FAYETTEVILLE — Ron Huery did not win a national championship as a basketball player at Arkansas, but he helped lay the groundwork for the Razorbacks’ championship team in 1994, three years after his playing career ended.
Huery, a 6-6 guard who was a first-team All-Southwest Conference player as a sophomore and a key reserve on teams that made deep tournament runs his redshirt junior and senior seasons, died early Saturday in his hometown of Memphis, according to former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson and former players. Huery was 55.
A cause of death is not known. Multiple calls to the Shelby (Tenn.) County medical examiner’s office Saturday went unanswered.
Richardson said Huery’s commitment out of Whitehaven High School in his first season as the Razorbacks’ coach in 1985-86 opened the door for Arkansas to recruit other high-profile players, especially from Memphis. Huery was Tennessee’s Mr. Basketball and a McDonald’s All-American that year, and the first major recruit signed by Richardson at Arkansas.
Huery was the first in a string of Richardson-recruited players from Memphis that included Todd Day, Arlyn Bowers, Clyde Fletcher, Corey Beck, Dwight Stewart and Elmer Martin. All played on Final Four teams between 1990-95, and Beck and Stewart were starters when the Razorbacks defeated Duke 76-72 in the championship game of the 1994 NCAA Tournament.
“Once we got Ron, it made it a little bit easier for me to go into Memphis and get more players to come out because of Ron Huery,” Richardson said. “Ron was not only a guy that I wished the best for, he was a guy that had a lot of love from myself, my family and his teammates.”
Huery was the leading scorer for Richardson’s first NCAA Tournament team in 1987-88 when he averaged 13.4 points, made 45.4% of his shots and was named All-SWC. He scored a team-high 21 points during the Razorbacks’ first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Villanova that year in Cincinnati.
He was suspended the following season for separate legal issues, according to a December 1988 report in the Arkansas Democrat. When he returned, Arkansas had added the likes of Day, Lee Mayberry, Oliver Miller and Lenzie Howell, and Huery became the team’s top bench player during a run to the 1990 Final Four in Denver.
“He was the best player his first couple of years — the very, very best that we had in those early years when I was first getting up here,” Richardson said.
“Instead of [suspending] him for a semester or some games, I sat him out for the entire [1988-89] year. He wasn’t going to be a starter because of the penalty, but he never moaned or groaned or anything. He worked his tail off. He became probably the best sixth man in college basketball. He enjoyed that. He loved to score and when he came in, that was what we were looking for from him. His role changed quite a bit from a starter to a guy that came off the bench and ignites us to a higher plateau because he had been there and done that.”
Former Arkansas assistant basketball coach Matt Zimmerman was a student manager during four of Huery’s five seasons.
“I don’t think there’s a national championship or three Final Fours without him,” Zimmerman said. “I really think it’s hard to say you go to the Final Four in ’90 without Ron Huery. He was a tremendous sixth man.”
Excluding his redshirt year, Huery was part of Arkansas teams that had a combined four-year record of 104-32, and won two SWC regular-season and tournament championships.
Huery ranks 13th in program history with 1,550 points, sixth with 351 assists, seventh with 388 free throws made and ninth with 207 steals. He was inducted to the Razorbacks’ Hall of Honor in September.
“He was a key, key player,” Zimmerman said. “He was a beautiful, smooth, fluid, artistic basketball player.
“He was the first major recruit that Coach Richardson got and was the key to flipping everything….All those [Memphis] guys still talk about him and say, ‘Ron was the one who paved the way for me.’ They looked up to him. He was a Memphis legend.”
Richardson said Huery was “the ultimate recruiter.” In a Twitter post Saturday, Miller said Huery showed him around campus during his visit to Fayetteville in the late 1980s.
“I think Ron had a lot to do with us having a chance to get Big O,” Richardson said. “That group that came in, he had a lot to do with us getting Todd Day. He had a lot to do with us getting a lot of our key players while he was a student.”