Vernon Tarver covers the Springdale Har-Ber beat for Northwest Arkansas Newspapers, LLC. Vernon has been a sports reporter in the local area since 1998, covering everything from Fayetteville, Springdale and Bentonville High Schools to the University of Arkansas baseball and women's basketball beats. Along with his newspaper duties, Vernon is also co-host of the morning sports talk show, Press Row. In his off time, Vernon enjoys spending time with his wife, Elyse, and his 3-year old son, Jackson.
Gulley, Haydar Proud Of Program's Rise...
Arkansas guards and former Fayetteville High School standouts Fred Gulley (12) and Kikko Haydar speak Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, during the second half of play against Delaware State in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Kyle Adams has seen his fair share of knockdown, drag-out doozies on the basketball court in his coaching career. The best of the best, in Adams' perspective, might have been a particular one-on-one battle that occurred each and every day some five years ago at Fayetteville High.
Fred Gulley III
Position: Point Guard
High School: Fayetteville
Notable: Two-time Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year in high school. … Averaged 16.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 2.8 assists per game on 30-0 Fayetteville team in his senior season. … Spent first two and half seasons in college at Oklahoma State before transferring back to Arkansas. … Has started all but two games this season for the Razorbacks, averaging 4.1 points, 1.9 assists and 1.7 rebounds. … Cousin of former Razorback and NBA player Ronnie Brewer. … Older sister, LaToya, played basketball at Fayetteville High and at Texas A&M.
Position: Point Guard
High School: Fayetteville
Notable: Two-time all-conference and all-state selection in high school. … Averaged 20.1 points, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals in his senior seasons with the Purple Bulldogs. … Point guard for the 30-0 Fayetteville team in 2008-09. … Walked on at Arkansas following high school and was named team captain before his junior year. … Has played in every game this season and all but one game this last two years. … Just the third athlete in Arkansas history to earn the Bodenhamer Fellowship.
"Kikko (Haydar) was a year younger than Fred (Gulley) and when he first rolled in here at the high school he knew Fred was the best," said Adams, the head coach at Fayetteville who was an assistant during Gulley and Haydar's time with the Bulldogs. "And Kikko wanted to guard Fred every day. He just said that it's going to make me better and I'm going to do my best to make him better.
"Some of the best battles we've had at the high school and I've ever seen were between those two guys. They would compete and almost get in fistfights every day, just fouling each other and getting after it. And that speaks to those guys. When you see your best getting after it like that, everybody else is going to fall in line. And if they see the best fighting like that they know they better step up."
Haydar and Gulley knew plenty about head-to-head duels on the court, even before Kikko stepped through that door his first day at old Bulldog Gymnasium. Growing up in Fayetteville, the two first had to compete as foes before forming the bond that would continue through high school, and -- as fate would determine -- still live on strong today.
Haydar was a Ramay Indian, Gulley a Woodland Cowboy. Despite Gulley's one-year age advantage, the friendly rivalry between crosstown junior high basketball buddies was the beginning of a long journey together for these two.
"We have to remember that Fred was older than me," Haydar said. "When we played him (in junior high), we only beat him one time, and he won a couple of regional championships. But when I was on my own, I won one.
"He won most of the head-to-head battles, unfortunately, but as I always like to tell him, there's a big difference between an eighth-grader and a ninth-grader. You grow a lot in that time."
Both Gulley and Haydar were no secrets by the time the 2008-09 season rolled around. Gulley, a highly-touted recruit in his senior year at Fayetteville, and Haydar, a tough-minded junior, were the backbone to a Bulldogs team that finished 30-0 and would be ranked as high as No. 8 in the nation.
"Fred was older than Kikko, but Fred was just tough to defend," said Springdale High coach Brad Stamps. "He could do so many things. He could beat you off the bounce and do some things. He just understood how to play the game and get others involved. He raised the level of play for everybody else.
"Kikko was, in my opinion, one of the best players to ever play in this conference because he was such a leader, so cerebral. He was so smart. I remember many times making a call to my teams late in games and looking out, and Kikko's eyes are right there on me. And as soon as I made the call, he's talking to his players about what we're fixing to do. That used to tick me off. He was so good and so smart. He's just a winner."
Fayetteville had perhaps never seen a pair of teammates like Gulley and Haydar. Not since brothers George and Joe Sitkowski led the Bulldogs to the 1987 state championship had two players impacted success in such a way. But as soon as the 2008-09 season ended, and actually well before, everyone involved figured Gulley and Haydar's days in the same locker room had ended.
Home Sweet Home
Gulley spent the first two and half seasons after his Fayetteville career at Oklahoma State. While Arkansas was an option out of high school, Gulley chose the Cowboys. A two-time state Gatorade Player of the Year, he went to Stillwater and made an instant impact. He started 14 of the last 15 games in his freshman season as Oklahoma State advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Gulley was a starting guard for Oklahoma State's to begin his sophomore year, but seven games into the 2010-11 season he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Just eight games into his redshirt sophomore year, he announced plans in late December 2011 to leave the Cowboys team.
One month later, Gulley was back home, transferring to play at Arkansas.
