Evin Demirel: John Pelphrey Is Back in Arkansas


Back in Arkansas

John Pelphrey discusses new job

Visit Evin's Author PageJohn Pelphrey was not the state’s most popular man when Razorback athletic director Jeff Long fired him in 2011 after four mediocre seasons as head basketball coach. Pelphrey, though, doesn’t seem to harbor hard feelings toward his former boss or the contingent of Razorback fans who were calling for his head.

In person, he didn’t experience the kind of nastiness spewed his way on radio talk shows and on social media. “Arkansas has always been great to us,” he said. “Our experience in Arkansas was always tremendous – wonderful place, great people – treated very, very well. Have a lot of good friends and obviously we had a chance to grow and learn while we were there.”

Pelphrey returns to Fayetteville this weekend as an analyst for the SEC Network. He will call three Razorback home games starting this afternoon against Mississippi State, and said he looks forward to catching up with old friends on his swing through the area. He may also call a Hogs road game. In an interview for Arkansas Money & Politics, Pelphrey added joining the broadcast industry after 22 years in coaching has presented quite a learning curve but that he’s enjoyed the experience.

“I have the relationships within this league and all that kind of thing, but it’s still a completely new endeavor,” he said. “I got thrown in at a high level because the people around you are professionals – they’re really good, they’re talented, they’re experienced and they have been doing this for a long time. Sometimes you feel like you’re in the deep end of the pool.”

In the excerpts below, Pelphrey also shares his thoughts on the Razorback team, his alma mater Kentucky and the SEC’s outstanding class of freshmen this season.

Q: Are you surprised the Wildcats have already lost three games on the road this season?

A: No, I think every season’s different. I think everybody’s surprised for Kentucky to go 38-0 [last season], that’s like unheard of. That’s a really, really miraculous thing. I don’t think enough credit was given to being able to go 38 games in a row without losing. I think there is a lack of appreciation for it, the understanding of how many actual games in a very competitive environment. Four of those games against teams you’ve already played to win the SEC tournament, four more came in the NCAA tournament where, you know, you have to play multiple games, multiple days, different venues — it’s not your home court — I think it’s a little bit of a challenge.

And the fact that the year before, Florida didn’t lose in conference, those are amazing feats. That surprises me. What doesn’t surprise me is when teams get challenged by people on their home court. They get excited, they play well and that’s to me more the norm, but when somebody can just win every single game every time, that’s surprising.

Q: Freshman Ben Simmons obviously played a big role in LSU’s win against Kentucky. He seems to be a very uniquely talented player. Is he the most talented point forward you’ve ever seen in SEC play or is there anybody who rivals his overall ability?

A: That’s a great question. I don’t really know. He’s an unbelievably gifted player – he’s Lebron James like. I would never say that anybody’s Lebron James, just like saying anybody’s Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, but there’s a lot of things that are so easy for him on the basketball court. Versatility, his basketball acumen is outstanding — to be able to recognize situations, to be able to read people, read players, what’s needed at this moment. He’s a special, special talent.

Obviously with a lot of hard work on his behalf, an attitude of being humble and an eagerness to get better,  I would say he has an opportunity to just have a huge impact — not only at LSU but obviously playing basketball for long time.

Q: Another very talented freshman, Malik Newman, comes to Fayetteville on Saturday to play the Razorbacks. What do you expect to see in that game?

Pelphrey:  You’re going to see a style of play from Arkansas that’s going to be really aggressive, full of energy. Mike’s teams always play very well. With a very clean offense, they’re usually a high assist, low turnover team. They share the ball.

From the defensive side there’s going to be a tremendous amount of energy, especially in that building. They’re going to force you to do things that you just don’t practice every day, and you know it’s a fun and exciting style of play the Razorbacks have. Obviously Mike Anderson’s one of the best coaches in the SEC, definitely one of the best coaches in the country, and they’re all going to get better and better as this season goes along as they’re coming out of a huge win there against Vanderbilt.

I can only imagine for a weekend game it will be a great crowd as there’s excitement in the air about starting conference play. Mississippi State’s got some really talented seniors like  I.J. Ready from Little Rock [Parkview]. Those guys are really experienced — Ben Howland is a tremendous, tremendous coach. I expect a really competitive and fun day of basketball in Fayetteville.

Q: Let’s talk about another Arkansas kid, KeVaughn Allen. You know him well since he signed with the Gators while you were a coach there. Allen is coming on strong in his freshman year. Do you think he has a chance to be a “two-and-done” type player?

A: I don’t know what the time frame is, but I certainly have a high opinion of him and I think he has  high talent and has tremendous work ethic. I think it’s important to him, and I do think he’s not only going to be an outstanding player in college but he’s got a chance to play beyond going into professional ranks.

“Q”: Yeah, he’s a really impressive kid as far as his work ethic. I remember doing stories about him in tenth grade he was the one going to the gym every day at 5:00 a.m. and essentially leading a senior teammate there. It was really impressive at that age.

A : No doubt, that kid is motivated, he’s committed, he’s hardworking, he’s disciplined. He’s got a lot of core values of character that you like.

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Former Democrat-Gazette reporter Evin Demirel writes more about Arkansas basketball at BestOfArkansasSports.com.

John Pelphrey

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