Arkansas needs to add grown men to 2019 hoops class

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2019
Raymond Hawkins
Raymond Hawkins

— It seems just like it was yesterday, but come Feb. 10 it will be 28 years.

It’s easy to remember the date because it was the third birthday of my daughter Lindsey, who will soon be 31, a homeowner and soon-to-be married. Neither her nor my late wife Laura was happy that I was headed out the door so early to work.

Duty calls, in this case to go cover No. 1 UNLV taking on No. 2 Arkansas in a much ballyhooed showdown that was slated for a morning start.

There were two big observations from that game, one that the Runnin’ Rebels (20-0) were better as evidenced by their 112-105 win over the Razorbacks (23-2) before a packed house at Barnhill Arena.

It really wasn’t that close despite Arkansas leading 50-46 at halftime because UNLV roared to a 98-75 lead with six minutes left in the so-called Game of the Year.

The second was muscular UNLV power forward Larry Johnson having a dust up with Arkansas’ rail thin small forward Todd Day and turning to Razorbacks head Nolan Richardson and telling him he needed to "go get some men.”

Both Johnson and Day were ejected with Day’s swing inadvertently hitting referee Jody Sylvester, but it was 104-91 at that time.

Richardson, with current Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson on the bench with him, did just that, and the result was a 1994 national championship and a return to the 1995 title game.

The roster included Corliss Williamson, Scotty Thurman, Dwight Stewart, Corey Beck, Roger Crawford, Clint McDaniel, Roger Crawford, Darnell Robinson, Lee Wilson, Alex Dillard, Davor Rimac, Ken Biley, Elmer Martin, John Engskov, Ray Biggers and Reggie Merritt.

Those guys will be honored later this spring on the 25th anniversary of the school’s only basketball national championship.

That scene came to mind Tuesday night as I watched No. 3 Tennessee, a legitimate national championship contender, manhandle Arkansas 106-87.

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes has put together a team of somewhat lightly recruited full-grown men who also have plenty of basketball skill and turned them into the SEC’s best team. The Vols have raced out to a 15-1 start this season.

As I did Tony Basilo’s radio show in Knoxville on Tuesday morning, he asked me if I saw the specialness in this Vols team that I did in that Arkansas team back in the day.

My answer was a resounding yes. I believe they have the skill and the mental, physical and emotional strength to win it all.

It takes all four of those qualities to do what Arkansas did in 1994 and hasn't gotten close to doing since then with the Sweet 16 trip back in 1996 and the crushing 2017 loss to eventual national champion North Carolina - a step away after leading by five with three minutes left.

Tennessee looks the part with the duo of junior Grant Williams (6-7, 236) and senior Admiral Scofield (6-6, 241), who patrol the front line with Kyle Alexander (6-11, 215).

All three of those guys were just three-star players, and Tennessee didn’t really have to beat out the big boys for them.

Williams, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, chose Tennessee over Texas Tech, Vanderbilt, Wofford, Appalachian State and Rutgers.

Schofield signed with Tennessee instead of Wofford and Wisconsin-Green Bay while Alexander chose the Vols over New Mexico.

Tennessee finished 15-19 in Schofield’s freshman season, but Barnes was hired to replace Donnie Tyndall and the Vols have gone 16-16, 26-9 and now 15-1 since he has arrived.

Barnes also added Jordan Bowden, Jordan Bone, La’Monte Turner, Kyle Fulkerson and Yves Pond and has nine players who legitimately could be starters.

The change in Arkansas and Tennessee has happened quickly as the Razorbacks had beaten the Vols six straight times before losing to them in the SEC Tournament last season.

Arkansas has just one open scholarship right now, but it is clear that the Razorbacks staff will not stop adding players with the addition of Little Rock Christian point guard Justice Hill, who is now on campus and practicing with the Razorbacks.

I fully expect there to be three other signees this spring, and it is certain that Arkansas is spending plenty of time on the recruiting trail.

Who will that be? One would seem likely to be Javon Franklin (6-6, 210), the former Little Rock Parkview star who was injured in this year’s season opener for Holmes (Miss.) Community College and will have three years at his next stop.

The other two signees are likely to be bigs, and the Razorbacks are on some grown men who would be much-needed additions to the roster.

That list includes Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep center Raymond Hawkins (6-9, 230); Phoenix Hillcrest forward Dischon Thomas (6-9, 190); Dayton State (Fla.) Community College forward Doudou Guete (6-9, 200); Morristown (Tenn.) Walters State Community College center Demontay Dixon (6-9, 200); and Mahamadou Diawara (6-10, 220) of Woodstock (Va.) Massanutten Military Academy.

There are several young players on this team with skill, but, as Mr. Johnson said, it’s definitely time to go get more men.

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