Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Seniors rewarded for buying into Anderson
Arkansas' Fred Gulley, left, drives past Brandon Morris of Georgia Saturday, March 1, 2014, during the second half of the game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Twenty-six years ago a hybrid, hodgepodge, five-man senior class helped Arkansas’ third-year coach take the Razorbacks to the NCAA Tournament.
It was Nolan Richardson’s first trip to the tournament as the Razorbacks’ coach, and Mike Anderson remembers it well because it was his third year as an Arkansas assistant.
Three Final Fours with a national championship came soon, but it was that now mostly forgotten 21-9 team of 1987-1988 that pioneered Arkansas’ return to the NCAA Tournament even if the Razorbacks lost to Villanova.
Now Anderson is in his third season as Arkansas’ coach, poised on the verge of bursting the NCAA Tournament bubble for the first time as the Razorbacks’ coach at 20-9.
If Anderson’s Hogs make it to the Big Dance, a hybrid, hodgepodge, five-man senior class will have helped take them there.
Seniors Coty Clarke, Kikko Haydar, Fred Gulley, Rickey Scott and Mardracus Wade bid Fayetteville farewell tonight with Senior Night ceremonies prior to Arkansas’ 7 p.m. game against Ole Miss, which marks the 2014 regular-season finale for Walton Arena.
Some comparisons between those seniors seem uncanny to 1987-1988 seniors Tim Scott, Shawn Baker, Allie Freeman, Andrew Lang and Stephan Moore.
Clarke, the recently surging forward who was named the SEC’s player of the week Monday, and Tim Scott, a streak-shooting guard, lettered two years at Arkansas as junior college transfers.
Both Baker and Gulley, fifth-year seniors, transferred from Oklahoma State and ended up lettering two seasons at Arkansas.
Freeman, Lang and Moore in 1984-1985 and Haydar, Scott and Wade in 2010-2011 played as freshmen for a preceding coach.
Richardson’s 1988 seniors tend to be forgotten, dwarfed by the stars in the Razorbacks’ incredible run from 1989-1996.
But Richardson remembers them fondly, particularly Freeman, Lang and Moore. They played as freshmen for a great coach, Eddie Sutton, but they played for a program that was already in a turmoil that would only increase.
Some of their teammates were part of the problem.
Freeman, Lang and Moore, even in a system alien to the one for which they had been recruited, persevered to become part of the solution.
Richardson never forgets them.
It’s safe to presume Anderson won’t forget that Haydar, Scott and Wade - the John Pelphrey era holdovers - stuck it out while some of their teammates who Anderson inherited did not.
Haydar and Gulley, both Fayetteville natives, are beaming that the Razorbacks are revered again following their recent five-game winning streak, complete with a midnight greeting from fans upon their arrival at the airport and at the Walton Arena parking lot following their victory last week at Kentucky.
They assert the bandwagon will only accelerate as Anderson steadfastly takes no shortcuts on the trail that Sutton and Richardson blazed.
“I think Coach Anderson has done a great job in improving the program from the inside out,” Haydar said. “It’s not just on the court. Now, as we have more success on the court, people are starting to see Coach Anderson’s plan come out.
“It’s really been a blessing to be a part of it.”
Sports, Pages 14 on 03/05/2014