A Night For The Fans

FAYETTEVILLE -- Charles Thomas' eyes light up. Amongst a horde of eager Razorback fans, Arkansas' senior forward spots little Hannah Lawson. Thomas had two classes with her mother, Laura, last fall and eventually spent time with the whole family, Laura's husband Allen included.

They barbecued. They watched movies. They played with Hannah. And the Lawson family turned into some of the basketball team's most loyal fans. Make sure to count two-year-old Hannah as one.

"Big man," she says with a smile as Thomas darts over and picks her up, his large left hand cupping her whole head.

Thomas' teammates shared similar moments with fans Friday night.

Arkansas officially opened its basketball season, coach John Pelphrey's first, with a 90-minute autograph session, short practice and abbreviated scrimmage. The Bud Walton Arena doors opened at 7:30 p.m.

By that time, a sizable line of Hog fans -- 1,000 deep, perhaps -- snaked three-fourths of the way down Leroy Pond Drive toward Razorback Road. They all wanted their first on-court glance of Pelphrey. They wanted a sneak peak at Arkansas' four freshmen. They wanted to see how each of Arkansas' six seniors had improved.

And, most importantly, they wanted to experience the Razorbacks' new look -- the presses, the traps, the fast breaks, like days of old.

"I think this style of play is going to bring the fans back," said Doug Rather, who drove from Rogers with his eight-year-old grandson, Cole Phillips. "I remember Pelphrey as a player, remember seeing him in this building. He was a stud then as a player. You have to be pretty good to have your jersey retired (at Kentucky). I can't wait to see what he's like as a coach."

Phillips got a picture snapped Friday night with Arkansas center Steven Hill. It was his second picture with the 7-foot senior. Phillips stopped by Bud Walton Arena last spring, days after breaking his right ankle. He wanted Hill's signature on his cast. Hill obliged.

Cole pulls a photograph out of a manila envelope. Rather shakes his head and smiles.

"I can't wait for the season," Rather said.

He didn't have to wait long -- about an hour. Sixty minutes later, Rather and Phillips watched Arkansas' players run on to the court.

A fun evening for the fans ensued. Players threw T-shirts and basketballs into the crowd. They playfully chest-bumped Pelphrey, catching him off guard. And they scrimmaged.

Before their 20-minute mock game, Pelphrey remarked how quiet the crowd seemed. So he proceeded to lead the crowd of 6,200 in a "Hog Call." Later, after senior Vincent Hunter gave his team a two-point victory on a 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left, Pelphrey addressed the crowd.

"We all understand what a privilege it is to be at the University of Arkansas," Pelphrey said to fans. "And more so than at any other time in the history of this basketball program, we need you."

Arkansas Basketball Roster

Number Name Position Height Weight Year Hometown (Previous School)

0 Gary Ervin G 6-0 182 Sr. Brooklyn, N.Y. (Mississippi State)

3 Charles Thomas F 6-8 231 Sr. Jackson, Miss. (Callaway HS)

5 Darian Townes F 6-10 243 Sr. Alexandria, Va. (Hargrave Military Academy)

12 Marcus Britt G/F 6-2 191 Fr. Forrest City, Ark. (Forest City HS)

13 Sonny Weems G/F 6-6 203 Sr. West Memphis, Ark. (UA-Fort Smith)

14 Stefan Welsh G 6-2 185 So. Newport News, Va. (Hargrave Military Academy)

15 Michael Washington F 6-10 224 So. McGehee, Ark. (Genesis One Christian School)

21 Patrick Beverley G 6-1 172 Fr. Chicago, Ill. (Marshall HS)

22 Nate Rakestraw G 6-5 206 Fr. Springdale, Ark. (Har-Ber HS)

23 Levan Patsatsia G 6-6 215 Fr. Tbilisi, Georgia (SSU Sukhumi club team)

25 Stephen Cox G 6-3 199 So. Jonesboro, Ark. (Jonesboro HS)

31 Michael Sanchez F 6-8 231 F. Springdale, Ark. (Har-Ber HS)

33 Vincent Hunter F 6-10 229 Sr. Little Rock, Ark. (J.A. Fair HS)

51 Steven Hill C 7-0 245 Sr. Branson, Mo. (Branson HS)

Coaches -- John Pelphrey, head coach; Rob Evans, Tom Ostrom, Isacc Brown, assistant coaches.

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