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Hogs’ Anderson Greeted With High Expectations

There are a whole lotta people in the Natural State who believe Mike Anderson will return Arkansas to the glory days of Nolan Richardson’s regime.

Not the build-up stage from 1985 to 1989 — when the Hogs failed to get past the NCAA tourney’s second round. 

And not the 1996 to 2002 winding-down stage — when UA went seven seasons without a Sweet Sixteen appearance.

Nope.  A lot of folks in Arkansas are eyeballing Richardson’s top-of-the-mountain stage from 1989 through 1995.  Six straight NCAA tourneys.  Three Final Fours.  One national runner-up.  One national champion.  Four 30-win seasons.

Those are pretty lofty goals, no?

Well, Brent Birch of ArkansasSports360.com is wisely attempting to cool the expectations just a tad.  In this piece he rattles off a number of issues facings the Hogs as Anderson takes over.  Among them:


* How many current players will return?

* Will John Pelphrey’s Top 5 signing class stay intact?

* Can the returners mesh with the newcomers?


Birch is simply being prudent.  As we pointed out last week, Anderson has reached one Sweet Sixteen and one Elite Eight in nine years of coaching.  His last two Missouri squads finished fifth in the Big 12.

Anderson is a smart hire and he happens to play a brand of basketball Hog fans already love.  But his track record doesn’t suggest that he’ll have Arkansas competing on equal footing with Duke, Kansas, or North Carolina anytime soon.  Someday?  Possibly.  Immediately?  Likely not.

There aren’t many schools in basketball history who can match the 1989-1995 run Richardson put together in Fayetteville.  So it’s not fair for fans to greet Anderson with such lofty expectations before he holds his first practice.

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Anderson To Call The Hogs Tomorrow

Mike Anderson will be introduced as the new Arkansas basketball coach tomorrow morning at Bud Walton Arena.  The event is open to the public, which leads to this question: Will the attendance for Anderson’s presser top the attendance at most Hog games this past year?

In an effort to smooth his protege’s re-entry into the Arkansas atmosphere, Nolan Richardson said yesterday that he won’t be running the UA program from afar.  There are some members of the Razorback family who worry that Anderson’s return might lead to his ex-boss becoming the school’s de facto coach.

“I may not even get in the building,” Richardson told ArkansasNews.com.  “You’re going to see me and say, ‘Wow, coach made it to the game tonight.’

“I might’ve made it that night, but don’t think ol’ Nolan is going to be sitting there going just like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ every ballgame now.”

With Anderson’s introduction scheduled and Richardson promising to stay away, all eyes now turn to the top five signing class John Pelphrey had lined up before his exit.  It appears that at least two members of that class are already onboard with the hire of Anderson.

Anderson also returns to Arkansas at a time when in-state talent is on the rise.  Good thing.  Because the coach will need a deep, athletic team if he’s to lead the Hogs far into the NCAA tourney — via full-court pressing — as Richardson did from 1989 to 1996.

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The Battle For Mike Anderson Rages On

It’s the battle for Mike Anderson.   But it’s not being waged between Arkansas and Missouri as much as it’s being waged between two factions of the Razorback Nation.

It’s no secret that Anderson’s connections to ex-Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson serve as his greatest plus… and his greatest minus among Hog fans.  Those who loved the up-tempo, “40 minutes of Hell,” big winning ways of Richardson are positively giddy over reports that the Hogs might/could/will land his old assistant, Anderson.  But those who despised Richardson and have not forgiven him for his noisy, messy departure from Fayetteville want no part of any return to power by the toppled king or his prince.

If you’re AD Jeff Long, you’d better know which group of boosters have the most power in this debate and then you’d better side with them.  If that means the anti-Anderson faction has more cash and more pull, best to tick off the common Hog fan and chase someone like Marquette’s Buzz Williams (who’s now helped his own cause by reaching the Sweet Sixteen).  While Joe-Average-Hog-Hat might get mad, it’s the powerbrokers who’ll keep Long employed.

Richardson and Arkansas went through a very nasty divorce.  It took nearly a decade for any kind of thaw to even begin.  So even if Long and the Hogs are pursuing and do land Anderson, there could still be some blowback from the anti-Richardson minority.  If it’s indeed the minority.

