UA gets a taste of tradition

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014
Eddie Sutton, President Bill Clinton and Nolan Richardson take part in a half-time ceremony in the game between Arkansas and LSU on Saturday February 15, 2014 in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Eddie Sutton, President Bill Clinton and Nolan Richardson take part in a half-time ceremony in the game between Arkansas and LSU on Saturday February 15, 2014 in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - Two men who kept Arkansas on the national map in the 1990s, former President Bill Clinton and former Arkansas basketball Coach Nolan Richardson, headlined a huge Razorbacks reunion Saturday at Walton Arena.

Richardson, who led Arkansas to three of its six NCAA Final Fours, including the 1994 national championship, introduced former President Clinton during halftime of Arkansas’ 81-70 victory over LSU as part of the university’s salute to its Final Four teams from 1941, 1945, 1978, 1990, 1994 and 1995.

The 20th reunion of the 1994 team nearly packed Walton Arena and brought together 22 former players and many other assistant coaches and auxiliary personnel from the last four of Arkansas’ Final Four teams, as well as Richardson and former Coach Eddie Sutton.

Richardson took the microphone first during a brief halftime ceremony and spoke to Clinton, who was given a framed No. 42 Arkansas jersey that he displayed to the crowd with the help of Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long.

“It just so happened, Mr. President, that I wore No. 42 at Texas Western College,” Richardson said before a season-high crowd of 18,904 at Walton Arena. “And you were the 42nd governor.”

Richardson showed good comedic timing, pausing for a few seconds while the crowd roared with laughter before adding “and the 42nd President!”

Clinton, a high-profile presence at Arkansas games during the Hogs’ back-to-back runs to the national championship games in 1994 and 1995, pointed out he was the first sitting president to honor a national championship team from his home state at the White House.

Clinton, Richardson, Sutton and Long sat at the end of the courtside seats in the second half and had an upclose view of Alandise Harris’ powerful tomahawk dunk on Johnny O’Bryant and Ky Madden’s behind-the-back lob pass to Bobby Portis for a key Arkansas basket.

“It was electric in this arena today, and it was an obvious reason why,” said Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson, a 17-year assistant to Richardson. “We had a lot of champions here. Final Four teams, a Hall of Fame coach in Eddie Sutton, a Hall of Fame coach in Nolan Richardson. Guys that are responsible for the great tradition. And more importantly, all the players that played on the Final Fours.

“That is the is reason why we’re here today in this building.”

Clinton, Richardson and Sutton, who guided Arkansas to a third-place finish at the 1978 Final Four, led the contingent of former Arkansas players, which included Sidney Moncrief, Corliss Williamson and Scotty Thurman, into the victorious Razorbacks locker room after the game.

“Meeting those players and the former president, it was a real surreal moment,” Madden said.

“It was a crazy atmosphere because we had won, and that made it even that much sweeter because everyone in there was happy,” Portis said.

“It was an honor to meet the former players and know that they enjoy the way we play basketball and they said this looked like the team that could bring it back,” senior Coty Clarke said.

“I don’t think our guys even realize what has taken place,” Anderson said. “I think it’s going to take them a day, when they get away, to go, ‘Whoa, did that really happen?’ It was neat for them to come here and to have Coach Sutton and Coach Richardson here at the same time. That’s priceless.”

Sutton, who was walking with the help of a cane, pulled double reunion duty Saturday. Earlier in the day, he attended a get-together of the 2004 Oklahoma State Final Four team in Stillwater, Okla.

In conjunction with the 20th reunion of the 1994 national championship team, Arkansas announced it would be hanging its first banners in the rafters of Walton Arena next season, starting with one to honor Richardson and one to honor Williamson, the MVP of the 1994 Final Four.

Additionally, Moncrief’s jersey and those of women’s basketball greats Bettye Fiscus and Delmonica DeHorney will make the move from Barnhill Arena to Walton Arena next year.

Sports, Pages 21 on 02/16/2014