The rise in the ranks as a Razorback hasn't been a quick process for Gulley. He had to sit out one full year after first joining the team in January 2012. Then last season, his redshirt junior year, was mostly a quiet one on the court. In 21 games, Gulley averaged 13 minutes and just 1.5 points in his first season with Arkansas.
But 2013-14 has been a bit of a different story for Gulley. A starter in all but two games, he is one of the top defenders on the court at all times and is fifth on the team in minutes played.
"Fred, it's easy to see that he's a very good defender, but one thing that's gone slightly unnoticed is how steady he's been at the point guard position," Haydar said. "He just doesn't turn the ball over. His assist to turnover ratio is off the charts, and he's been able to lead this team by example.
"He's one of those guys, he's a high character guy. Is he going to get in trouble? No. He's just going to come work hard, and I feel very comfortable with Fred on the court. And I know that's how he feels about me because I'm going to give everything I've got when I'm out there."
Gulley, like Haydar, accepts and cherishes his role as one of the senior leaders on Arkansas' team this season. But to say he saw this coming all those years ago back when the two were together in high school, wouldn't be correct.
"We never really talked about it, about playing together in college," Gulley said. "I knew I was going to Oklahoma State, and he ended up coming here. But I'm really excited that we ended up back together."
Arkansas couldn't miss. On a magical night at Bud Walton Arena, the shots kept falling from all over the floor and all Andy Kennedy and his helpless Ole Miss troops could do was basically stand and watch.
Senior Night at Walton Arena is always a special time. This year, it was something more. Arkansas found that once-in-a-season type performance from the likes of Anthlon Bell -- who hit 7 of 10 3-pointers -- and Mardracus Wade, who knocked in five more 3's of his own in a 101-80 rout of the Rebels.
The final regular season game at The Bud was a fitting end. To cap off the night, the five seniors -- Gulley, Haydar, Wade, Rickey Scott and Coty Clarke -- made a point to thank the fans. Leading the way, in a line of handshakes and high fives with the Arkansas student section, were the two pals from just up the hill.
"Kikko and Fred have been dynamite. They've been awesome," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "Those guys have won. At the high school level, they were on a team that was undefeated. And so, when you talk about guys that are used to winning, they embody winning. I think they'll do anything to help the team win. Doesn't have to be scoring. It could be a loose ball; it could be a charge; it could be one minute playing, two minutes playing. Whatever it is.
"I just think their experience alone. They have a calmness about them when things kind of get rattled. With a young team, you can panic a little bit. But these guys have been, I think they've been tremendous for this particular team here."
Successful basketball teams aren't required to have a player or two from just up the road. Some great programs don't even count on players from a university's home state. But when it does happen, when a Gulley and a Haydar do show up on the roster, there's a different connection that can't be matched if they're not around.
"I think that's 100 percent correct," Adams said. "Whether they get on the floor or not, people in the community know them. They know them as Bulldogs first of all. They were so successful here on those teams. We go 30-0 in Fred's senior year, and in Kikko's senior year, we go the state championship and lose to Conway and everybody followed those kids all the way through.
"They're great ambassadors for our high school, but beyond because they're not just basketball players. When they were here we always did community service things that got their name out there. We always talked to them about how somebody helped you along the way so it's time for you to step up and help somebody along the way. And these guys were always willing to sacrifice. These guys are great students, great in the community service and just great people."
Beyond Ramay, Woodland and Fayetteville, there's also a connection. Gulley and Haydar competed throughout Northwest Arkansas growing up and formed a bond with legions of fans that still carries over today.
"People get too caught up sometimes in the competition and the fact that you can't be a fan of somebody else's players and somebody else's program," Stamps said. "And nothing could be further from the truth. If you're in it, you develop relationships with kids and coaches.
"Those kids, I loved them when they played, even though I didn't have great success against them. And now I'm a huge fan. Not only am I a Razorback fan, I'm a fan of good kids. And they're both good kids that I look up to and think the world of as players and men."
Bringing Arkansas Back
The work at Arkansas isn't done. Anderson, in his third season, took big steps in moving the program in the right direction. To be a part of the turnaround, no matter how big or small the role or the court might have been at times, holds a special place in hearts of Gulley and Haydar.
"It really means a lot," Haydar said. "We both grew up loving the Hogs and this is every Fayetteville kids' dream. And the way in we did it. He went to Woodland, I went to Ramay and we met up at the high school and gave a state championship to our high school.
"The next step is joining the Razorbacks. When we got here it wasn't in the best state, and to have been able to at least build the foundation for the future that coach Anderson is going to bring to this school, we take a lot of pride in that."
The foundation is still being built but not yet complete. The Razorbacks, with their six game-streak near the end of the season and their first victory at Kentucky in 20 years, advanced by leaps and bounds in 2013-14. But losses at Alabama to end the regular season and to South Carolina in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament showed the pieces are still not all in place.
Two pieces who won't be with Arkansas as they continue the journey after this season, Gulley and Haydar, are at the very least thankful for their time with the program and are hopeful they'll be remembered for putting Razorback basketball on the map again.
"I just hope this senior class and this team is remembered for helping bring Arkansas basketball back," Haydar said. "If that's the case, that's what I'll be most proud of."
Sports on 03/15/2014