Oh, better take the keys and drive forever
Staying won't put these futures back together
All the perfect drugs and superheroes
wouldn't be enough to bring me up to zero.
Aimee Mann “Humpty Dumpty”
Growing up in Fort Smith we used to go to 4 or 5 Westark (now UAFS) basketball games a year. This was back before they built Stubblefield Arena. The games were played in a gym that was much like any you would find at hundreds of high schools throughout the state. One side of the floor had polished wooden bleachers that could be folded up accordion style against the wall. On the other side of the court the stands only went up about half as high and most of the seats had cushions and numbers. they were reserved for season ticket holders and most years we had a couple of passes because my father did physicals for the team.
Westark had an excellent junior college program. Particularly back before players were required to attend 2 years of school before they transferred the talent level was very high. Ron Brewer and Darrell Walker and various Kellybrew and Skulman bothers and guys like Robert Shephard plied their trade for Gayle and then Wes Kaundart. The team even won a National title the year after Walker transferred up the road to Fayetteville.
When Brewer was there and to a lesser extent when Walker was there the team drew very well. But beyond those seasons a typical crowd was about half full - maybe a couple hundred people.
I loved going to those games but I remember how much that experience contrasted to the one I would have when I went to see the hogs play in Fayetteville. When I went to see Westark play I didn’t really have a vested interest. Sure I cheered for them but mostly I just liked seeing these big guys play my favorite game. When I went to see Arkansas play I would actually get butterflies and on the rare occasions when they lost I would be depressed for days.
It was more than the fact that the arena was bigger and the opponents better. A college basketball game at Barnhill and later Bud Walton had an almost formal, professional air about it. The quality was always good and the energy that flowed from crowd to team and from team back to crowd was truly an experience.
Conversely at Westark games the lack of crowd interaction, the low level hum of the crowd was almost startling.
In my mind, when I recall those Westark games, I hear the squeak of rubber soled shoes as the players made cuts, I could hear the players yell to each other when they were on defense. The bounce of the ball echoed just a bit and it seemed like there was a decent chance sweat from one of the guys might spray us. I picture fans sitting amiably, chatting with friends while the action was going on, getting up and going to get oversalted popcorn and random junctures, not concerned that they might miss some crucial action.
Its not that the Westark games weren’t good or fun. It’s not that those players weren’t doing their best. It’s just that those games lacked tension and focus. The crowd never rose as one to tell the team that they HAD to get a stop. They never howled and whistled at the refs - truly believing an injustice had been done. They never urged on unselfish play by wildly cheering guys that did the little things - making an extra pass or diving for a loose ball.
I guess it just seems like those Westark games were just that - games. Hog games, on the other hand, were an interactive experience where the fans played a role that seemed to my young mind every bit as vital as the players coming off the bench. The crowd not only offered energy it dictated style and tempo. In some vague ways it actually shaped those Razorback teams.
I am 2 minutes late for tip off tonight. My wife is pregnant and sick but she sucked it up and made the hour long drive with me to the game. She knows how much this silliness means to me. She can see my eyes sparkle and my lips curl when I start getting a positive feel for an Arkansas Basketball team or game or possession or player. he knows how much I long for the days when hoops wasn’t just relevant here - it was CENTRAL. She knows that as silly as it seems I get a very real sense of WORTH when I am cheering a really good Hog team. She knows that the pride we both feel when the Hogs play good ball actually DOES make our lives a teeny tiny bit better. And what more can we possibly ask from an activity than it give us a little bit of joy.
This is not a trivial thing. Beauty and wonder can be in short supply these days. If we find even a little of it we feel lucky.
As we pull up to Razorback Road, rushing because we are late, worried that traffic might delay us another 10 minutes, we are amazed that there aren’t any cars ANYWHERE. The traffic as I make a left at the light is no more dense than an average day on Roger’s Ave. Or maybe about the same as it used to be when I would pull onto the Westark campus with my Dad years ago.
I can hear every squeak and cut as the action is underway when I sit down. I can hear the players call out screens and yell “SHORT!” when a jumper looks off target. The crowd is not only very small it is very CASUAL. I am including my self here. We are not invested. We are just here to watch - not participate.
Rotnei is wearing a track suit on the bench, sitting next to Sanchez who again appears to be injured. Sanchez has bad wheels. In the past 4 years he has had devastating knee AND foot issues. You can’t play basketball with bad legs. You just can’t. It is a shame because he seems like a really positive guy.
Britt starts for RC. Where exactly are we going to get shooting? Outside of RC this is probably the worst perimeter shooting team I have ever seen at Arkansas - and that is saying something considering the absolutely atrocious shooting that has been the norm here for the past decade.
Washington clanks a pair of FTs. A guy in my section just yelled a couple taunts at him and it is so quiet in here I bet Wash heard him. So it’s gonna be like that is it?
FIRST TIMEOUT 4-2 Hogs
“Hmm what’s that stench? Oh I think its this basketball game” That was someone two rows up followed by loud laughter at his own joke. Greatest fans in America - yup that’s us.
