Razorbacks Enjoying Happy Holidays

The Razorback basketball team is having a happy Christmas Day after a rousing 10-1 start to the season.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Jonathon Modica finally gets to have a Merry Christmas.

Arkansas' junior captain and shooting guard has gone home to Smackover for each of the last two seasons with little to feel good about.

By Christmas in 2002 during coach Stan Heath's first season, Arkansas was 4-4 and already owned a four-game losing streak, including a home defeat to Troy and a road loss at Oral Roberts.

Arkansas had to stew through Christmas a year ago after dropping its last game before the holidays in Bud Walton Arena to Western Carolina in overtime.

"That was horrible," Modica said. "You have that in your mind until you come back to practice."

Seeing family and friends forced him to face the same questions over and over again to point he didn't want to talk to anyone about basketball.

"It was tough," he said. "I just pretty much ignored it."

Modica and his teammates can expect a few more pats on the back when they head home at 10-1 and off to the Razorbacks' best start since the 1994-95 season with a chance to match last season's win total before the new year.

"Now, everyone is proud of us back home," Modica said. "I look forward to going home and bragging about the team."

Until recently, Modica wouldn't have been able to brag on himself much after his minutes and scoring average sunk to new lows through the first seven games of the year.

Now that he's on a hot streak hitting 8 of his last 11 3-pointers and averaging 12.7 points in his last four games, Modica can hold his head up about his own game, too.

He shrugged and exhaled mightily, rolling his eyes in relief.

He's glad he won't have to answer questions about where his shot had gone after averaging 16.5 points per game last year and earning All-Southeastern Conference honors.

"Yeah," he said, shaking his head and smiling. "Yes, sir."

Modica will make the 322-mile trek to southern Arkansas for Christmas, but he's got it easy compared to some of his teammates.

The 14-man Razorback roster will be traveling more than 12,000 miles -- equal to half the circumference of the Earth -- over their two-and-a-half days off for Christmas.

Freshman center Darian Townes left at 5:45 a.m. from Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport on Friday heading back to Alexandria, Va., a 2,474-mile round trip.

Townes said he looked forward to seeing the familiar Washington Monument getting closer.

"I can't wait until the minute I see the monument on whatever way I'm coming in, the (Washington) D.C. side or the Alexandria side," he said. "I haven't seen my family since August. My mom, my brother, my little nephews, cousins, my little sister, they can't wait to see me.

"It's going to be a good day. My own house, my own bed. I'll be real joyful."

Townes is taking home game tapes from his games against Tennessee State, Prairie View A&M and Lipscomb when he averaged 17 points on 23 of 34 shooting.

"I'm going to take back a couple tapes my mom hasn't gotten to see," he said. "My homeboys, too, they want to see it."

Junior guard Eric Ferguson is going back to Long Island, N.Y., for Christmas Eve and Christmas day, a round trip of 2,640 miles.

"It's like a tease to go home for that long," Ferguson said. "It's just a day and half."

Ferguson is averaging 11.4 points, leading the team in assists (4.4 per game) and is second in the SEC in assist-turnover ratio (2.6 to 1).

The best numbers of his career and the team's win total will give Ferguson reason to smile.

"It's going to be a real happy Christmas," he said. "So far the whole year has been happy for me."

Sophomore Olu Famutimi is looking forward to going back to Flint, Mich., an 1,805-mile round trip.

His family traditions include church Christmas morning and opening presents afterward.

Famutimi, like the rest of his teammates, doesn't much care what he gets this year.

"I just want to see my family," he said. "That's all. We sort of get to go home with our chest out.

"We're real confident and we're flowing, so we just want to keep that up after Christmas."

Senior Mike Jones is one of three Little Rock players on the Razorbacks roster along with freshman Sammy Muncey and sophomore Vincent Hunter.

He said he didn't have anything special on his wish list this year other than getting home.

"We're old enough to know Christmas isn't that much of a big deal," Jones said. "We're not all into Santa Claus or anything like that. At this point in time in your life, it's really just about being around your family."

Jones was worried on Tuesday about getting home with the snowfall coming that dumped six inches and forced road closings in Little Rock on Wednesday.

The prospect of sitting in Fayetteville watching the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant rivalry on Christmas day between Los Angeles and Miami didn't hold much appeal for Jones.

"I don't care if I have to drive slow and patient," Jones said. "I'm trying to get home, man. I'm not trying to get stuck here.

"You want to be around your family in the Christmas season. I'd hate to be in my apartment watching Shaq and Kobe fight with each other. I'd rather be around my family laughing and joking, talking about each other."

Junior Rashard Sullivan is from the Ft. Lauderdale-Miami area, a 3,080-mile round trip, so he'll be hanging out with Fayetteville native and teammate Ronnie Brewer on Christmas.

"One day isn't enough for me," Sullivan said. "I'm a family-oriented guy and if I'm going to see my family, it's got to be for more than one day. I have a lot of family, so going to Miami is going to take a lot more than a day to see everybody."

Modica plans to keep the spirit of Christmas alive after the Razorbacks' short break is over on Dec. 26 to begin preparing for Jacksonville State on Dec. 29 and the start of SEC play on Jan. 5 against Ole Miss in Fayetteville.

"It's a time of giving," Modica said. "And I plan on giving opponents a lot of trouble from here on out."

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