FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. –-Arkansas’ 1994 men’s basketball national championship team is going to be honored by the university the weekend of the March 1 Georgia basketball game.
The festivities get under way on Saturday, Feb. 28,with a reception and banquet. Ticketshave initially been madeavailable to Razorback Foundation members. Should tickets remain after the initial offering, they will be made available to the general public.On Sunday, March 1, the Razorbacks play host to Georgia at 3:05 p.m. in a game televised by Raycom Sports. Arena doors will open at noon. From noon until 2 p.m., the coaches and players from the 1994 team will sign autographs at tables in the concourse. Commemorative posters will be given to the first 10,000 fans through the doors. Also beginning at noon, the 1994 championship game will be played in its entirety on the video board in the arena and on monitors through the concourse. At halftime, the team will be recognized on the court.
Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Jeff Long, head coach John Pelphrey and former head coach Nolan Richardson met with the media on Friday to discuss the activities. Following is a partial transcript of the press conference.
“In addition to the tribute dinner on Feb. 28, we encourage our fans to attend the March 1 game against Georgia. It starts at 3:05 and we do have single-game tickets available. Fans who can’t attend the dinner can certainly attend the game. We have a number of activities surrounding the game itself. We’ll open the doors at noon, and from noon until two, Coach Richardson and the student-athletes who are back will be available for autographs on the concourse. In addition we’ll be distributing posters to the first 10,000 fans who attend the game, so get there early. The coaches and team will be honored at halftime of the game.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to honor the past. We’re focused today on recognizing the past, but we’re also focused on the great future that is ahead for Razorback basketball. John Pelphrey has his young team playing extremely hard. They are growing and developing with each game. It is going to be exciting to watch them not only this season, but in the upcoming seasons as well.”
“For me, it is a privilege and an honor to be at a place like Arkansas. To be here today with Coach, our greatest coach in the history of the school, he coached the greatest team in the history of the school and I had a chance to watch him be inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame. From a playing standpoint, in my days when I had the chance to play against the Razorbacks, it was very, very difficult. There was a little bit of fear of what might happen if you didn’t play hard. I’ll never forget, as a young assistant coach and we had our second team at Florida with Jason Williams and (head coach) Billy (Dovovan) was trying to establish his style of play and tradition of winning. Somebody asked Coach Richardson if he was worried about Florida coming in here and pressing. He said ‘Nobody comes in here and presses us,’ and he was exactly right.
“I have a tremendous about of admiration and respect for him as a coach. I’m very, very thankful for all his hard work and for taking Arkansas to another level. In loving history and loving tradition, and being so proud to be a Razorback, we all have our own unique style. When playing against Coach Richardson’s teams, there is nothing like it. You can not understand how hard they play, the passion and energy and the discipline to do it over and over and over again. There are a lot of people who want to press, run and be tough, but I don’t know if anyone can duplicate it.
“It’s a privilege and honor for me to be here today. Congratulations to you, Coach.”
“In my short time here as athletic director, I’m coming up on one year, one of the true honors and privileges I’ve had was going to the Hall of Fame ceremony to see Coach Richardson inducted. Being inducted at all is a wonderful honor, but to be inducted in the third class should send a strong message to everyone the incredible record Coach Richardson has. I get chills down my spine thinking about that ceremony and being there. Coach Richardson did a wonderful job representing all of us and Arkansas basketball.
“To very briefly highlight some of his accomplishments, he is the only coach in college basketball to have won a national junior college championship, a post-season NIT championship and obviously the ultimate, the NCAA championship in 1994. He holds the school record for wins with 389, which John Pelphrey is pursuing. He led Arkansas to an incredible 13 NCAA Tournaments. He went to the Sweet 16 six times, led us to four Elite Eight appearances, three Final Four appearances, two national title game appearances and the ultimate, the NCAA championship in 1994.