Courtney isn’t on the bench. Now - we went 2-14 in conference last year with CF as our “leader”. But for some reason I keep thinking that if he comes back we will improve. How will that work exactly?
Alabama State’s unis are phantasmagoric. My wife just described them as “some kind of putrid yellow”.
Bryant hits a 3. I have hopes for this guy. Fundamentals are atrocious but he is active and can bounce. He needs to be in open court.
More taunts from the crowd. This time directed at Farmer - guy is yelling at him to “move”. Yup - that’ll solve it.
We are playing a lot of man. That is a positive I think. We need to embrace aggressive defense.
Mike makes a nice drive - and then gets a rest. That troubles me. He has seemed out of rhythm and as soon as he looks like he is getting in the flow he gets the hook because it is his turn to come out. A coach needs to be more flexible than that.
Nice aggressive rebound by Bryant.
Another nasty remark from a fan in our section. My wife just leaned over and said “That guy is sittin’ over there by himself just a-hollerin’ ” She’s from Charleston my wife is.
Britt hits a nice little tweener. He can look good when he is under control.
Even Alabama State has a guy that can rise up and just bury 3s in traffic. How long has it been since we had an athletic guy that could really shoot - anyone, anyone?
SECOND TIMEOUT 11-9 Hogs
Bryant gets a block. Washington makes a great pass to Britt cutting backdoor. Very nice.
Britt gets caught in between on a break and shoots it off the board so hard he doesn’t even draw iron. Hmmmm.
Nobles nails a wide open rhythm 3. He does that about once a game and has really nice form. Then he either stops shooting or bricks when he does. I can’t figure these guys out.
Nobles with a really sloppy turnover, then misses a pair of FTs. Not to be a negative nudge but is there ANY area of the game that this team excels at?
Bama State’s team kinda looks like a black fraternity circa 1985 - like Spike Lee’s “School Daze”. I haven’t seen a fade like #4’s since Kid’nPlay.
Whoa - Farmer just woke up and started defending. He is very good when he focuses.
Michael walks horribly but there is no call and he scores. The most importnt thing a big man can have is hands. The second most important thing is good feet and good footwork. I have never quite decided about Michael’s hands - but his feet and his footwork are just plain bad. He travels even when he just catches the ball at the top of the key. I’m not sure he has ever actually established a pivot foot. He seems only vaguely acquainted with the concept.
THIRD TIMEOUT 19-12 Hogs
Getting a bit of separation. This Alabama State team is, um, well, flawed I guess you’d say. Badly flawed. In more ways than just the uniforms and the haircuts.
I am looking at this team and I guess I am having a hard time finding the hope. I need to find it somewhere. It just isn’t much fun without it.
Two nice post feeds from Stef to MW. Awful post defense but nice feeds nonetheless.
My wife, “Boys these little players sure do get inked up young these days. Is our baby going to get a tattoo.”
She suggests a razorback. I suggest Cartman.
Whatever happen to that Pelphrey business of the whole team running to help up any teammate that hits the ground. Lately just 1 or 2 guys jog over and wave.
We press a bit and give up a 3. So we will quit pressing now. Persistent is not a word that I would ascribe to Pelphrey’s coaching philosophy.
Stef penetrates easily for a couple buckets.
Okay I’m going to say it. Right now Stef Welsh is our second best player. When Rotnei Clarke and Stef Welsh are your two best players you are going to struggle. They need to be our 3rd and 5th or 6th best respectively. Courtney and Mike need to be 1-2 and Powell needs to be 4th.
Stef and Nobles need to be guards that come off the bench for 18 minutes a game of INTENSE defense. They could thrive like that.
My wife is talking about #23’s calves. It’s like he has a couple of chunky rocks stuffed under his skin.
Now she is obsessed with the length of Britt’s arms. I nod in agreement that they are freakish.
Stef turnover. Farmer misses.
There are about 8 students here and a couple of them just high-fived because they felt their yelling caused a State player to miss a free throw. I am concerned with the nerd quotient of our student section.
LAST TIMEOUT 27-16
I wish I could say this has been a bunch of tough defense but no, that’s not the reason for the low score.
WOW! fancy behind the back from Stef to MW on the break. Stef is passing really well tonight.
And shooting terribly. He and Nobles both miss 3s.
Cox is open under the glass and you can see the shot block coming as soon as he starts his head fake. The sound of leather getting smacked echoes to the upper deck.
My wife, “COME ON REF! call a foul for my cute little guy.”
I bet Steven Cox is just livin’ the dream.
Cox passes on a 3 and drives and . . . he is so wide open he blows the layup. Cute only gets you so far.
HALFTIME 36-18 Hogs
One nice thing about a struggling hoops team - no lines at the concession stand. I grab a couple of surprisingly decent burgers and am back in my seat in about 3 minutes. The entire concourse is nearly empty and a good place for a casual stroll. There is even an older lady dressed in spandex and a sweatshirt doing an evening jog around the arena.