Lost in all the hoopla over Anderson’s ties to Richardson is the coach’s actual record at Mizzou.  He rebuilt the Tigers following the Quin Snyder apocalypse, but the last two years have been a tad disappointing in Columbia.  Following the school’s 31-7 2008-09 season and its run to the Elite Eight that year, the Tigers have dropped to 23-11 in each of the last two years, finishing fifth in the Big 12 both times.  Last year the Tigers lost in the second round of the NCAA tourney and this year they fell in the opening stanza.  Anderson has had a winning conference record in two of his five years in Columbia.

Would back-to-back 23-11, fifth-place finishes be accepted in Fayetteville?  For a while. 

But anyone looking for a repeat of Arkansas’ 1988-1995 run — 200 wins, just 43 losses, seven first-place finishes, three Final Fours and a national title — might be disappointed with what Anderson can actually provide.  Or what anyone else can provide for that matter.

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New Names Appear On The Arkansas Coaching Watch List

For the final month of John Pelphey’s tenure in Fayetteville, many Arkansas fans kept their eyes on the Missouri Tigers.  Mizzou head coach Mike Anderson is a “40 minutes of Hell,” pressure-defense, Nolan Richardson disciple.  Anderson is the man many Hog fans want leading the UA program next season.

Of course, there are many other fans — and quite a few impact boosters — who do not want any part of Anderson.  Why?  Well, did we mention that he’s a Nolan Richardson disciple?  UA and Richardson had a harsh split and despite the fact the ex-coach returned for a game this year, many hard feelings remain.  Some fear that bringing in Anderson would re-open the door for Richardson to try to exert some influence over the program.

But Anderson — as we’ve noted more than a few times — might not be a viable option in the first place.  The Tigers’ coach has already turned down more lucrative offers (from Georgia and Oregon) in the last couple of years to remain at Missouri.  He’s already put his lesser money where his mouth is.  And earlier this month he actually called a beatwriter for The Columbia Tribune to say: “I plan on being at Missouri for a long time, retire here.”

If Arkansas chooses to make a run at Mizzou’s coach and can’t convince him to move six hours to the Southwest, where will UA turn?  And, no, we still don’t buy the Tubby Smith-to-Arkansas talk (though Kentucky play-by-play man Tom Leach told me during his radio show yesterday that he wouldn’t be surprised to see the ex-Wildcat coach land in the ACC).

From Day One of the search, the names Mark Turgeon (Texas A&M), Buzz Williams (Marquette) and Frank Martin (Kansas State) have been floating around.  Harry King of ArkansasNews.com adds the names Greg Marshall (Wichita State) and Mick Cronin (Cincinnati) to the list today.

Former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispee’s name has made its way around the rumor mill a couple of times, but Arkansas AD Jeff Long said this week that the Razorback job “will command a sitting head coach at a high level.”  That doesn’t describe Gillispee’s current situation.

So do any of those names — Turgeon, Williams, Martin, Marshall and Cronin — really guarantee success?

On the “big name” front, Tim Floyd (and his NCAA baggage), Bill Self (Kansas) and Jamie Dixon (Pittsburgh) have also popped up in messageboard chatter.  Enough so that they’ve made one blog’s “rumor” list.

HawgSports.com — the Rivals site covering Arkansas — tosses out a few more potential candidates: Scott Drew (Baylor), Steve Lavin (St. John’s), Billy Kennedy (Murray State), Shaka Smart (VCU), and Doc Sadler (Nebraska). 

Obviously, the fanbase will clamor for Anderson, Self, and/or Dixon.  But we’ve discussed Anderson’s apparent desire to stay put (and the political battles his hiring would bring).  Self won’t leave Kansas for Arkansas (or any place else) regardless of the Big 12′s shaky future.  And Dixon turned down perennial power Arizona last year.  Why would he jump at the Razorbacks’ opening now?

