Arkansas' forgotten man
Like all Fayetteville kids with athletic ability, Fred Gulley always dreamed of playing down the street at the University of Arkansas.
As a standout at Woodland Junior High, Gulley watched his first cousin, Ronnie Brewer Jr., star for the Razorbacks three years and before that was a fan of the frenetic energy with which Nolan Richardson's teams delighted crowds.
Just steps from Bud Walton Arena at the now razed Bulldog Gymnasium, Gulley wowed college coaches from all over in high school, earning consecutive state player of the year honors and leading Fayetteville to an undefeated state championship season as a senior.
But the conditions weren't right to make the sentimental choice when it came time to pick his college destination. Despite an offer from Arkansas, Gulley chose to play basketball at Oklahoma State upon graduation in 2009. In what he expected to be his last game before the hometown crowd, Gulley scored a game-high 16 points to lead his team to a win in the state all-star game on the UA campus before packing his bags and heading west.
"Coming out of high school, there was a different coach here and it was a different situation," Gulley said. "I had the chance to come here, but I decided it would be better off for me to go somewhere else."
Gulley's career at Oklahoma State began well. He started 26 games for the Cowboys, including seven in 2010-11 before requiring a season-ending shoulder surgery. He received a medical hardship for the season and was classified a redshirt sophomore when he left Stillwater last November.
He doesn't talk much about his departure, which reports in Oklahoma indicated was due to a lack of playing time. "Sometimes as a player you have to kind of look around and do what's best for you," said Gulley, a 21-year-old redshirt junior.
He returned to Arkansas last December to mull his options. He soon found his best option was to stay.
Gulley had a prior relationship with Arkansas coach Mike Anderson. He was on the same recreational co-ed team as Anderson's daughter, Yvonne, in elementary school while Anderson was an assistant for the Razorbacks.
"We used to keep to try to keep Yvonne when we split teams," Gulley said of Anderson's daughter, who later played at the University of Texas. "She was one of our better players."
In addition to their familiarity from days gone by in Fayetteville, Anderson had recruited Gulley while head coach at Missouri. It made the dialogue between them easy when Gulley inquired about playing for the Razorbacks.
"If anyone, he knew my style of play and had seen me play probably more than most people," Gulley said. "He said I would be able to come here and help the team and fit in his system. It was a good exchange."
After enrolling in classes last January, Gulley went through the conference slate as a practice player. By enrolling mid-year, he is available now that the fall semester has ended. His first game at Arkansas will be Saturday against Alcorn State.
"When you look at our team, you don't have a lot of guys who have played a couple of years," Anderson said. "Fred has good basketball IQ. He's an instinctive guy who can touch balls and really guard, and rebound well for a guy that size.
"It's almost like he's had to reprogram himself. Now you're coming into another program and we have some players. When you're coming in and trying to fight for some of those minutes, to me, he helps bring that competition you have to have."
Gulley and Alandise Harris, who transferred to Arkansas after leading Houston in scoring last season, have inevitably formed one of the nation's top scout teams to this point in the season.
"The better the competition every day in practice, the easier it's going to make the game," Gulley said. "For us to go out there and prepare these guys for the next game, I think will help them and really help us.
"It's tough, but I know I'm preparing myself for when I get to play. When I step in, we'll kind of be in the meat of things. I have to practice every day like it's my game. When they're practicing and preparing for games, it's actually my game."
Anderson's style, based on that of his mentor Gulley loved watching as a kid, is more in line with Gulley's strengths than what he played at Oklahoma State. At Fayetteville High, Gulley's teams pressed and scored several points in transition.
"Here, we play more off instincts as to where at Oklahoma State it was more about preparation and trying to execute a game plan," Gulley said. "At Oklahoma State, we pressed up on defense, but 99 percent of the time we ran a play up and down the court. That kind of slows you down more than speeds you up.
"Whenever you change from one coach to another style, it's almost like you're a freshman all over again. I've had some experience at this level, but a new system and a new coach has different demands."
Kikko Haydar, a walk-on guard for the Razorbacks, played with Gulley in high school. Haydar was a junior Gulley's senior year and the two have known each other since competing at rival junior highs.
Haydar has been one of Gulley's best friends back in Fayetteville. Anderson said the two are "like little brothers", replicating their high school days when they spent hours before and after practice working in the gym.
"He's a tremendous defensive player and he can add a lot to our team," Haydar said. "We worked really hard together in high school; we would go into the gym at 6 a.m.
"We were close in high school and won a lot games together, and hung out a lot off the court. It's nice for me to have him back, somebody who has been through this with me before."
Gulley said he would consider himself more defensive-minded, though he admits he is likely the one who has held himself back on the offensive end of the floor. He averaged 16.7 points per game as a high school senior.
"I've spent a lot of hours working on my offensive game," Gulley said. "I have come a long ways in my offensive game. It's all a part of who you play under and what your team needs you to do.
"I'm kind of in-your-face and aggressive. I think I'm at my best in up-tempo. I like to make plays. I really like to do whatever it takes to win. If I had to describe myself in one word, I'd say a winner. I do a lot of the small things that may go unnoticed, but those are the things that it takes to win."
In some ways, Gulley is Arkansas' forgotten man - an underdog, or perhaps wild card, of sorts. For a player who has spent his entire career in the spotlight, transitioning in has been a nice transition - topped off by being home.
"I love it," Gulley said. "I would rather people expect not enough of me than too much of me. I think I'll make a good impact when I do step in.
"I'm really excited about it."
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