The band is cranking out the Aha classic “Take on Me”. Should I admit that I owned that album in high school?
We have a new halftime competition that involves the contestants spinning around for a minute before they run, jump rope, and make a layup. Contestant number 2 gets so dizzy she falls flat on her backside. We all laugh. Nothing like humiliation to bring a smile to our collective lips.
Boss Hogg is shooting free throws with his face. He has a plastic tongue that looks like an angry colostomy. My fear of mascots continues.
Farmer goes baseline and gets his shot stuffed by the rim.
Washington strokes a 3. He shoots well when he takes his time.
Nobles hits a pretty little pull up.
Things are getting ragged. Sloppy on both sides. Weak defense.
I think this is how Tennessee fans must have felt before Bruce Pearl. Huge, empty arena. Team that seemingly had talent but appeared to play without direction or plan or, most importantly, passion.
#00 for State is a tall boney guy with narrow shoulders and light brown skin. He has a pencil thin mustache that makes him look like a cartoon villain or maybe the lead singer of a swing band.
Stef makes another nice post feed.
Powell is playing some decent defense. He sat almost the whole first half because he had 2 fouls. This is an example of the lack of flexibility I mentioned earlier.
If you are expecting a tight game then maybe you hold him out so you have him at the end. But this is Alabama State and Marshawn Powell needs to play every minute he can in every different situation he can (including playing with foul trouble) before conference play starts. But nope, he gets a 2nd foul and we knee jerk him to the bench.
Britt on a 2 on none makes a 2 foot pass for no reason. His decision making can be suspect.
FIRST TIMEOUT 45-25 Hogs
We are actually doing some good things. State has no punch though and they are small, small. Powell and Washington should score at will.
Our lack of shooting ability is GLARING
SECOND TIMEOUT 48-33 Hogs
Team concentration is fading - possibly distracted by the middle-aged man in front of me wearing hiking boots with pink socks. “Fuchsia - there fuchsia” my wife informs me.
Farmer hits a nice 18 footer. That is his range right there.
Farmer has taken over for about 3 minutes. Good defense. Patient offense. He good be a piece of a good team if things fell into place.
Marcus Britt is making some nice plays as well. This might be the most minutes he has ever played in a game.
THIRD TIMEOUT 60-40 Hogs
Alley oop to Bryant draws a foul. Crowd almost got interested there.
Honestly - I have been going to home games since 1977 and this is the worst crowd I have ever seen. These are hard, hard times for Arkansas basketball and we as fans aren’t helping.
We don’t OWE the team anything. They are bad and it is hard to support a bad team. But it would be nice if we could do the “thick and thin” thing.
A big, active crowd could make this team better. Much, much better. They could learn intensity a focus. They could learn that they have another level of effort. They could learn what it feels like to play for something larger than yourself. Stuff like that sounds cheesy but it is proven to be true over and over and over. In college basketball if you have consistently excellent crowds your team will never be worse than “pretty good” and often much better than that.
I just noticed that Powell has remarkably skinny arms. At first glance he seems big but he is actually extremely thin. As he matures he will get even better.
Game is wide open now. Oop to bryant.
LAST TIMEOUT 69-45
The closing sequence was bizarre. State dribbled out the clock starting at the 35 second mark. Their ball handler was negotiating with Nobles (who was guarding him) what sort of shot they would let him take as the clock ran out because he HAD to shoot because the shot clock was going to run out a fraction of a second before the game clock.
He was going to take an uncontested 3 but Nobles said no - indicated he would have to challenge it. So the kid drives in for a layup at the buzzer - smiling and laughing.
The casual-ness and lack of intensity of that sequence kind of sums up this game.
FINAL SCORE 76-51 Hogs
Hey it’s a win. Our record is back to .500. There are positives. Nobles is fast and shows hints of being a perimeter defender that makes things happen. (He is also a sketchy shooter and makes handfuls of turnovers that leave you scratching your head).
Welsh is seeing the floor and passing better than he ever has and his ball defense is the best on the team. (But his shooting is awful and his handle is, as always, just not very good).
Powell was active on defense and will soon be a high level college scorer. (He also makes silly fouls, can’t hold his own on the block, settles for jumpers, and disappears exactly when he should be stepping up).
Washington had 22 and scored nearly at will down low. (But he always scores well against small teams. Against teams of equal size his awful footwork limits his ability inside and his shot is too shaky to count on. Defensively he is below average for an SEC center.)
Britt showed flashes of good perimeter defense and a nice mid range game. (But he is a truly bad 3 point shooter, gets beaten frequently and inexplicably, has a weak handle, and just doesn’t seem to be good enough to excel at this level).
Bryant might be the brightest spot. He has range and can rebound. He looks great in the open court and is our best true shot blocker. (On the flip side he can’t handle the ball and can’t defend the ball. He doesn’t seem to have a real good idea what is expected of him when)
I’ll leave it at that for now. Glass half empty or half full. Or maybe just spilled.
Until next time.