If we can’t watch sports thanks to the necessary restrictions we are facing in an attempt to flatten the COVID-19 infection curve, we can at least fantasize and speculate about sports.
The Arkansas Razorback Men’s Basketball Facebook page issued a fun challenge to fans Monday splitting 18 Razorback basketball greats onto two teams and asking fans to post which players would be in their starting five for each team.
It’s a fun exercise, especially for a longtime observer like me.
Team Corliss consisted of power forward Corliss Williamson, point forward Joe Johnson, combo guard Lee Mayberry, center Oliver Miller, power forward Daniel Gafford, guard Alvin Robertson, point guard Corey Beck, guard Darrell Walker and shooting guard Pat Bradley.
Team Sidney included guard/forward Sidney Moncrief, power forward Bobby Portis, wing Todd Day, center Joe Kleine, shooting guard Ron Brewer, combo guard Marvin Delph, wing Scotty Thurman, wing Ronnie Brewer, and wing Michael Qualls.
Really it’s two outstanding lists of players. Certainly, there are a lot of great Razorback players that were not included. If I could add a player to each roster, I’d place power forward/center Scott Hastings on Team Corliss and point guard Kareem Reid on Team Sidney.
When I’m thinking about these teams, I’m considering how they played in college and not in the pros. For example, in the NBA, Joe Johnson became known as a professional scorer, but in his two years with the Hogs, he scored, but really was more of a facilitator as a point forward.
Again, all these men were fantastic players for the Hogs, but when I look at the rosters, I think Team Corliss is a little more well rounded when you think of the traditional five basketball positions.
With Team Sidney, I see a potential ball-handling weakness. That’s why I would plug Kareem Reid into that squad if I could add a player.
While Hastings was known as sort of a bruiser in the NBA, for the Razorbacks, he was a skilled big man at 6-10 who also had an excellent outside touch.
So, who would I start?
With Team Corliss, I have to begin with the Big Nasty on the low post. Williamson’s strength and quickness made him tough to stop down low as he muscled most forwards and out-quicked most centers of his day.
Next, I’m going with Oliver Miller. Big O had the sweetest pair of hands off any Arkansas big man, and he was a great passer. The Hogs actually ran their offense through him at the low post, and there’s never been a Razorback big that was better at passing out of a double team. I would have loved to have seen Big O and Big Nasty work a high-low game together.
I’m tempted to plug 6-10 Daniel Gafford into the mix, and let him and Miller swat everything away on defense and let the El Dorado native clean up any misses on the backside, but I think it would be more prudent to bring him off the bench when Corliss or Big O needed a blow.
Joining Miller and Williamson in the starting lineup would be guards Joe Johnson, Lee Mayberry, and Alvin Robertson. Even though he’s the tallest of the trio at 6-7, Johnson would be my point guard/forward on offense. He was smooth and had excellent vision with his height allowing him to survey the entire floor to set up teammates. His height would allow him to outbound his matchup in most instances.
Mayberry, too, was a smooth operator with a great first step and nice jump stop, but he also had range and was a tremendous clutch shooter. He was also a fine on-the-ball defender with super quick hands.
Alvin Robertson might have been the best athlete to ever play for the basketball Hogs. In my opinion, it’s between him and Gafford. Robertson is right up there with the toughest Razorbacks, and from stories I’ve heard that I can’t repeat, he definitely was the meanest. Robertson was a bad man, and a great defender. Strong enough to battle with the biggest of the bigs, and super quick, too.
Two other very tough defenders and men, Darell Walker and Corey Beck, would come off the bench. Walker was an exceptional pick pocket and knew no fear. Likewise Beck was a physical defender, a good shooter with a nice handle, and efficient passing skills. He was also an excellent leader. Beck would see a lot of time at the point with this squad.
If you wanted to smother a team in the backcourt, any combination of Walker, Beck, Robertson, and Mayberry could make it happen.
Pat Bradley is simply one of the best shooters to ever play for Arkansas, and he was a better team defender and passer than he was often given credit for. His zone-busting skills would make sure the floor would remain open for bigs like Miller, Williamson, and Gafford to do their thing.
Team Sidney is a bit more difficult for me. There are fantastic players on this team. Some of the best guards and wings to ever play for Arkansas, but there is not a true point guard in the bunch.
