Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
UA basketball report:
Haydar: Lebanon right spot
Arkansas guard Kikko Haydar (20) drives as Kentucky guard Jarrod Polson defends during the first half of play Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Former Arkansas guard Kikko Haydar still plans to go to medical school and become a doctor, but he’s going to put that goal off for a while to continue playing basketball.
“I figure my legs will give out before my brain does,” he said this week after signing a three-year contract to play for Sagesse, a professional team in Beirut, Lebanon. “I’ll still be able to be to pursue those goals after I’m done playing. This is also a way to pay for medical school.”
Haydar’s parents are professors at the University of Arkansas who started the school’s Arabic studies program. While he has spent most of his life in Fayetteville, Haydar has dual citizenship for Lebanon and the United States. Growing up, he spent many summers in Lebanon, where he still has relatives.
“I speak the language, we have family there, it’s a place I’m very familiar with,” Haydar said. “There’s no culture shock for me. It’s a perfect fit.”
Haydar, who has a 3.88 grade point average, will graduate May 10 with a degree in kinesiology.
He’ll then join Sagesse for the playoffs, return to Fayetteville in June after this season ends and go to Lebanon in September to get ready for the next season.
“I’m very excited for the next step in my basketball career,” Haydar said. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.”
Haydar has been on a full academic scholarship at Arkansas, where he was a team captain his last two seasons. He became a key player off the bench after playing sparingly as a freshman and sophomore.
“The thing I love about Kikko is he’s one of those guys you can knock down, but he gets right back up,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “He’s one of the more competitive guys you’re going to see.”
Anderson, who became the Razorbacks’ coach when Haydar was a sophomore, said Haydar used to come to his office wanting to know what he could do to play more.
“My response was, ‘Get my attention,’ and needless to say he got my attention,” Anderson said. “He was instrumental in a lot of our games. He just cared about winning.”
Anderson said he expects Haydar do well with his new team in Lebanon.
“I’m sure he’ll be a popular player over there just as he was here,” Anderson said. “He left his heart out on the floor. He has a big heart and he’ll represent the Razorbacks really well.”
Haydar will be the second Razorback playing for Segasse along with forward Charles Thomas, who is averaging a team-high 19.3 points per game. Thomas played at Arkansas in 2005-2008.
“I watched him when I was a kid,” Haydar said.
Haydar said he attended some pro games in Lebanon when his family visited there and he believed he could play in the league, but he didn’t expect his opportunity to come so soon. He was contacted by an agent in Lebanon shortly after the Razorbacks’ season ended with an NIT loss at California.
“I thought it could be an option, but it’s happening so quickly, it shocked me as well,” Haydar said. “I’m just very honored and excited.”
Coach Mike Anderson said he wasn’t surprised by forward Bobby Portis’ decision to return to Arkansas for his sophomore season - rather than consider entering the NBA Draft - after he earned All-SEC second-team honors as a freshman.
“Bobby doesn’t want to be good, he wants to be great,” Anderson said. “I keep saying that. This guy wants to be great.
“He’ll know when he’s ready [for the NBA]. There are things he’ll tell you he wants to get better at and he’s got to get better at.”
Portis averaged 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game this season. He set an Arkansas freshman record with 35 points against Alabama.
“There were some games where he played magnificent and there were some games where he struggled,” Anderson said. “If you want to be a great player, then consistency is what you need to have.”
Arkansas had an average paid attendance of 14,202 for its 19 games at Walton Arena this season, the highest in five years.
The Razorbacks hadn’t averaged more than 14,000 since the 2008-2009 season, when average paid attendance was 16,043, boosted by home games against Oklahoma and Texas and by a 12-1 start before the team faded to a 14-16 finish.
Arkansas had crowds of more than 18,000 this season for Florida, Kentucky, LSU and Georgia.
“That tells me that we’re putting a product on the floor that our fans are enjoying watching,” Coach Mike Anderson said. “I think you see when our guys come off the floor they’re engaged with our students, engaged with our fans.
“So it’s making Bud Walton Arena a place people fear coming in. You want it to be that way.”
The Razorbacks are 51-6 at Walton Arena in Anderson’s three years, including 17-2 this season.
Arkansas will hold its basketball banquet on Wednesday night at Walton Arena. Tickets are $25. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. with the banquet starting at 7 p.m.
Sutton still waiting
Eddie Sutton had an 804-329 record in 37 seasons as an NCAA Division I coach - including 260-75 in 11 seasons at Arkansas in 1975-1985 - with 26 NCAA Tournament appearances, but he’s 0-4 as a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame after failing to be elected again this year.
Several years ago, Sutton was among the the Hall of Fame voters.
“They give 24 people all the information on what you’ve accomplished, and out of that 24, you’ve got to get 18 of them to vote for you,” Sutton said last week.
“So that makes it tough, and you never know how close you get. They don’t ever tell you. They just say, ‘Well, you didn’t quite make it.’
“They all just vote by themselves. They don’t ever get together and talk.”
Sports, Pages 30 on 04/13/2014