State Of The Hogs: 'Pookie'

FAYETTEVILLE -- Got a call from my good friend Lynn Bradley earlier this week. He's the South Arkansas native who befriended Jonathon "Pookie" Modica many years ago and has watched over him like a Godfather the last few years.

"Pookie was crying on the phone last night when he told me about how he felt on going to the NCAA Tournament," Bradley said. "Crying for joy. They had done it. Done what he came here to do, get Arkansas back on the basketball map, back where it belonged."

Yep, that's our Pookie.

Some might think of Modica as the man with the quick trigger on his 3-point shot, an offense-first guy with an eye on the scoreboard to see how many points are beside his number.

I will give it to you that the man has some offensive game. He is a pure scorer. He's got that mentality for sure. He can get on an offensive roll with the best in Razorback history.

But that's not the way I'll remember Pookie. Sorry, but I may tear up before finishing this. He'll always be special in my eyes, an emotion-filled basketball player who brought such energy and life everywhere he went.

Part of it is Pookie's eyes, always with a sparkle. I'll always remember his smile, the engaging personality that accompanied him every step of his four years at Arkansas.

I will never forget my first real interview with Pookie. It took place in the basketball offices, in the staff film room. We sat and talked for two hours. It had been setup for 20 minutes, but neither one of us wanted it to end.

Pookie told me about the house he lived in with his mother as a pre-schooler, one with a dirt floor. I figured out quickly that Pookie made it to the UA the hard way. He did it with hard work and a never-say-die attitude. And, he never forgot where he came from, those Smackover roots.

Proud is the best description I hang on Pookie. Special is an over-used word, but it fits perfectly, too.

I asked Pookie last week what he'll remember about his time at Arkansas. He didn't hesitate and didn't fumble for words.

"Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful," Pookie said. "My only regret is that it was too short. I loved every second of it, being a Razorback, representing my state and a great, great institution. I've known for awhile that my days as a Razorback were getting shorter and it makes me sad. I've known for a few months that I was only going to wear this jersey with Arkansas Razorback on it for a little bit longer and that's tough."

Those words came just a few days removed from a remarkable senior night experience for Pookie. He exploded for six straight 3-point baskets to help the Hogs outlast a good effort from Mississippi State.

"What a great way to finish my Bud Walton Arena career," Pookie said. "I'll never forget it. It can't get any better than that."

The last of those 3-point shots banked off the glass. Pookie dinged his Achilles' tendon on the next trip and had to leave the game for a few minutes. He returned, but limped to the end of the game unable to really contribute in typical fashion. But he wasn't going to leave until Stan Heath called timeout in the closing seconds to remove the seniors one by one to the ovations of the partisan crowd.

"I think the Man upstairs put that last three in the basket, the one that banked," Pookie said after the game. "It was unreal. I don't know if I deserved that one."

Yep, you deserved it. You deserved better than you got most of the way at Arkansas and you for sure deserved at least one lucky break. When I asked Pookie how he would remember his time at Arkansas, I promised him I'd wait a few weeks to tell him how I'd remember it. I didn't want it to get too mushy with his teammates and coaches nearby.

I figure he won't see this until the games in Dallas are over and it won't screw him up too badly this weekend to write it at this point.

There have been some special players in my viewpoint over the 30 years I've been covering the Hogs. I've always put Marvin Delph at the top of my list of favorites. I covered "The Dipper" as a young sports editor in Conway during his time with the Hogs. Marvin would phone me each morning to give me his thoughts on the previous night's game as the Hogs roared to the '78 Final Four. I loved it and him because it wasn't something he had to do.

Marvin had that same engaging personality, the same sparkle in his eyes and the same bright smile as Pookie. He was the Pied Piper of Conway. Kids followed his every move as a Razorback. I don't know if anyone signed as many autographs as Marvin during his time as a Razorback. Pookie is just like him.

Pookie, my man, I'll put you right beside Marvin in my book of personal favorites. That's on the first page at the top of the list, dead even with The Dipper.

I've enjoyed the ride, Pookie. I've enjoyed getting to know you and watching you play the game you love for the school you love.

I've got two final instructions. First, this calling me Mr. Henry at the start of every sentence is getting kinda old. Marvin called me by my first name those many years ago, and you can, too. I know you do it out of respect, but let me tell you that the respect goes both ways.

And, this final thought -- give 'em heck in Dallas. Enjoy your last days as a Razorback and may they last a few more weeks.

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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