If the Triplets — Moncrief, Marvin Delph, and Ron Brewer — had a weakness, it was ball handling. All were 6-4 and had played center in high school before coming to the UA. In 1977, their 26-1 team lost the opening game in a then 32-team NCAA Tournament to Wake Forrest, 86-80. Arkansas built a big first-half lead, but the Demon Deacons pressed them into submission in the second half.
As a senior, Moncrief did everything for his squad that made it to the Elite Eight before falling to then undefeated Indiana State and their star Larry Bird in a fantastic game that went down to the wire. The game is worth watching on YouTube.
I’d likely start a three-guard lineup with Moncrief, Delph, and Brewer and let them divide the play-making duties.
All three were tenacious defenders. Head coach Eddie Sutton would have it no other way, but Moncrief was so intense and tough that he set a tone for the Razorbacks like no other player in school history.
At 6-4, Moncrief remains the Hogs’ all-time leading rebounder, and the second-leading scorer. His first three seasons, he roamed the baseline and ate teams alive inside. As a senior he became a better outside shooter and ball handler.
But take nothing away from Delph and Brewer. They are all-time greats, too, offensively and defensively. By those that remember, Delph is considered the best outside shooter in Razorback history. Sports Illustrated named his jump shot the best in the college game his senior year. Yes, better than Birds’. There is no telling how many points he would have scored if there had been a 3-point line when he played.
Brewer was like a cross between Delph and Moncrief. He was a better outside shooter than Sidney, and was better at going to the hole than Marvin. He was thin, but still a very physical player that was all elbows and knees when he went to the basket.
As great as they were individually, there was some true basketball harmony going on when they played together, so Delph, Brewer, and Moncrief would be my starting backcourt for Team Sidney.
In the middle, would be 6-11 Joe Kleine. Smoking Joe from Slater, Mo. was big, strong, and tough for the Hogs with a great pair of hands. He was a fine rebounder and scorer. He knew how to take advantage of the free-throw line. I loved watching him battle with Hakeem Olajuwon of Houston and John Koncak of SMU. Kleine had a great head fake, and he did yeoman’s work his senior year playing with a team full of inexperienced guards. He showed what kind of leader he was when Eddie Sutton left for (crawled to) Kentucky when he said something to the effect that “Razorback basketball is greater than any one person, even Eddie Sutton.”
At the forward spot, I’d ride with Bobby Portis. His quickness and intensity would complement Kleine perfectly and fit right in with the Triplets.
That would leave 6-6 forward Todd Day, 6-5 swingman Michael Qualls, 6-6 swingman Scotty Thurman, and 6-7 guard Ronnie Brewer coming off the bench.
Day was fearless. How many other folks do you know that would challenge Larry Johnson physically? He’d offer instant offense shooting threes from range and going to the hole. His quick hands and long wingspan allowed him to make a lot of deflections on defense, too.
While I wouldn’t start Thurman over any of the Triplets. Scotty was money from the time he first stepped on the floor as a freshman, stunning Missouri and Arizona with 30 point nights to let everyone know the Hogs were for real in 1993. He was a clutch player in every way as his 3-pointer that broke a 70-70 tie against Duke late in the Razorbacks’ 1994 national championship victory proved.
Ronnie Brewer would likely see some time at the point, off-guard, and wing on this squad. I could see him manning the point if Delph or Moncrief weren’t on the floor, or if Moncrief wanted to play the baseline.
Michael Qualls’ athletic ability would allow him to mix in well with this group, especially in transition. His killer, final-second, put-back slam dunk to beat Kentucky in 2015 stands only behind Thurman’s shot against Duke and U.S. Reed’s three-quarter court shot to defeat Louisville in the NCAA Tournament as the top highlight in the annals of Razorback basketball history.
If these two squad played a five- or seven-game series, I’m not sure how it would turn out. I do think Team Corliss is more well-rounded traditionally and might have better defensive depth.
However, you can’t count out the grittiness of players like Moncrief, Delph, Brewer, and Portis as well as the shear scoring potential of a team with Day, Kleine, and Thurman.
It’s too close and too hard to call for a fan like me who so enjoyed watching all of these guys play.