You can’t possibly expect me to stick to a single topic today with the NCAA Tournament going on and with our staff’s transition from basketball to outdoor sports.
That’s my excuse anyway for a segmented version of our weekly rendezvous.
STATE CHAMPIONS SPREAD OUT
I’m not sure about you, but I enjoy it when the high school champions return home from Hot Springs with their plaques toward different parts of Arkansas rather than clustered in one area.
We certainly saw that in high school basketball following the state finals at Bank OZK Arena. Northwest Arkansas was represented by the Farmington girls and the River Valley by the Greenwood girls and County Line boys.
Northeast Arkansas welcomed home Manila and three-time defending boys state champion Jonesboro, which captured the 6A title in its first attempt. Central Arkansas was represented by the Conway girls and Little Rock Christian boys while the Pine Bluff boys brought a state title back to southeast Arkansas. North-Central Arkansas came in surprisingly strong with the Salem girls, Mammoth Springs girls and Mount Vernon-Enola girls all returning to the hills with championship plaques.
The basketball results contrast greatly from football last fall when Little Rock area teams Bryant, Pulaski Academy, Little Rock Parkview and Malvern all won state championships. The outliers were in the lower classifications with Charleston in Class 3A, Hazen Class 2A, and Izard County in 8-man football.
There are plenty of ways to lose a game and Memphis lost in the worst possible way with a meltdown late Friday night in the NCAA Tournament.
Florida Atlantic won its first game in tournament history when Nicholas Boyd made a layup with 2.5 seconds left to eliminate the Tigers, 66-65. Memphis coach Penny Hardaway chucked his water bottle in frustration when a jump ball was called instead of a timeout being granted to the Tigers during a late scramble on the floor. But Hardaway’s frustration should’ve been directed at himself and his players, who came off the court in the final minutes arguing and pointing fingers at one another.
One player was so disruptive the CBS cameras followed him for several minutes while Hardaway and others tried to calm him down. Coaches at every level — from pee wee to the NBA — can rewind the tape of the final minutes from the Memphis game on how a team that should’ve won can lose a game.
The Tigers, who won 26 games this season, were ousted from one of the biggest stages in sports because they could not contain their emotions when it was needed the most.
TROUBLED TIMES FOR ASU
No one was surprised last week when Arkansas State fired basketball coach Mike Balado after the buyout from his contract dropped in half — from $350,000 to $187,500.
It was a decision that had to be made and there may be other moves initiated by ASU Athletic Director Jeff Purinton, who was hired less than a year ago from the athletic department at the University of Alabama. The search for a new basketball coach has already begun.
Arkansas State’s sports programs have in a free fall from just a few years ago when its football teams won or shared six Sun Belt Conference championships from 2004-2016.
How bad has it been?
A report in College Football News revealed Arkansas State had the second-worst combined records in football and basketball for the 2022-2023 season. The University of California had the worst season (4-8 for football and 3-29 for basketball) followed by Arkansas State (3-9 football, 13-20 basketball) and South Florida (1-11 football, 14-18 basketball). Adding to ASU’s misery, freshman starting guard Terrance Ford placed his name in the transfer portal.
Oh, and Arkansas State hasn’t had a winning season in baseball since 2014 when it finished 32-27 overall.
Purinton has plenty of work to do and it remains questionable whether Arkansas State can even put a decent team on the field when the Red Wolves face the Razorbacks at War Memorial Stadium on Sept. 6, 2025.
THESE 3 ARE NOT LIKE THE OTHER
The three standout freshmen on Arkansas’ basketball team this season reminds me of the 1998-1999 team that included freshmen stars Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, and Oliver Miller.
Day, Mayberry, and Miller played prominent roles as first-year varsity players for an Arkansas team that went 25-7, including a dynamic 120-101 victory over Loyola Marymount in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The three returned the next year when Arkansas won 30 of 35 games and advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.
But Razorback fans slobbering at the thought of Anthony Black, Nick Smith and Jordan Walsh returning intact for a run at a national championship next season will be disappointed. Black and Smith are surely gone as projected NBA draft picks and, maybe, Walsh as well. It’s just a different era, folks, where fans must learn to appreciate the really good ones while they’re here and wish them well when they leave.