Jim Harris: Home-Grown Talent Can Make Razorbacks Roll Again


Talent Can Make Razorbacks Roll Again

Two-thirds of the Arkansas Razorbacks famed “Triplets,” Ron Brewer and Marvin DelphSidney Moncrief was elsewhere — were on hand Monday in Conway when North Little Rock and Bentonville drew a full house to a 3,500-seat high school gymnasium for a Class 7A semifinal basketball matchup.

That’s fitting, because exactly 40 years ago, Brewer and Delph were, in my memory, the first two players, on two incredibly gifted and well-coached teams, to draw a turn-away crowd for a high school basketball showdown in a large arena.

Brewer, leading a 30-0 Fort Smith Northside team, and Delph, the straw stirring the drink of a 31-0 Conway club, drew what was estimated by the Arkansas Gazette at the time as 8,000 fans to Barton Coliseum, back when the Arkansas Activities Association brought all the classification winners together for an Overall state championship. My father took me and my brother to the colossal matchup; we managed to arrive just in time to squeeze into three seats in the south “end zone” of the arena.

Barton Coliseum was darker and dingier back then, the lighting was poor and most teams found the shooting backdrop difficult. Only the sides of the coliseum had chair-back seating. The end zones were like sitting on a bench. Remember, too, that University of Arkansas basketball meant very little outside of Fayetteville (and barely mattered there either, such as when Martin Terry was occasionally tossing in 40-something points in 1972-73). The Hogs hadn’t been to an NCAA Tournament since 1958. A game earlier that same year between the Razorbacks and eventual national runner-up Memphis State drew about 400 people to Barton, and the Hogs even nearly upset the Tigers.

The best players in Arkansas then left the state for Memphis State (Dexter Reed of Little Rock Parkview), Baylor (Danny McDaniel from Little Rock Central), Middle Tennessee (Fred Allen from Central), Louisiana Tech (Lanky Wells), California (Jackie Ridgle out of Altheimer) and even Albany, Ga., State (Major Jones and his brothers from Desha Central).

Moncrief was just a junior; his talented and fast Little Rock Hall team was a two-time victim to Northside, coached by the defensive-minded Gayle Kaundart. Brewer was the big deal for the Grizzlies, but John Raybon was another standout athlete for that team. Conway, meanwhile, was loaded not unlike North Little Rock these days: Along with the senior Delph, sophomores Lawson Pilgrim and Austin Sullivan were getting lots of notice. Senior guard Hal Crafton was a steady hand.

Delph had pretty much single-handedly saved Conway in its Class AAA state tournament when the Wampus Cats trailed Hot Springs by eight points in the final moments; he was that kind of difference maker. Hog fans would know of him as a long-range gunner (oh, if only they had a 3-point shot back then), but Delph for Conway was like Michael Jordan would be years later for North Carolina and the Chicago Bulls. Ron Brewer, meanwhile, was like another Carolina and Boston Celtics great, guard Charlie Scott. He usually didn’t score in great numbers, but he always seemed to hit just enough soft jumpers for Northside to win. And, typically, the Grizzlies didn’t give up many points with their defense and their offensive patience, so it didn’t take a lot.

The game was taut throughout to the final moments before Northside eked out a 37-32 win.

Of course, Delph would buy into what Eddie Sutton was selling when Sutton was named the new Razorback head coach later that month. Brewer needed a year at Westark, where Kaundart also would go and create a monster juco program, before joining Delph at Arkansas. Moncrief would come in 1975. They’d lead Arkansas to the Final Four in 1978 and would start the program on a run that saw it make the NCAA Tournament 22 times in 25 years.

Nobody needs reminding, especially in light of Thursday’s disastrous SEC Tournament loss to South Carolina, that the Hogs have been to the NCAA Tournament just three times in the past 13 years and haven’t made the field since 2008.

So, 40 years later, with about half the crowd that was on hand at Barton Coliseum to see them play, Delph and Brewer watched what could be the latest version of themselves: players who could make Arkansas a national player again.

North Little Rock has a bunch of them: senior point guard Anton Beard, who has signed with the Hogs; junior guard Kevaughn Allen and footballer K.J. Hill, and sophomore forward Adrian Moore.

Meanwhile, there was nobody on either side quite as dynamic as 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Malik Monk for Bentonville. Fans were still buzzing Monday about his Friday night whirling-dervish dunk against Cabot and yet another Monk video that had gone viral.

Again, he is just a SOPHOMORE. Brewer and Delph weren’t this good as sophomores. And, as great as they were, they very well may not have been this good as seniors in high school.

But Monk couldn’t do it alone, and Bentonville didn’t have enough horses to outgun North Little Rock, which won 77-64. Monk hit Bentonville’s first basket of the game, a 3-pointer, and had another 3 late in the half. He had an almost-quiet 17 points through three quarters when he suddenly got loose for back-to-back dunks to get the crowd riled. Then, as if Bentonville’s coach and fans and players all said, “Take it over, Malik,” he tried to will the Tigers back from a 20-point deficit with one of the purest outside jumpers you’ll ever see. He missed some, he made some. He finished with 31 points.

Only, Beard and Allen each tallied 28 points for the Charging Wildcats. Allen wants his shots; Beard takes what he’s given, which should be encouraging for Arkansas fans who watched all season as the Hogs struggled without a point guard who could control the game and consistently shoot.

Beard, who appears to top 6-foot now, hit 5 of 6 3-pointers. He drove inside and used a subtle forearm to create space and score. He rebounded like Cory Beck did back in the glory days. He deftly dished assists. He’s not lightning quick like Kareem Reid and not flying all over the court like Courtney Fortson, but he’s a solid player, probably deserving of more than a mere three stars and a 104 ranking by the national recruiting gurus.

Beard, who played for Class 6A Little Rock Parkview last season, came back to score a game-high 29 points on Thursday night in Hot Springs as the Wildcats defeated Springdale 89-81 for their second straight 7A state title.

Allen had 28 again on Thursday. He’s fast and exciting. He can soar at times like Monk. There is some belief, even inside the Arkansas program, we’re told, that the Hogs aren’t a player for Allen; though, has said all the right things about recruiting up to now and has included Arkansas in his list of favorites.

Beard is signed, sealed and delivered and will immediately help Arkansas’ half-court offense next season.

Mike Anderson could probably survive Allen leaving for some current basketball powerhouse, but he can’t let the likes of Monk also get away. Considering Monk’s brother, former UA wide receiver Marcus Monk, is on the Anderson staff and that Malik and his mother moved from Lepanto to Bentonville last summer, it would appear that Arkansas is legally doing whatever it can to stay in Malik Monk’s mind until he decides on a college.

When that day comes, it will be as big as the day Marvin Delph decided to buck the trend and stay home to help Eddie Sutton build the Arkansas Razorback basketball program. It reached a level under Sutton and Nolan Richardson that the current fan base longs to see it attain again. That’s unlikely to happen, though, without securing the rare kind of in-state talent that only comes around, if not every 40 years, then no more than once a generation.

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