“We are tremendously proud of Coach Richardson and we are thrilled to be welcoming back his incredible team and look forward to honoring them on Feb. 28 and March 1.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been on this campus and a long time since I’ve been in this room, but it still remains the same in my heart. I am very proud and very honored that Athletic Director Jeff Long and basketball coach John Pelphrey are welcoming me back along with my team. I always said to our players that you will love things more when it’s over than when it’s happening.
“There’s something about winning the national championship that keeps these guys connected. Everybody that was involved is connected.
“John does not remember that we were more afraid than they remember. I always say, ‘never let them see you sweat and pretend that you are better than you are.’
“John was a tremendous basketball player. He played for Eddie Sutton and Rick Pitino, and I have tremendous respect for both of those guys. To watch this young man develop and watch his team play, I feel the program is in good hands. He just needs time. Time is something most fans don’t have and coaches don’t have much of.
“The athletic director and I had a chance to meet a couple of months ago. I was very impressed. I was very honored that we were able to sit down and have a nice visit talking about the university, football, basketball, whatever. He can lead us to bigger and better things. That’s the key.
“Will John be able to take the program on? I’m sure he will.
“I am honored to be here and I’m sure our players will be happy to come back again and call this home.”
Questions to Nolan Richardson:
Did you ever feel you would be welcomed back?
“When we met and Jeff explained to me what he wanted to happen, I thought at that point, everything was okay. I never say never, but I thought everything was okay. Jeff was willing to step out there. That’s what I thought about. Knowing the feeling some people have about my departure from the university, he could have just gone on and everything would have been okay. I admire people who have guts. I admire them. Jeff, doing what he did, showed me something different. It’s time.”
How has your relationship been with former coach Stan Heath and now with John Pelphrey?
“I’m not that involved. When Stan came, I had conversations with him. He called me and we visited. We talked about whatever I could do to help. When John first took the job, he called me. I told him to coach and be yourself.”
What was your feeling driving up to the arena and walking in?
“I felt proud. I tell everybody this is the most beautiful facility in America. There is no wasted space. As far as I am concerned, there are no greater fans than Razorback fans. To drive in and come into the building, and you know in your heart how it got here, is a great feeling.
“There are some changes. His (Pelphrey) office is a lot better than mine, but that always happens. The next guy gets it better.”
What players have you talked to?
“I’ve talked to Al Dillard. I’ve talked to Scotty (Thurman) and Corliss (Williamson). I see Clint (McDaniel) from time to time. I’ve seen (Ken) Biley. It’s not just about those guys. The Lee Mayberrys, Todd Days and Oliver Millers – they were with me in the summer and they were disturbed that this had not happened. The healing process is the important thing. I hurt because I didn’t want them to hurt because of me. I have been blessed by the good Lord. That (College Basketball) Hall of Fame was my eighth one, so it’s not about me, but honor the players. The gap was pretty big. Let’s bridge that thing.”
Will you attend games?
“It’s a healing process. John Pelphrey is a great young man. I had no problem with Stan Heath. I have no problem with coaches. I know what they have to go through. There is no question that I will be at some games. I thank Jeff for getting me out of my area to bring me back.”
Question for John Pelphrey:
What does it mean to have Coach Richardson and the 1994 team recognized?
“I love history and I know what it meant to me as a player at Kentucky. One of the first calls I made, I asked Terry if I could call Coach Richardson. I got his voice mail and I was scared to death. I’ll never forget the first time I walked into the office. I was afraid he was going to jump out of one of the corners, and start pressing and trapping me. I’m very humbled by this and proud to be a part of it.
“I know we also have a chance to have success because of what he did.”
Question for Jeff Long:
What does it mean to have Coach Richardson and the 1994 team recognized?
“I think it’s very important for future and past student-athletes. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew a little about Coach Richardson and his departure. I found somebody totally different from watching on television. I found he was beloved by all in the department and in talking to many, many fans. The first thing that struck me is that it’s time to reach out and recognize their accomplishments. When we had lunch that day, the first thing Coach said to me was ‘I’ll be there.’ I’m really excited to bring Coach back and have his team here.”