Like It Is:

Japan trip did have distractions for UA

By: Wally Hall
Published: Sunday, May 31, 2020

Time to take a short break from the pandemic, discussions of to test or not to test and how to protect University of Arkansas athletes in what is becoming a state hot spot when they return to campus June 8.

In the summer of 1984, the Razorbacks basketball team was part of a six-team international tournament in Japan sponsored by Kirin Brewery.

There was beer at every reception, but head coach Eddie Sutton made it clear no one, absolutely no one, not even Alvin Robertson or Joe Kleine, was to indulge. The older international players made it clear they liked the beer.

There are a million memories of that trip.

There were the tiny rooms that all came with robes and tea pots. The food that was different and all three meals finished with a salad. Corn soup came with most meals and was served cold and much detested by yours truly.

Athletic Director Frank Broyles and his wife Barbara were on the trip, as was booster Ted Harrod and his wife Jackie.

A bond formed between Broyles and Harrod, and they eventually would vacation together. Later, Harrod and Tom Gulley would become the unofficial negotiators between Broyles and Sutton during a tumultuous final season for Sutton.

Looking back to that summer now, it is easy to see it started brewing on that trip when the team, administrators and members of the media were together almost 24-7.

We took planes, trains and buses to six cities in Japan.

Sutton kept a tight rein on the team.

One day after seeing a temple, an hour of free time to wander through an outdoor mall was given.

Kleine was an instant attraction for the school children. Many called yours truly Santa Claus (greybeard was preferred).

We were headed back to the bus, when from around the corner the most beautiful organ music began to soar through the air. The first song was “Amazing Grace,” the second “How Great Thou Art.”

We turned the corner, and there sat Leroy Sutton playing this multi-layered instrument like he had grown up with it.

Leroy couldn’t read music; he had a gift of playing by ear. He was one of the nicest, most humble and sincere men you would ever meet and when he passed away two days after Eddie Sutton, it was just as painful.

It may have been Sapporo, Japan, where Sutton gave the players four hours of free time with a midnight curfew. Robertson and Ricky Norton missed curfew. They soaked up the local culture for an extra five hours.

The next morning walking through the lobby, Sutton was on the phone, trying to make a case with Bobby Knight, coach of that year’s U.S. Olympic basketball team.

“We can win this thing for the USA if you’ll just let Joe and Alvin report five days late,” said Sutton, who was always competitive.

Knight wasn’t impressed Arkansas was 4-0 in tournament play, and Joe and Alvin left that afternoon for Los Angeles where they would eventually win a gold medal.

The Razorbacks won the next game without them, and in the championship game against Yugoslavia, Sutton started senior walk-ons Scott Rose and Jimmy Dykes. The Hogs finished 5-1.

There was one memory that can’t be written about in a family newspaper but got the biggest laugh of the trip.

It has been almost 36 years, but looking back, that trip forged lifetime friendships among those players.

The trip ended in Hong Kong where everyone got a shirt, jacket or a suit tailor-made, and most bought fake Rolex watches.

It was a great trip with a little smoke that would turn into a fire when the season began.

Some wonder if this summer won’t do the same because of the coronavirus. No one knows, but time will tell.

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