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.
Ownership doesn’t translate to selfishness
Arkansas' Kikko Haydar tries to rally the team against Missouri late in the first half Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson honored Kikko Haydar on Senior Night by benching him.
Haydar was the lone member of the five-man senior class not to start Arkansas’ 110-80 rout of the Ole Miss Rebels in Wednesday’s regular-season finale at Walton Arena.
Benching Haydar at the outset was not a snub but a tribute, a tribute to what Anderson has come to treasure as an unselfish senior class influencing what has become an unselfish team.
Haydar, a 5-10 guard, and Coty Clarke, a 6-7 forward, serve as co-captains, but guards Fred Gulley, Rickey Scott and Mardracus Wade also have shown leadership traits, exuding an unselfishness that is contagious to the underclassmen. Haydar epitomized it from the bench the final time the Fayetteville High graduate could have been scheduled to start at home.
The Razorbacks are on a roll, having won six consecutive and eight of their past nine going into today’s regular-season finale against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. They also are in the hunt for Arkansas’ first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008.
After defeating Georgia last Saturday, these seniors - with Clarke and Gulley the only regular starters, although all have variously started and contributed off the bench - weren’t about to risk their roll on senior sentiment.They volunteered not to start on Senior Night so Arkansas wouldn’t have to go with a small lineup against Ole Miss.
“Right after the Georgia game Kikko comes up to me and said, ‘Coach, I visited with all the seniors and we aren’t worried about starting on Senior Night,’ ” Anderson said. “He said, ‘You do what you have got to do.’ ”
Anderson won’t ever forget the moment.
“I looked at him,” Anderson said, pausing. “That meant a lot to me. That is unbelievable. That’s the unselfishness of this basketball team. They are taking ownership. When they come at you like that, that’s ownership.”
They helped a program that Anderson inherited in shambles three years ago by sticking together even after starting 2-6 in league play this season.
“They stayed true to who they are, and they have grown and embraced the culture and this team,” said Anderson, whose team is 21-9 overall and 10-7 in the SEC going into today’s game. “The testament is these guys have staying power and they are being rewarded.”
The rewards run through the underclassmen.
Sophomore reserve guard Anthlon Bell tallied his night of nights against Ole Miss with a career-high 23 points in just 12 minutes. There’s no telling how many more he would have scored had he played more.
Bell scoffed at the notion.
“It’s Senior Night,” Bell said. “You have got to give the rock to the seniors.”
You also have to give props to a team that has learned to become a team.
“It ain’t like they are playing for me, and by ‘me’ I mean themselves,” Anderson said. “They are playing for each other.”
Sports, Pages 22 on 03/08/2014