Stephens Media had a report today on Nolan Richardson's testimony before Congress in Washington, D.C., in which he addressed hiring practices and racial discrimination in college athletics. Richardson took on his arch nemesis, Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles, and the former Hog basketball coach managed to get in some shots at current Razorback football coach Houston Nutt, who survived back-to-back losing seasons before this past year's 10-4 mark. Mainly, though, Richardson, like so many other past and current UA athletic employees (and Washington government officials, for that matter), has decided to rewrite history with some of his comments, particularly about how he handled recruiting while the NCAA investigated his program in 1996-97 and how he was "made" to recruit Arkansas products in the late 1990s, which led to big drop in fortunes from the heyday of the early to mid 1990s. What follows is our rebuttal to some of Richardson's "facts" as he presented them yesterday and reported in the Stephens story:
Nolan Richardson has selective memory. While the former University of Arkansas basketball coach did not ask for a two-year pass after the NCAA investigated his program for recruiting and academic violations for 16 months in 1996-97, he did discount his recruiting in two spring signing periods and an early period between April 1996 and June 1997 as being due to the investigation, and Dudley Dawson of HawgsIllustratec.com wrote as much.
Bald Knob 7-footer Jason Jennings was among the few "name" players Richardson could attract during that period. Ryan Humphries from Tulsa would balk at the UA's offer not once but twice, choosing Oklahoma and then transferring to Notre Dame.
I would assume when Richardson discusses being forced to recruit a "neighborhood team," he's talking about his "having" to sign Jason Gilbert and Justin Hankins. For what it's worth, both players were white All-State basketball players. But let's revisit more in depth. Richardson and Mike Anderson, his top assistant and recruiting coordinator, received quite a bit of criticism from some state sports columnists and Central Arkansas fans between 1995-98 for not offering Keith Carter from Perryville, who went on to star at Ole Miss, and Arkansas wantedAdrian Peterson out of Oak Grove to wait beyond the early signing period (Nov. 1994) to the Hogs could come back and possibly sign him the next spring. Oklahoma State snuck in and signed Peterson early, and he starred for Eddie Sutton's Cowboys for four years. Peterson was part of the AAU national championship team Arkansas Wings team in summer 1994, beating highly regarded Ron Mercer and his team in the national final on Peterson's two free throws in the final seconds.
Instead, Richardson filled his 1995 recruiting class with such JUCO "gems" as Jesse Pate, who didn't have the grades to go anywhere out of high school and fled his Florida junior college to get the necessarily transfer hours from what was then Westark in Fort Smith; Marcus Saxon, who ended up having to go to Utah State because he couldn't get in UA; and a couple of other lightly recruited junior college players, including one who didn't start on his team but won slam-dunk and 3-point shooting contests in Tulsa, to complement freshmen Pat Bradley, Derek Hood and Ali Thompson, as well as Kareem Reid, who was sitting out 1994-95 as a part-time student gaining eligibility.
So, with that apparent "ignoring" of in-state talent that went on to succeed elsewhere, Anderson and Richardson appeared to see the light, so to speak, and recruit off the 1997 Wings AAU team (which was not good nationally, compared with the program's past history), targeting Gilbert, Hankins, etc.
Gilbert and Hankins were two of TWELVE players Arkansas recruited and offered in the early signing period (Nov. 1997) for FIVE available scholarships, Chris Jeffries o Fresno, Calif., and Paris London of Memphis being a couple others. According to what another college assistant coach had been told by the UA's Anderson, the first five to take scholarships would get them.
So, guess who took the first two spots? Gilbert and Hankins, followed by Jefferies (London waited until spring for Memphis offer). Arkansas had difficult time filling those other two spots for the early period (Richardson would eventually sign Teddy Gipson, beating La. Tech for him, and in the spring beat Clemson for Brandon Dean, and make a roster spot for Mississippi prep star Alonzo Lane). So, while Richardson would like people to believe he HAD to sign Gilbert and Hankins, the fact is he couldn't recruit anybody of any note beyond Jeffries by that point. Then, to make matters worse, Jeffries would transfer to Fresno State when Little Rock's Joe Johnson was on the way.
Fans will recall the Hogs had walkons even filling key roles at times late in Richardson's tenure. The fact is, until Richardson's teams' success fell to mediocre level, Broyles didn't bother addressing him. Richardson didn't HAVE to do anything; no one MADE him recruit the "neighborhood team," as he called it. If the success of the program relied on recruiting junior college players, and his recruiting of JUCOs in fall 94/spring 95 attracted the attention of the NCAA investigative wing because of eligibility concerns, rightly or wrongly, then that's his fault, not Broyles' or the UA's.
I like Nolan a lot, but it's apparent he's as good at spinning the truth as the rest of them. -- Jim Harris