Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Foley, Neighbors settled things at golf course
UALR women’s basketball Coach Joe Foley is shown in this file photo. (Democrat-Gazette file photo)
FAYETTEVILLE — There may not have been a contract signed yet, but Mike Neighbors and Joe Foley had an agreement for their two teams to play just a day after University of Arkansas administrators gave their blessing to playing in-state competition.
The two friends and successful women’s college basketball coaches had a tee time at The Alotian Golf Club near Little Rock in the summer of 2019, but they struck a deal for the game between the University of Arkansas and University of Arkansas at Little Rock women’s basketball teams before they hit the course.
“We were on the driving range and I said, ‘Hey, before we even get to the first tee, let’s get this game done,’” Neighbors said. “Obviously it had some contract work and people higher up the chain of command to do the details of it, but in principle that happened right there on the driving range.”
Foley quickly agreed.
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“I said, ‘Mike, that’s all it takes is you guys to say yes and we’ll do it,’” Foley said. “You got to give him credit. He’s the one that got this started.”
Neighbors’ Razorbacks defeated Foley’s Trojans 86-53 a year ago at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock. It was the second time the two teams had faced one another but first time in 42 years. They will tangle again today at 2 p.m. as the No. 12 Razorbacks will take on UALR at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock.
Neighbors talks about the respect he has for Foley, who has more than 800 victories in his career. He recalled taking his high school teams at Bentonville and Cabot to Foley’s team camps annually. Before that, he attended camps as a high school player that Foley helped run.
“He helped me become a better player and a better coach along the way,” Neighbors said.
Foley joked it’s hard to remember every former player or every moment at his age of 65, but he said friendships with people such as Neighbors, Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair and Texas Coach Vic Schaefer are special.
“It’s a fun relationship. You know him, Coach Blair and Vic, all of us kind of grew up on basketball here in Arkansas,” Foley said.
Foley compared Neighbors — who took Washington to the Final Four in 2016 and turned Arkansas’ program around quickly — favorably to Blair.
“I think he’s taken over and really grown the sport here in Arkansas, you’ve got to give him credit,” Foley said. “I think our state’s a much better basketball state now that Mike’s here.
“He’s willing to create something not only for his program, but something good for women’s basketball. He got that from Coach Blair. Coach Blair is a great ambassador for women’s basketball, and Mike is doing the same thing.”
“I just know Mike has always been an X and O guy. It’s funny he’ll tell you he’s got that t-shirt that says ‘Defense wins championships’ and he’s thrown that away, ya know. I laugh about that. It’s great to be around those guys. We’ve all got a little different way we do things and we’ve all been successful with it.
Neighbors said the competition was on later that day at The Alotian Club when Foley wouldn’t concede a short par putt late in the round.
“I’m going to try to take away everything from Mike I can,” Foley said with a smile. “I know when we get on this basketball court, he’s going to take it away from me.”
The two weren’t able to get together for golf last summer with covid-19 cases surging, but Foley said now that Arkansas and UALR are playing regularly, that could change the tone of the golf game, too.
“I’m sure now that we’re playing each other, it’ll get a little more intense now,” Foley said.
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