Doc Harper: Razorback Basketball Celebration Highlights What The Program Can Be


Razorback Basketball Celebration Highlights What The Program Can Be

Doc Harper Bio PageLet there be no doubt that Razorback fans still passionately care about their basketball program and celebrating its past success.

The LSU game was most likely going to be a mundane mid-February contest between a pair of mediocre teams, best known for being an added attraction during the opening weekend of baseball season. But when Arkansas announced it would be honoring all six Final Four teams and a slew of guests would be in attendance including Bill Clinton, the game quickly turned into one of the marquee Razorback events of the year.

Despite the announcement only coming five days before the game, Arkansas fans turned it into a sell-out and the largest Bud Walton Arena crowd of the season.

And the event was fantastic. Hardly any fans left their seats for the extended halftime ceremonies. About three times as many former players showed up compared to what was initially advertised. Some of the ovations were as loud as for the game itself (not quite as loud as Alandise Harris’s dunk or Ky Madden’s behind-the-back lob to Bobby Portis, but still, very loud).

This of course isn’t the first time Arkansas has held this type of event for its basketball legends, and each time it’s a hit. In 2009, in the midst of John Pelphrey’s infamous 2-15 SEC season, Arkansas celebrated the 15th anniversary of the 1994 National Championship against Georgia. It was a huge crowd and the resulted in one of the two SEC wins that season. In 2012 the Razorbacks held a “movie premiere” style event for the debut of the 40 Minutes of Hell ESPN documentary, and thousands of fans stayed after that team’s victory over South Carolina to watch the movie with Nolan Richardson and several former players in attendance.

These events are always fun, and the Razorbacks tend to play well (perhaps Arkansas needs to do this every game). We’ve said before that once football Signing Day ends, the rest of February works as a veritable season of basketball nostalgia in Arkansas, as fans celebrate whichever anniversary of whichever great moment comes along the calendar.

As great as all of it is, and it is, there’s also a hint of bittersweet because the number of years on these anniversaries keep rising and the trophy case stays the same. It raises the question, how much longer until Razorback fans have new things to celebrate, or are fans relegated to celebrating the same moments year after year?

I’m on record as saying the pieces are in place for a resurgence. The only question is whether or not the program will take advantage of those opportunities.

Although the team has played really good basketball the last few games, it has been incredibly frustrating watching the team blow so many chances to establish itself as an improving program instead of one which on the surface might appear to be running in place. But even though those eventually necessary wins didn’t come this season, that doesn’t mean things are stuck in neutral.

Slowly, Mike Anderson has molded the Razorback roster into his own. If you have any doubts that the program is improving, take a look at his first roster. Here’s a link. Try to look at it without laughing. And remember, Marshawn Powell tore his ACL just a couple of games into the year. Anderson may not get enough credit for winning as many games as that team did.

The roster has gotten better each season. Yes, it’s been slow and frustrating (sometimes infuriating) but it has gotten better.

And, ultimately, that’s how the program will eventually rise out of its current mediocrity. Arkansas must continue bringing in players who make the program better. The team loses five seniors after this season, and adequately replacing them – both through new players and improvement from current players – is vital. The Razorbacks can’t afford to take a step back next year.

There’s been plenty of discussion this season about how “close” Arkansas may be. Close to what, exactly, is never really established. They’re certainly not that close to being a Final Four program again. They are close to winning some of the games that they lost this year, games that would likely have cemented an NCAA Tournament berth. But regardless, “close” only matters if  “close” isn’t the destination, but merely a place along the journey to “there”.

The hope for “there” is why fans keep coming back. It’s why they watch on TV and get upset when it doesn’t materialize. That’s why attendance is actually up this season despite the growing number of disappointments over the last decade.

Even when Arkansas isn’t directly celebrating the great Razorbacks of the past, there are moments seemingly each year that temporarily revive the spirit of the program. The Kentucky game this season, Florida in 2013, Michigan in 2012, and more throughout the years serve as reminders for what the program can be, just as much as do ceremonies like the one on Saturday.

If anything else was proven this weekend, whenever the team finally makes the jump from “close” to “there”, Razorback basketball fans will be behind them 100% like nothing ever changed – even if it’s just on five days’ notice.


Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Fight and is a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.

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