State Of The Hogs

Dwight Stewart slipped into town without fanfare last week, kinda like his three-year playing career with the Arkansas basketball team.

Stewart was always the "other guy" with Corey Beck dating back to their high school days at Memphis Fairley. And that's what he was when he enrolled with Beck at Arkansas in August of 1991 after a year at South Plains, Texas, Junior College.

Stewart never made any All-SEC teams at Arkansas. All he did was help the Hogs win championships, doing the dirty work as Corliss Williamson, Scotty Thurman, Corey Beck and Clint McDaniel picked up the individual awards.

I looked through the current UA media guide looking for references to Stewart and found a few, mostly in box scores from the trips to back-to-back Final Fours in '94 and '95. He isn't listed in any of the career, season or game records or top 10 lists. The only place he's pictured besides team photos is a shot of Williamson. Stewart is in the background. Kinda appropriate.

But what he did was always important. He owns the most important assist in school history, a shovel from the top of the key to Scotty Thurman just ahead of the winning shot against Duke in the 1994 title game one of four he had in that game. The 6-9, 265-pound center-forward made 84 threes during his three years at the UA, including 11 of 15 in the first five games in the 1994 NCAA tournament. He could shoot, pass, rebound and understood how to "fix" things in Nolan Richardson's scrambling defenses. He knew when to foul and when not to foul.

Stewart, known as Big Dog by teammates, was quiet and shy during his four years at the UA. Probably because of an ever-so-slight speaking impediment, he dodged TV interviews like the plague. He didn't do many print interviews, either.

Brad Dunn, former assistant coach for Richardson and now general manager at Hawgs Illustrated, recalls the deals he made with Stewart concerning interviews. He'd tell Dwight, "Do 'em and I'll rescue you after five minutes."

Stewart was here to begin the very doable task of finishing his degree work. He's spent most of his last 10 years making a nice living playing professional basketball in Spain. Slim and trim, he's still far from retired, but knows it's time to get that degree.

"I've been around the admin building all day," Stewart said while joining Dunn at the UA-Florida baseball game Friday night. "I need 13 hours, it turns out. I'll get them. I'm hopeful some of them can be done through correspondence from Spain, but I'll get all 13."

Dunn said, "He will, too. If Dwight tells you something, you can count on it. His word always meant something."

Dunn loves Stewart. It was interesting to see the sparkle in their eyes as they hugged, talked about Dunn's young boys and then Stewart's reaction when Ryan and Alan entered the room.

"I haven't been back (to Fayetteville) in awhile, maybe 9 or 10 years," Stewart said. "This is fun. The place has changed. This baseball park is something to see and they are packing it."

Stewart proudly displayed his national title ring, one of two issued after the '94 championship. He said he's got the other one, too.

Dunn beamed when he was asked to talk about Stewart's role in the Hogs' Final Four runs.

"The big thing about Dog was that he understood how to play the game," Dunn said. "You can talk about that in easy terms, but that's a huge thing. He was the best we had at setting screens. He wasn't the most athletic player we had, but he could play defense. He didn't get beat off the dribble. He didn't play too tight, but was still able to contest shots. He got over screens. He had great hands and he could really, really shoot it.

"What he gave us was a big man who had to be covered by another big, but could take his man outside and make it hard to double Corliss down low. You left Dwight to double Corliss and it was a three. That was an important part of the way we played."

That's probably why he's still playing today. Stewart said he's playing both forward and center in Spain and still likes to drift outside for a big 3-point basket.

We talked about a lot of things the other night at the baseball park, but one of the most interesting concerned the failed attempt by USA Basketball at the Greece Olympics last summer.

"Big mistake, the way that team was put together and you could see it coming," Stewart said. "No shooters. I saw that team and knew if the rest of the world, all with good teams now, played zone that we couldn't beat them.

"We've got the most athletic players in the world, but you still have to be able to shoot. Those teams (in Europe) play all summer together after they come home from the NBA. They have played on their national teams all of their lives. They are good fundamentally and they can all shoot. We have better players, but we don't play together with our best except for three weeks. Can't be done.

"I made a lot of money with my buddies back in Memphis. I bet them as much as they wanted that we wouldn't win the gold medal in Greece. It was the easiest money I ever made. I see these players in Europe in my leagues and my tournaments. They can play."

The answer?

"We have to play in the summer with our best players," Stewart said. "You must put Shaq, Kobe and everyone on the team. Send our best, and one important thing, you must bring shooters. You have to invest something in it every summer. If you don't, then it will continue to happen. But I emphasize, fill the team with shooters."

Well, Stewart corrected himself. Shaq and Kobe probably can't be on the same team because of bad chemistry now, but you better send the best players and make sure shooters are plentiful.

"If you don't, then you are going to see zones in every game," Stewart said. "I knew if those teams played zones against us, we were beat. I guarantee all of those teams can field teams with plenty of great shooters who don't make fundamental mistakes and know how to play the game. They've got plenty of those kinds of players and real size."

Sounds like Dwight Stewart is talking about Dwight Stewart.

Anything else about Spain, Dwight?

"Don't go to the bull fights," he said. "The bull is always going to lose. They drag it out bloody and dead and then here comes another one in and he's going to lose, too."

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CLAY HENRY IS THE PUBLISHER OF HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH FRIDAY. E-MAIL: CLAY@NWAONLINE.NET

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