You may not have noticed him yet – after all, no points in only three games played is hardly an eye-catching performance – but the addition of sophomore guard Stephen Cox to this year’s basketball team has our staff of walk-on historians abuzzing. Decked out in horn-rimmed glasses and tweed jackets with suede elbow patches, these men like nothing more than to down several glasses of brandy and discuss the careers of Guy Whitney, Reggie Merritt and the like until the wee hours, all the while thoughtfully stroking their goatees.
Only time will tell what place Mr. Cox will ultimately have in their conversations, but with it being sort of a slow news week as we await the start of conference play, we thought we would take a moment to give some Razorback basketball walk-ons their day in the sun (if that’s what you can call being discussed on an obscure blog). Without further ado:
Greatest Walk-On: Eugene Nash, a guard who played for Eddie Sutton from 1978 to 1982. Eugene wasn’t the best player who walked on (more on that in a sec), but he gets this nod because he fulfilled the walk-on’s typical role – that of human victory cigar – like no other. In my years of following Hog hoops, I’ve never seen the fans cotton to a walk-on the way they did to Nash. The waning minutes of blowout wins were inevitably accompanied by the booming crowd chants of “Eu-GENE! Eu-GENE! Eu-GENE!” (At an early 1980s game in Little Rock’s Barton Coliseum, the fans were chanting that when the PA man announced – in a somewhat huffy tone – “Please stop chanting, ‘Eugene, Eugene.’ Mr. Nash is sick tonight and is at the team hotel.”)
Eugene’s greatest moment came when he stole the ball, sprinted the length of the court and electrified the crowd with a slam dunk. I remember hearing that t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Eugene, Eugene, the dunking machine!” were spotted on the UA campus in the days afterwards.
Best Players Who Walked-On: Ernie Murray and Chris Walker. Murray, the pride of Wabbaseka, was a guard on Nolan Richardson’s 1989-90 and 1990-91 teams. I’ve searched in vain for his career stats, but, suffice to say, he seemingly came out of nowhere to play not-insignificant roles on teams that reached the Final Four and the Elite Eight. My best memory of Murray was his completion of a crucial four-point play in the Hogs’ thrilling 103-96 overtime victory over the Texas Longhorns in Austin in February 1990 (the game in which Lee Mayberry ended regulation with a game-tying, 30 ft. three-pointer, much to broadcaster Cheryl Miller’s dismay).
Walker was a guard/forward who played from 1996 to 2000 and was a starter on the 2000 SEC Tournament championship team. According to this year’s media guide, he also scored 22 points in the Hogs’ 1999 second-round NCAA loss to Iowa. (Note: I’m pretty sure that, after his first season or two, Walker was on scholarship.)
Another walk-on who garnered scholarship-like playing time was Scott Rose, who straddled the Sutton-Richardson eras in the mid-1980s. I’m sure he tried his best, but his knack for turnovers and out-of-control play didn’t exactly endear him to the Razorback faithful. I remember watching a game with friend of my family who, exasperated by his play, shouted, “Does Rose have incriminating photos of Coach Sutton or something?”
Most High-Profile Post-Razorback Career: Jimmy Dykes. After riding some serious pine for Eddie Sutton from 1981 to 1984 (and sporting a very Sutton-like ‘fro), Dykes has fashioned a successful career as a color commentator for ESPN’s and ABC’s college basketball broadcasts and as a sideline reporter for ESPN’s college football broadcasts. Before being bit by the television bug, he was a member of Sutton’s staffs at Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State, and also served as an assistant at Arkansas State and UALR.
Feel free to post your memories of this admittedly insanely obscure topic in the comments thread. Our gang of historians is anxiously standing by.
(more at www.razorbackexpats.com)