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Richardson Previews Season Finale vs. Auburn

Richardson Previews Season Finale vs. Auburn

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The following is a brief transcript of a press conference held by Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson to preview the Auburn at Arkansas game set for Sunday, March 5 at Bud Walton Arena. The Hogs and Tigers will battle at 1:05 p.m. in a game televised by CBS Sports.

Asked about Chris Walker, Arkansas’ only senior:
“Chris has done as much as any player could do. He came as a walkon. He had made his ACT score but they threw it out, disqualified him and made him take it again. He took it again and made it, becoming eligible for the second semester of his freshman year. He refused to quit. He has given every ounce he has to give. What a story, going from walkon to team captain.
“Chris isn’t a go-to guy. He was trying to do too much because he was our only senior. That’s why I didn’t start him for a while. The pressure was mounting on him and we tried to take it off. He hadn’t started until late last season. He had a good SEC Tournament and a good NCAA Tournament and that earned him a shot at starting this year. When he didn’t start, he did a good job off the bench. Now he’s back in the lineup and has responded well.
“Chris gives everything he has. He’s quiet. He’s not vocal at all. He’s a senior but it’s not his nature to be an impact guy. He has more experience than anyone on our team and that’s the value of having him for his senior season. He knows what to expect.”

Will Senior Day be important to Chris Walker?
“The last home game for a senior is always something he will remember. We’ve been fortunate. We’ve won most of our senior day games here at Arkansas. It’s the last time in the arena. It’s the last time these fans will cheer for him. Every senior hopes to go out in glory.
“My greatest regret as a coach was not playing Eric Poerschke on his senior night at Arkansas. I just forgot. I thought I had played everyone until we got into the dressing room. We weren’t winning much then and I was so focused on winning the game, I just forgot. That’s the reason I started Ken Biley in the national championship game against Duke. It was his last game. I could have been criticized for that if we had lost but for four minutes Biley got to cover Grant Hill. He will always remember that. He will be able to tell his children and his grandchildren that he started the national championship game.”

Are you still looking for Chris Walker to be a leader, a go-to guy?
“Chris just isn’t that type of guy. The leader doesn’t have to be a senior. Sometimes he is and sometimes he’s a sophomore. As good as Joe Johnson is he’s not quite a leader yet. He didn’t even join the team until late December. Everyone knows he can play and he could become a leader. Blake Eddins is our most vocal guy. He was vocal when he wasn’t playing much. We have a lot of quiet guys. It’s the nicest group I’ve ever coached. It’s also the youngest group I’ve ever had.”

Do you feel sympathy for Chris Porter?
“There are so many problems in college basketball today. First we have the ACT and SAT, which eliminate a lot of players. Gambling is a problem. I’ve been asked to serve on a committee that addresses gambling and I plan to do so. I didn’t realize it was as big a problem as it is. And, you have agents. An agent could care less about Auburn or Arkansas. He’s just looking out for himself and wants to represent the athlete. If that kid’s mother couldn’t pay her rent, it is hard to blame him for taking the money. The problem is, though, the player is penalized. What happens to the agent? I doubt Chris Porter is the only one who has ever done what he did. He’s just the one who got caught.
“Auburn is still a good team with or without Chris Porter. He was a big part of their team. T.J. Cleveland was an integral part of our team. We haven’t had him for seven games. He can take a charge and makes defensive plays that might have been the difference in a game or two. We’ve had to play without him. Auburn will play hard without Porter. They have talent. Someone will step up for them. We played UCLA in the national championship game and their best guard was injured and missed the game but their backup guard played well and they beat us.”

How about your team?
“I think Dionisio Gomez, Carl Baker and Charles Tatum are gonna be good players. I really do. I said that about Blake Eddins a long time ago. We feel good about our future. Look at Blake now and he doesn’t have much upper body strength. Our weight program will help him. When he gets stronger he will get quicker. He has a good awareness of the game. I just hope Blake won’t play this game trying to prove anything. He doesn’t need to prove he should have received a scholarship at Auburn. He got one at Arkansas. His dad tells me he thinks his son got a scholarship at the top basketball school in the country. He just needs to play. He’s a great young man. He’s not cocky. He will talk to anyone. He’s never met a stranger. He is a pleasure to coach. Everything is ‘yes sir and no sir.’
“I just want our team to keep improving. Do we want to beat Auburn? Of course we do but the key is keep improving because that can carry over into next year. There are a lot of ‘today people’ out there but you can’t always have everything today. We are building for a future. We are 14-14. That’s way below par for this program but we have a lot of puppies. Sometimes those puppies grow a lot between the end of one season and the beginning of the next one. We think they will grow a lot in the offseason. If they grow as much as we think they can, we can have some fun again next year and make coming to Fayetteville tough for people again.
“Even though we are 14-14, I told my wife the other night it’s the first time I’ve ever had a situation like this in coaching. It’s the first situation I’ve hated and enjoyed at the same time. I hate not winning but I am enjoying the progress we’re making. This group of players may be the nicest group I’ve ever coached. They are all nice to be around.”

What about Auburn?
“Auburn will come here with nothing to lose. They have great maturity as a team. The division race is over so there isn’t any pressure on them now. They went into this season with a target on after the year they had last year. We’ve been there. I know how that feels. Everyone gave their best shot against them. It’s tough to play with that target on. Kentucky has the target on but they’ve had it so long and have so many great players, it doesn’t bother them. We had to fight having that target on and still do. We’re still a flagship program even though we’re down. I want that target, though. That tells a lot about where you’ve been and what you’ve done.”

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