If the Hogs don’t land one of those big three, then there will be question marks about UA’s new hire.  Arkansas fans tired of Pelphrey will tell you that anyone on the above list would be an improvement, but the truth is, UA canned Pelphrey in the hopes of returning to the glory days.  Would guys like Turgeon or Williams or Cronin guarantee such a rebound?  The jury’s still out on that one.

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Arkansas Home Loss A Hit To Pelphrey

Last night on Arkansas’ home floor, Mississippi State toppled the Hogs 88-78 and locked up the West’s #2 seed — and the bye that goes with it — for next week’s SEC Tournament.  The loss could prove damaging to Razorback coach John Pelphrey’s long-term stability at the school.

Earlier this week, ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb said on a radio show in Kansas City that the Arkansas job would come open and that UA officials would chase former Nolan Richardson assistant Mike Anderson as Pelphrey’s replacement.  He later tweeted that Pelphrey needs “to dance” to save his job.

The Hogs are on the verge of a 20-win season (18-11) and could still finish with a .500 record in the SEC.  But a win last night in a big game against a so-so foe would have no doubt aided Pelphrey’s job security.

Ask someone in the Arkansas media what they’re hearing and you’ll get several different takes.  The sources of our sources all seem to have different tales to tell.  “Pelphrey’s done.”  “UA can’t afford to keep him with fans staying away.”  “Pelphrey will definitely be back.”  “UA can’t afford to fire him and bring in someone else with all of the money they’re spending on football.”

It’s anyone’s guess at this point whether Pelphrey will return for a sixth season in Fayetteville next year.  In his favor is a Top 10 recruiting class.  If he can reach the 20-win plateau and make a run in the SEC tourney and then the NIT, his chances figure to improve. 

But last night’s loss in a winnable game at home hurts.  No question about it.

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Richardson Adjusts to Women’s Game

Arkansas
Content provided by The Slophouse.

Editor’s Note: Former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson was inducted into the Arkansas Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame last Friday in Little Rock. Prior to the ceremony, the current WNBA coach sat down with Evin Demirel to recap his first year coaching women’s basketball.

LITTLE ROCK - Although Nolan Richardson was recently inducted into the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame primarily for his accomplishments as a men’s college basketball coach, his new gig wasn’t far from his mind.

In late August, Richardson, who coached Arkansas to three Final Fours and an NCAA championship in 17 seasons at the school, wrapped up his first season as the head coach of the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock. He went 6-28, his worst season in a head coaching career that includes championship-winning stints at Western Texas Junior College and Tulsa University, in addition to the Razorbacks.

At each stop he developed his trademark “40 Minutes of Hell” style, which emphasizes full-court pressure defense. But with constant trades changing the Shock’s team this summer, it made it harder to set a tone and teach the method’s intricacies. Another major factor in the disappointing season was learning the difference between how men and women are wired when it comes to basketball, Richardson said before the hall of fame’s Arkansas Induction Ceremony in downtown Little Rock.

Richardson said he didn’t stress the “us-against-the-world” mentality he used so often to fuel his Razorbacks squads.

“But I am into ‘We work harder than anybody else and we deserve to win,’” Richardson said. “If you work harder and do the things that are asked then our chances of winning should be better than those who just come out to play.”

Richardson, 68, added that while he feels like professional women can adopt his style as well as collegian males, he has found it difficult to instruct them to play in a “controlled chaos” system demanding constant spurts of improvisation.

“(Women) don’t play pickup games; you don’t have off-season type play,” Richardson said he told his players. “You just play in Europe and you come over here, and you’re structured all the time. We’re going to show you how to use your instincts, too, to be a better ball player. That’s what I think guys do.”

Finally, professional basketball playing opportunities abroad can siphon some players’ energy, Richardson said.

“The sad part about the females is they play in Europe, they come straight here and play again, then they go right back,” Richardson said. “The body never ever has a chance to rest. Here I am trying to implement my game? It’s a little tough … The reason they don’t buy into that is they’ve got to save themselves to go overseas.”

Indeed, Shock point guard Deanna Nolan signed a contract for $750,000 annually in Russia last season, Richardson said. As of 2006, the average
WNBA player made $45,000 a year, according to an ESPN.com article.

