sidelined during only in-state loss)
Stars: Joe Johnson (6-7 “point center”), Hart (6-3 forward), Mark Green (6-2 guard)
Coach: Oliver Fitzpatrick
Won four state tournament games by record-setting average of 43.5 points
Final Record: 27-2
Stars: Sonny Weems (6-6 forward), Des McCoy (6-5 forward), Mark Mangum (5-9 guard)
Coach: Larry Bray
Didn’t lose after Thanksgiving weekend, average margin of victory = 23.4
1999-00 Little Rock Fair
Final Record: 31-0
Stars: Kim Adams (6-7 center) Dameon Ashford (5-11 guard), Anthony Rogers
Coach: Charlie Johnson
Opponents averaged around 40 points a game, roster included 14 seniors
1983-84 Little Rock Hall
Final Record: 27-4
Stars: Tim Scott (6-3), Allie Freeman (6-2 guard)
Coach: Oliver Elders
Elders said this team, the last of four consecutive state title winners, was the best he ever had
1974-75 Little Rock Central
Final Record: 27-1
Stars: Robert Griffin (6-2 guard), Barry Clark (6-7 forward), Houston Nutt (6-2 guard)
Coach: Eddie Boone
Defeated Sidney Moncrief’s Hall High warriors en route to overall championship
It seems like only yesterday the NBA’s powers-that-be were on the verge of shutting down their entire 2011-12 season.
Nearly five months into a labor standoff that began in June, NBA commissioner David Stern and NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter had their guns drawn, staring each other down across a saloon full of lawyers and ESPN reporters.
No one, it seemed, dared blink.
A cold wind swept in under the swinging door, bringing tumbleweed and union decertification papers with it. The movie’s action paused a beat as Stern looked to side, into the camera, and uttered in his most ominous tone: “We are about to go into the nuclear winter of the NBA.”
That mid-November moment, however, proved the worst of it. From there on out, the two sides warmed to each other. They will soon begin a shortened 66-game regular season schedule, saving Christmas Day games and sleighfuls of cash for owners, players and team staff alike. On Dec. 9, Arkansas’ usual suspects in the world of pro basketball will start the grind of training camp: Derek Fisher in L.A., Joe Johnson in Atlanta, Ronnie Brewer in Chicago and James Anderson in San Antonio.
But while some of the state’s bigger names have been waiting for the NBA lockout to thaw, other NBA hopefuls with Arkansas connections are already deep into their regular seasons. Indeed, as Stern was warning the world of nuclear winter, two former Razorbacks were already enduring all the winter they could handle…
“It’s a blizzard over here in Russia!!!,” Sonny Weems tweeted on November 20. “S*** is crazy.” Weems, a fourth-year pro from West Memphis, would have been playing for the Toronto Raptors were it not for the lockout. But, when it looked like he could lose out on an entire season, he signed with the same Lithuania team with which fellow West Memphian Marcus Brown ended his stellar career.
was averaging 17.9 points while shooting 47.8% on three-pointers through his first seven Euroleague games. He also averaged 5.3 rebounds, one assist and 1.4 steals.
“Don’t make any sense how cold it is out here!!!,” Weems again tweeted on Dec. 3. That may be true, Sonny, but given your outstanding improvement in Arkansas and the NBA, it does make sense how hot your shooting is over there.
Guard Patrick Beverley grew up in Chicago before starring for a couple seasons as a Razorback. He also spent his first season as a pro in the Ukraine. So, you would think the man could handle his subzero temps. Well, it turns out that time spent in Greece (in 2009-10) and Miami (Beverley played summer ball with the Heat in 2010) may have spoiled him somewhat before he returned to Europe’s less balmy climes in early 2011.
“Cold as f**k in Russia!!!!!,” Beverley tweeted on Nov. 25, with a photo of a landscape that makes the moon’s surface look as inviting as Cozumel.
Beverley led Spartak St. Petersburg in Russia’s top league with 15.8 points on 53% field goal shooting through five games. He also averaged 4.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.2 LOLs a season on his twitpic stream. Seriously, check @patbev21 out. P-Bev’s pretty hilarious, whether expounding on how he blew 5K playing cards or ragging on a millionaire teammate for rolling with rinky-dink cellphones.
What’s not as funny for Arkansas fans is how Courtney Fortson, who was talented enough to become an SEC player of the year, never got it together in his two troubled seasons on the Hill.Since leaving Arkansas in spring 2010, Fortson has found little success in the pros. He briefly considered playing in Israel, and last spring averaged 1.5 points and .7 assists with the Reno Bighorns of the National Basketball Development League.
Recently, though, Fortson has received a second chance with the NBDL, and this time seems to be taking full advantage.
He averaged 15.5 points, including 58% on three-pointers, through his first six games with the Los Angeles D-Fenders. The 5-10 guard has chipped in 4.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.5 steals and has even limited turnovers, a big problem at Arkansas, to 1.67 a game.
Like Weems and Beverley, this former Hog is flourishing in a quality league outside of the NBA. And, just like the other two, Fortson isn’t digging on cold, desolate places. On Nov. 24, the day before his season debut, he tweeted: “Being in north dakota is like sitting in a closet.”
1. Solomon Bozeman (UALR) – After a summer chipping away at his master’s degree in Little Rock, the Sun Belt Player of the Year is staying in the Sun Belt to try his hand at a pro career. In early November, the Austin Toros drafted Bozeman, a Magnolia, Ark. native, in the fifth round. Through his first three games, he averaged four points, one rebound and 2.3 assists while teaming with former Razorback Stefan Welsh.
2. Shane Edwards(UALR) – Bozeman would do well to find the same level of NBDL success as Edwards, who averaged 16.7 points and 6.8 rebounds over 45 games for the New Mexico Thunderbirds last season. But despite playing in NBA summer leagues and tryouts for two consecutive summers, Edwards hasn’t quite been able to break into the domestic big time. So, this fall, he’s taken his act to Italy’s second-best league, where he undoubtedly makes many times over the $15,000-$25,000 he was annually banking in the NBDL.
In his first nine games with Tezenis Verona, Edwards averaged 9 points on 52% shooting from the field and 87% from the free throw line. He led his team with 4.9 rebounds a game, along with 3.2 turnovers and 1.7 steals. Tezenis started the season 3-6.
As an interesting aside, Von Wafer, the top Italian league’s leading scorer through early December, also has Arkansas connections. The north Lousiana native first gained national attention playing with the AAU Arkansas Wings summer league team before his high school senior year in 2002-2003.
3. Kim Adams (ASU) – I met Adams, a 2000 Little Rock Fair High School graduate, a few years ago at the Little Rock’s Dunbar Recreation Center summer league. The 6-8 center seemed like a nice enough guy, and mentioned he had been playing in Spain. Well, it looks like he’s still working his craft there, and doing quite well. He’s averaging about 7.5 points and rebounds a game while shooting 63% on field goals, according to Eurobasket.