Charles vs. Charles

FAYETTEVILLE -- At some point tonight during the Mississippi State-Arkansas basketball game at Bud Walton Arena, likely far more than once, the two forwards named Charles will bump into one another.

And when Arkansas' Charles Thomas batters into Mississippi State's Charles Rhodes, the duo's past will not be on either player's mind.

"We're competitive," Thomas said. "We're the best of friends, but on the court, we both see red. We're cool. We're only human. But at the same time, I want to kill him."

Rhodes didn't go quite as far. But he admitted to feeling an intense sense of competition when he saw Thomas in an opponent's uniform.

"There's nothing better than beating Charles," Rhodes said.

The two natives of Jackson, Miss., and former AAU national champions on the Jackson Tigers, will rekindle their friendly rivalry again at 7:05 p.m. in Bud Walton Arena. For those two, Arkansas (16-12, 5-9) versus Mississippi State (16-11, 7-7) will mark just another moment for the two friends to compete on the basketball court.

It all started nearly a decade ago on the Jackson Tigers. That squad, with Thomas at small forward and Rhodes at power forward, possessed an inconceivable amount of talent.

The starting backcourt, Bobby Clarke and Charlie White, both played college basketball. Thomas and Rhodes went on to Southeastern Conference schools and center Al Jefferson skipped straight to the NBA after committing to Arkansas.

"By far, that was the best team I've ever coached," Jackson Tigers coach Larry Stamps said. "There was a lot of great, special talent on that team."

The pure talent wasn't what impressed Stamps the most, though. The sense of family did.

Every player felt a bond with every one of his teammates, none deeper than the friendship between Thomas and Rhodes.

"We're like brothers," Rhodes said. "And, when I mean like brothers, I mean like all the way. Like he used to stay at my house and I used to stay at his house."

Rhodes also used to wield an influence over Thomas that the Arkansas junior laughed about Monday.

"He was one of the people that always kept me in trouble," Thomas said.

Briefly, it appeared as if the two Charles' would share a high school career. Instead, they ended up as foes, like they've been ever since their senior year of high school.

During their junior years, Thomas and Rhodes both transferred to Lanier High in Jackson. But, because of eligibility issues, Thomas had to sit out half the season, and Rhodes was forced to miss the entire season.

One year later, Thomas transferred back to Callaway High. Rhodes stayed at Lanier.

Four action-packed, memorable games followed.

Thomas remembered the hype surrounding the first contest, which included Rhodes' teammate and current Golden State Warriors guard Monte Ellis.

"The gym was so packed. The floor was slick," Thomas said. "We had to tip-toe across the floor, so we wouldn't slip."

Rhodes' Lanier teams defeated Thomas' Callaway squads four times that season, nearly two years after they worked together to win a national title.

Now, they just chuckle about those days when they talk on the phone every once in a while.

"We don't do as much catching up as we used to," Thomas said. "But we're still real tight. We still hang out when I go home.

"We're still homeboys."

Except for during two-hour stretches such as tonight's game.



Doak Walker Presentation

Arkansas running back Darren McFadden already has been honored once for winning the Doak Walker Award. He'll be honored a second time tonight.

George Reynolds, a founding board member for the Doak Walker Award, will present the award to McFadden during halftime of Arkansas' basketball game against Mississippi State.

The consensus All-American and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy attended an awards banquet on Feb. 15 in Dallas. The only sophomore to win the Doak Walker Award, McFadden rushed for a school-record 1,647 yards this past season.

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