Richardson believes the Shock will improve next summer with more roster stability, more comfort with his system among returnees and an influx of talent through the second and seventh picks in the 2011 WNBA Draft next spring.

Richardson wasn’t the only one with University of Arkansas ties honored or inducted at the ceremony, held last weekend.

Darrell Brown Sr., who was the first black athlete to attempt playing for the Razorbacks when he returned kickoffs on practice squads in 1965 and 1966, spoke to the more than 70 attendees. So did Betty Fiscus Dickey, who became the only Arkansas female to score more than 2,000 points during her career in the early 1980s and was the first athlete – male of female – to have a jersey retired by by the university.

Still, it’s likely nobody has spots in more halls of fame than Richardson.

“This is my ninth hall of fame,” Richardson said. “That’s a very deep blessing. I take very, very deep pride in being here.”

For more visit WholeHogSports.com.

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Richardson Finds Women’s Game Tough

Arkansas
Content provided by The Slophouse.

Editor’s Note: Former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson was inducted into the Arkansas Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame last Friday in Little Rock. Prior to the ceremony, the current WNBA coach sat down with Evin Demirel to recap his first year coaching women’s basketball.

LITTLE ROCK - Although Nolan RIchardson was recently inducted into the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame primarily for his accomplishments as a men’s college basketball coach, his new gig wasn’t far from his mind.

In late August, Richardson, who coached Arkansas to three Final Fours and an NCAA championship in 17 seasons at the school, wrapped up his first season as the head coach of the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock. He went 6-28, his worst season in a head coaching career that includes championship-winning stints at Western Texas Junior College and Tulsa University, in addition to the Razorbacks.

At each stop he developed his trademark “40 Minutes of Hell” style, which emphasizes full-court pressure defense. But with constant trades changing the Shock’s team this summer, it made it harder to set a tone and teach the method’s intricacies. Another major factor in the disappointing season was learning the difference between how men and women are wired when it comes to basketball, Richardson said before the hall of fame’s Arkansas Induction Ceremony in downtown Little Rock.

Richardson said he didn’t stress the “us-against-the-world” mentality he used so often to fuel his Razorbacks squads.

“But I am into ‘We work harder than anybody else and we deserve to win,’” Richardson said. “If you work harder and do the things that are asked then our chances of winning should be better than those who just come out to play.”

Richardson, 68, added that while he feels like professional women can adopt his style as well as collegian males, he has found it difficult to instruct them to play in a “controlled chaos” system demanding constant spurts of improvisation.

“(Women) don’t play pickup games; you don’t have off-season type play,” Richardson said he told his players. “You just play in Europe and you come over here, and you’re structured all the time. We’re going to show you how to use your instincts, too, to be a better ball player. That’s what I think guys do.”

Finally, professional basketball playing opportunities abroad can siphon some players’ energy, Richardson said.

“The sad part about the females is they play in Europe, they come straight here and play again, then they go right back,” Richardson said. “The body never ever has a chance to rest. Here I am trying to implement my game? It’s a little tough … The reason they don’t buy into that is they’ve got to save themselves to go overseas.”

Indeed, Shock point guard Deanna Nolan signed a contract for $750,000 annually in Russia last season, Richardson said. As of 2006, the average
WNBA player made $45,000 a year, according to an ESPN.com article.

Richardson believes the Shock will improve next summer with more roster stability, more comfort with his system among returnees and an influx of talent through the second and seventh picks in the 2011 WNBA Draft next spring.

Richardson wasn’t the only one with University of Arkansas ties honored or inducted at the ceremony, held last weekend.

Darrell Brown Sr., who was the first black athlete to attempt playing for the Razorbacks when he returned kickoffs on practice squads in 1965 and 1966, spoke to the more than 70 attendees. So did Betty Fiscus Dickey, who became the only Arkansas female to score more than 2,000 points during her career in the early 1980s and was the first athlete – male of female – to have a jersey retired by by the university.

Still, it’s likely nobody has spots in more halls of fame than Richardson.

“This is my ninth hall of fame,” Richardson said. “That’s a very deep blessing. I take very, very deep pride in being here.”

For more visit WholeHogSports.com.

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