State of the Hogs: Big Nasty

They called him Big Nasty, but Corliss Williamson was and still is among the nicest players ever to star in an Arkansas uniform. He'll be honored Wednesday night.

I chuckled when I heard Mike Anderson talk about the way Corliss Williamson was raised by his parents, Jerry and Betty Williamson. It reminded me of my favorite story on the nation's best high school player of 1992.

Actually, I'm not sure when this anecdote originated. It might have been during the Big Nasty's sophomore or junior seasons at Russellville High School. I do remember when I heard it first, the fall of 1992 after Williamson had enrolled at Arkansas.

That was before Williamson's freshman season at Arkansas, actually before basketball practices had begun. Williamson met me outside Nolan Richardson's office at Barnhill. We stepped up a ramp and sat down in the bleacher seats high above the court in Barnhill for a 30-minute talk.

One of the first admissions by Corliss had to do with the influence of his parents where academics came into play. He told the story about missing a basketball game early in his high school career because he failed to meet the academic standards set by Jerry and Betty.

“I made a B,” Corliss said. “So they told me I'd have to miss games until I got it back up to an A. The high school coach went to see my mom and dad. He was pleading with them. I met the school standards. But I didn't do what my parents thought was good enough.”

So what happened?

“My coach talked to the teacher to find out what I needed. I did some extra work to prove that I was on track for an A on the next grading track. That satisfied my parents. I missed one game. It was kind of funny. My coach, my teammates and about everyone in town was pleading with my parents to let me play. They finally did, after I got the message.”

I've never met a more polite UA athlete. Corliss was something special in all ways.

One of my favorite features in Hawgs Illustrated came in the fall before the junior year for Williamson and best friend Scotty Thurman. I gave the two roommates a tape recorder. They interviewed themselves. It was priceless. I wish I had been in the room with them, but the tape was good enough. It became a cover story, perhaps one of our best ever in the magazine's 24 years.

They covered such topics as what they would do if they became czar of the basketball world. I think they would have changed the menu in the dorm, among other things. I think Scotty was going to make baskets worth four points had they been from halfcourt. He would have made his share.

One of my favorite cover shoots came that first fall with Williamson and a great recruiting class that included Thurman, Corey Beck, Dwight Stewart, Roger Crawford and Craig Tyson. Only Tyson busted.

We took those six players to the construction site at Bud Walton Arena. It would be ready 12 months later. There was no roof, but the concrete risers for the upper deck were taking shape. Cranes were everywhere. Workers buzzed about as we walked down the ramp to the bottom level. We had a basketball. Beck was bouncing it on the concrete floor.

I'll never forget a worker, with sagging britches walking past us as we positioned for the cover shot. He said, “Guys, sorry, it's going to be a bit before we put up a goal. Come back in a few weeks and we'll have something ready for you to practice with.”

On cue, Corliss said, “Thank you, sir.” Jerry and Betty would have been proud.

The cover shot included the players wearing construction hard hats. The cover had a yellow ribbon across the middle, with repeated words, "Dynasty Under Construction." It turned out to be appropriate and one of our best covers.

Generally, Corliss didn't say much. He'd let Thurman or Beck be the spokesman. Quiet was his middle name.

But never did a big man arrive at Arkansas with a more polished game. He was as smooth as any inside man with a variety of low post moves. He was as good with the left and his dominant hand, the right.

“He was nimble and quick,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said this week when asked about the things that stood out about Williamson when he was recruiting him.

“And, he was the number one player in the state. He was big and physical. He'd been breaking back boards since his junior high days. But he was very smooth, too. He fit perfectly in the way we played, up and down the court.”

Williamson will be on hand Wednesday night when the red-hot Razorbacks play host to Missorui at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Walton Arena. His jersey will be displayed in the rafters, alongside the one belonging to Sidney Moncrief two weeks ago.

It should be a wonderful night. Williamson is the same humble person that arrived on campus in 1992. Maybe Big Nasty was an appropriate nickname for the way he played, but there's never been an Arkansas player treat others with more genuine respect.

I understood when players told the stories of Beck punching Williamson right in the chest to fire him up before games. Maybe that's about the only way to turn him into Big Nasty. Otherwise, he might just thank the other team for letting him play.

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