When the definitive history of Razorback basketball is finally written (Dudley Dawson, are you listening?) three current Razorbacks, perhaps to the surprise of some, should play prominent roles in the chapters from 1997 to 2006. During that period Arkansas basketball fell from the high level it had reached in the late 70's and the pinnacle it achieved in the early through the mid-90's to a level that was, well, let's just say it was less than we'd all have wished it could have been.
But these three young men, Eric Ferguson, Pookie Modica and Ronnie Brewer, brought us a lot of pleasure, even in the midst of the long dry spell. They made going to the games still something to look forward to. What highlights there were during those days, the historian will say, were largely brought to us courtesy of Messrs. Ferguson, Modica and Brewer. But most importantly, through their contribution and the contributions of their teammates, the Arkansas program appears to be back on the track to prominence and most observers are confident that good times are coming. While F/M/B have sprinkled their names liberally through the record books of Hog basketball as we will explore in a moment, what really sets them a part is the quality of their character to borrow the words of one who would have appreciated them, to be sure.
Much longer than his daredevil darts to the basket or the sticky in-your-face defense he put on his opponent or the no-look passes that brought oohs and ahhs to the crowd I will remember Eric Ferguson in practice taking note when a teammate had been chastised by a coach for some transgression. You could bet your bottom dollar that at such times, when the next whistle blew to mark a new phase of practice Eric Ferguson would be at his teammate's side with a slap on the back (or lower) and a few encouraging words in his ear. You could count on it. My guess it that it helped more than a few teammates through some rough spots.
How many players, after being his team's primary offensive weapon during his freshman and sophomore years could go through the kind of junior year that Jonathon "Pookie" Modica endured for much of his junior year and come back for his senior year not only with that sunny smile back in place, but also noticeably determined to make this the kind of year that he had dreamed about all his life – a year in which he led his beloved Hogs back to a winning season and tournament play for the first time in too many years? As this is being written on the eve of the NCAA tournament it is still possible that even more of his dream will be achieved. But even if it's not, it's safe to say that Pookie feels a lot better about how his college career has ended.
I must admit I wasn't sure whether Ronnie Brewer's coming to the University of Arkansas would be a good thing or not. It's not that I doubted his promise as a player. Rather I feared the comparisons that might be in store for him. You see, I happen to believe that Ron Brewer Sr. is the most skilled basketball player ever to play for the University of Arkansas. When I looked at Ronnie I didn't see that same picture perfect jump shot nor the awesome body control and I thought the fans might be expecting a Ron Brewer reborn. I needn't have worried. Ronnie defused that booby trap by simply being himself and playing his game rather than trying to be Ron Jr. He simply brought scoring when it was needed, rebounding when it was needed, distributing the ball when it was needed and just generally doing everything he could to make his team as successful as it could be. The fact that fans are still keeping their fingers crosssed in the hopes that they might somehow be blessed with still another year of watching Ronnie's development says all that needs to be said about how successful he has been in playing out from under Dad's shadow.
But it's not just character attributes that set these guys apart. They're in the Hog record books as well. Eric Ferguson, in spite of team requirements necessitating that he play out of position for much of his career, finished 4th all-time in career assists, 5th in career 3-point attempts and 6th in 3-point makes, 9th in career steals and 20th in career scoring. And if statistics had been kept earlier on minutes played it's likely that Eric would have been top five in minutes played as well.
Pookie Modica claims a high position in virtually every career statistic. Going into the NCAA tournamen, Pookie ranks 11th in career scoring, 6th in career 3-point shots attempted and made, 10th in field goals attempted and 13th in field goals made and 11th in free throws attempted and 10th in free throws made.
While playing for only three years Ronnie Brewer finds himself in 15th place in scoring, 7th in steals, 11th in assists, 10th in free throws made (just ahead of Tommy Boyer) and tied for 10th place in free throws taken (with Big O). Comparisons with Ron Sr. are also interesting. Going into the NCAA Tournament Ronnie's point toal is 1402 compared with Ron's 1440. Ronnie's steals are 214 compared to Ron's 171. Ronnie has fewer shots taken and made and more free throws taken and made.
For all these reasons I hope that when the curtain goes up on the NCAA tournament in a few days there will be 5,000 or better Razorback fans cheering like crazy for their last nearby chance to see Pookie and Eric (and Ronnie?) perform. Thanks for the memories, guys. It's been good to know ya and even better to have had you as a Razorback.
A Special Tribute
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