Rick Fires is a reporter and columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
‘Historic’ day in Arkansas sports isn’t a big deal
Arkansas' Trevor Ezell is tagged by UALR third baseman Garrett Scott during a game Tuesday, April 2, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Making the rounds from baseball to softball to downtown Springdale for the Hogeye Marathon has left me more confused than usual.
That’s my excuse anyway for a segmented version of this week’s column.
Arkansas and Arkansas-Little Rock played a baseball game in what was billed a “historic” event that ended Arkansas’ long-standing policy against playing in-state schools.
It was “historic” only in the same way remote communities high up in the Ozarks received electricity nearly 100 years after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.
Teams in the SEC have long scheduled in-state schools, including LSU, the six-time national champions whose schedule this season include games with Southeastern Louisiana, Southern University, Northwestern State, McNeese State, Grambling, New Orleans, Nicholls State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana Tech.
That’s 10 in-state opponents, and occasional losses in the past to one of those programs hasn’t harmed LSU’s reputation in the least. The sting of Arkansas’ 17-7 loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week will greatly diminish if the Razorbacks make another run in the NCAA Tournament.
So, tell me again why so many fought this for so long?
STRIKE A POSE
It’s always a pleasure for members of this sports staff to meet and mingle with the coaches and players during their photo shoot for the All-Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports teams.
The photo shoot for the All-NWADG basketball teams took place on an outdoor court in Springdale, where 6-foot-10 junior Jaylin Williams of Fort Smith Northside displayed his dunking skills for our photographer, Ben Goff.
Williams follows his former high school teammate, Isaiah Joe, as the All-NWADG Division I boys player of the year. Both are talented players who share a trait that every fan should view as important.
“Jaylin is a high-character kid,” Northside coach Eric Burnett said. “That’s the first thing I’d tell any college coach asking about him. I’d say, ‘Coach, you don’t have to worry about him doing anything to embarrass the team or the program. If you tell him to be in his dorm room at 10 o’clock, he’s probably going to be there 30 minutes early.’”
Keeping Williams at home should be a high priority for the next Arkansas coach, whoever he is. Contact Burnett. He has Jaylin’s number.
JUST WIN, BABY
I didn’t ask Williams which college he favored during our photo shoot, but another emerging star was quick to point out his favorite.
“Duke,” he said.
“Because they win,” he answered.
Like many of you, I remember exactly where I was when Arkansas defeated Duke 76-72 to win the national championship in 1994. But that means little, if anything, to today’s players, who weren’t even born when the Razorbacks won their only national championship in basketball.
The best players like to play on the best teams, and that hasn’t changed since James Naismith grabbed a ladder and nailed a peach basket to a wall at Springfield, Mass., in 1891.
I could argue that Arkansas’ best three players last season were Daniel Gafford (El Dorado), Isaiah Joe (Fort Smith Northside), and Desi Sills (Jonesboro), who came on late. But too many in-state stars like Archie Goodwin, Malik Monk, KeVaughn Allen and now Isaac McBride have signed with Kentucky, Florida and Kansas — teams that consistently make the NCAA Tournament.
Arkansas hasn’t been relevant on the national stage for several years, which is the biggest problem facing the new coach when he arrives. But there is enough high school talent in this state to turn that around quickly.
It would’ve been an advantage to have a new coach already in place to watch top young stars compete this weekend in the Real Deal in the Rock basketball tournament. It’s more important than ever for Arkansas to protect its borders and keep the competition from cherry-picking the state’s best players.
Former Pulaski Academy and Arkansas basketball standout Dusty Hannahs is the latest to experience the often cruel reality of professional sports.
Hannahs realized a lifelong dream when he was signed by the Memphis Grizzlies to a 10-day contract after playing two years in a developmental league. Hannahs played briefly in two NBA games and scored eight points before he was waived after Memphis signed veteran center Tyler Zeller.
The situation is far worse for injured Birmingham Iron defensive lineman Josh Frazier (Springdale Har-Ber), who was stuck with some medical bills when the Alliance of American Football suddenly folded. Just two more examples, really, that the glamorous life of a professional athlete is achieved by very few.
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