Championship team deserves to be honored

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2019
Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson shows off the NCAA National Championship trophy after the Razorbacks beat Duke 76-72, Monday, April 4, 1994, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)
Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson shows off the NCAA National Championship trophy after the Razorbacks beat Duke 76-72, Monday, April 4, 1994, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

Arkansas will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its lone NCAA Basketball Championship this weekend when Ole Miss rolls into Fayetteville to take on the Razorbacks (14-14, 5-10) in a noon game Saturday.

While the current squad is skidding home this season on a six-game losing streak, Saturday will bring a time to celebrate a team that got former Razorback head coach Nolan Richardson to the top of the mountain.

It was a group that ended going 31-3 and knocking off Duke 76-72 on April 4, 1994, in the title contest.

It was a time when Arkansas went to the Sweet 16 six times during a seven-year period that begin with the 1989-1990 season.

It was not a team with numerous four- and five-star prospects, but one that was hungry and played with the chip on its shoulder it got from its head coach.

They ran through the postseason with wins over North Carolina A&T, Georgetown, Tulsa, Michigan and Arizona before taking out Duke.

The bell cow of that team was one Corliss Mondari Williamson, a Russellville standout who was listed as 6-foot-7 but was just over 6-5 and who would come to be known as Big Nasty.

As a consensus high school All-American and someone who came into the state's basketball consciousness as an eighth-grader, Williamson turned down the rest of the country's elite programs to stay at home and play for his beloved Razorbacks.

He shot an incredible 62.6 percent from the field as a sophomore and made 70 percent of free throws while averaging 20.4 points per game, something he bumped up to 26 points during the Final Four wins over Arizona and Duke.

Richardson and his staff landed Ruston, La., sharp-shooter Scotty Thurman, who played Robin to Williamson's Batman and who was definitely not as highly recruited as he should have been with Arkansas having to fend off Louisiana Tech and some others.

The Ruston Rifle averaged 15.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3 assists during the national championship season and was clutch throughout the year, not just with the dagger he hit 53 seconds that took the Blue Devils down in the championship game.

Arkansas used Memphis to add talent to its program with former Bluff City standouts Corey Beck (8.8 points, 5 assists per game) and Dwight Stewart (8.0, 5.0 rebounds) playing significant roles.

Both of those young men spent a year at South Plains (Plainview, Texas) Junior College and made Richardson look like a genius for adding them to the roster.

"In our dressing room, we've got a sign up that says, 'There are those who play to play, and there's those who play to win,'" Richardson said. "You know, there are some guys who have some tremendous skills -- and the media and the fans will see points. I've seen guys score 40 points and take 40 shots, and the media built them up as the greatest to ever play the game.

"But on a team that wins basketball games, there's got to be what we call the blue-collar worker, the heart and soul."

Two other key players were junior guard Clint McDaniel (8.1) of Tulsa and forward Davor Rimac (4.8) of Fayetteville by way of Croatia.

The roster also included long-distance shooter Alex Dillard (8.9), who turned 25 while he was a Razorback after quitting high school as an 11th-grader, working at a restaurant for three years and eventually giving junior college basketball a try and ended up being signed by Arkansas.

Dillard, an Alabama native, once scored 16 points in just two minutes of game action.

It also included another junior college find in Roger Crawford (7.4), who was hurt during the NCAA tournament and missed the Final Four, as well as two big freshmen big men in Darnell Robinson (7.6) and Lee Wilson (3.4), both 6-11 centers that added much-needed height to the roster.

The roster also included Ken Billy, Elmer Martin, John Engskov, Reggie Merritt and Ray Biggers, who all had their winning moments during the season.

Richardson made it clear that this team should be honored as much as they can.

"Any time you have a team that's represented this university as national champions, I love to see them get together from time to time to celebrate what they accomplished," Richardson said. "I don't think we realize how big of an accomplishment that is -- and almost going back-to-back national championships. It wasn't like it was a fluke."

Sports on 02/28/2019

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