UA to take look at renaming court after former coach Nolan Richardson

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2019
Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson talks to the crowd during a reunion of the 1994 Razorbacks basketball national championship team on Saturday, March 2, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson talks to the crowd during a reunion of the 1994 Razorbacks basketball national championship team on Saturday, March 2, 2019, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas basketball fans will find out if time has healed a long-standing wound regarding Nolan Richardson later this month.

The university announced Wednesday that Chancellor Joe Steinmetz has submitted a resolution for consideration by the UA System board of trustees to name the court at Walton Arena after Richardson, the long-time head coach who led the Razorbacks to three Final Fours and the 1994 NCAA Championship.

Steinmetz and second-year Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek have thrown their support around the idea, which has been percolating among Razorbacks fans for many years. The board will consider the resolution at its next meetings March 27-28 in Hot Springs.

"I think it's great," said Richardson, an inductee into the Naismith Memorial and the National Collegiate Basketball halls of fame. "I know that my players and family and everybody else certainly would be delighted and very happy if that was done. I certainly feel the same way.

"I've been honored many times and I don't think there would be any better honor than having the court named after me."

The resolution came four days after the 1994 national championship team celebrated its 25th reunion at halftime of Arkansas' 74-73 victory over Ole Miss.

"Just this past weekend during our 25th anniversary celebration of the NCAA title, I had the opportunity to witness the tremendous passion, excitement and affection Coach Richardson engenders among our former players, coaches and fans," Yurachek said in a statement. "And while I know many anticipated that we would utilize the anniversary of that championship to recognize Coach Richardson, his legacy is much larger than a single team or a single championship. We wanted all of his players, assistant coaches, staff members and Razorback fans to have an opportunity to join us next season as we formally dedicate Nolan Richardson Court."

Steinmetz called Richardson a "true Razorback legend" and one of the most impactful coaches in college basketball history.

"In his 17 years at the University of Arkansas, he not only led the Razorbacks to unprecedented success, but also used his position in college basketball to help change the world around him," Steinmetz said in the release. "As the first African-American head coach in the Southwest Conference, he was a trailblazer helping to provide opportunities for many others to follow in his footsteps."

Richardson won a school-record 389 games in 17 seasons at Arkansas, including back-to-back appearances in the NCAA championship game, highlighted by a 76-72 victory over Duke on April 4, 1994, in Charlotte, N.C..

Arkansas made its first Final Four in 1978 under Eddie Sutton. Led by Richardson, it made its second appearance in 1990. The Razorbacks were also the NCAA runner-up to UCLA in 1995.

Richardson led the Razorbacks to 13 NCAA Tournament appearances and had a seven-year run from the 1989-90 season through the 1995-96 season. In that span Richardson led the Hogs to 195 victories, the most of any coach in major college basketball. He has been inducted into 13 halls of fame and has a middle school named in his honor in his home town of El Paso, Texas.

Arkansas won five regular-season conference titles and four conference tournaments under Richardson, including three in a row from 1988-90 in the Southwest Conference.

However, Richardson and then-UA Athletic Director Frank Broyles got crossways late during a 14-15 season in 2002.

Richardson was fired before the final game of the season after he made provocative comments following a 71-58 loss at Kentucky. Asked about his job security in his postgame news conference, Richardson remarked, "If they go ahead and pay me my money, they can take my job tomorrow."

After the Razorbacks returned home, Richardson kept the storyline going, alleging he was treated differently than other Arkansas coaches because he was black. He was fired following an 89-83 road loss at Mississippi State with one game remaining in the season.

Richardson filed a lawsuit in 2004 in federal court alleging racial discrimination. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed and that decision was upheld on appeal.

Richardson was invited back to be part of the 15-year reunion of the national championship team in 2009 under then-Athletic Director Jeff Long.

Former Razorbacks were all in on the idea of a Richardson Court last weekend.

"If you look up his history you'll be inspired by what he's done," said Clint McDaniel. That needs to be recognized because he's accomplished so much."

Ken Biley, a senior on the 1994 team, said, "To have his name on the court would show you what a true legend he is, and the rest of us would like to see that happen."

Richardson said he's in a good place with university administration these days and that the reunion weekend brought back a lot of memories.

"That's the impressive part," he said. "Being able to get all my guys back together and remembering old times and how hard it was and yet we were able to accomplish so much ... and give them what no one in the history of the university has done, given it a basketball national championship. That's history."

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Bob Holt contributed to this article.

Sports on 03/07/2019

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