Older players making big difference

By: Nate Allen
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Auburn fifth-year senior Frankie Sullivan has been on the radar of Arkansas' coaches for nearly a decade.
Photo by Michael Woods
Auburn fifth-year senior Frankie Sullivan has been on the radar of Arkansas' coaches for nearly a decade.

— Two schools and nine years ago, Mike Anderson and two assistants became aware of a problem that is still vexing them.

Frankie Sullivan was a schoolboy in Uniontown, Ala., back when Anderson was the head coach at the University of Alabama-Birmingham with Matt Zimmerman and TJ Cleveland serving on his staff.

Now Anderson, Zimmerman and Cleveland are in their second year at Arkansas, and they will get reacquainted with Sullivan tonight when the fifth-year senior leads the Auburn Tigers, who are 2-0 in SEC play, into Walton Arena.


Arkansas (10-5, 1-1 SEC) vs. Auburn (8-7, 2-0)

WHEN: 7:05 p.m.

WHERE: Bud Walton Arena

TV: SEC Network

Arkansas-Auburn Live Blog

“When I was at UAB, he had a legacy down there in Alabama of scoring in the high school ranks,” Anderson said.

Some college coaches were aware of Sullivan even before he reached high school.

“Around his 10th-grade year we were hearing about him at UAB,maybe even his ninth-grade year,” Zimmerman said.

Every college in Alabama sought Sullivan, and he ended up enrolling at Auburn during Anderson’s second season coaching Missouri.

Anderson and his staff already have been haunted this season by two ghosts they couldn’t sign. Texas A&M forwards Kourtney Roberson (13 points, 12 rebounds) and Ray Turner (nine points , eight rebounds) gave the Razorbacks fits during the Aggies’ 69-51 SEC opening victory over Arkansas last Wednesday in College Station, Texas.

“We recruited Texas A&M’s big guys at Missouri,” Zimmerman said. “We recruited Kourtney Roberson and Ray Turner. We had Ray Turner at our elite camp.”

It seems SEC coaches are haunted longer now by players they couldn’t sign because a young man’s game has become more old school.

“Older kids in college basketball are being very successful this year,” Zimmerman said. “They weren’t home-run hitters as freshmen or sophomores, but now they are big-time basketball players as fifth-year seniors and fourth-year juniors. It’s all over the league.”

It’s even happening at Kentucky. The king of the one-and-dones, with successive SEC championships and last season’s national championship won by freshmen bound for the next NBA draft, was whipped by a dozen points at home last Saturday by a veteran Texas A&M team that was paced by fifthyear senior guard Elston Turner,who finished with 40 points.

Kentucky has plenty of good freshmen again, but maybe they aren’t quite ready for the NBA yet.

That can be just enough to revive the adage of age before beauty. Especially for some of the SEC’s older elite, like the fifth-year senior Sullivan or Arkansas’ fourth-year junior forward Marshawn Powell, who were early home run hitters. They likely would already be in the NBA if not for major injuries that compelled them to redshirt and prove they were recovered.

Certainly there are exceptions, like Kentucky’s freshman flashes of recent past, but often it seems like old school still remains the best school.

“Our second year at UAB we went to the Sweet Sixteen and beat No. 1 Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament,” Zimmerman said. “We had five seniors, and three of them were fifth-year seniors.

“It makes a difference.”

Sports, Pages 14 on 01/16/2013