Celebration of Champions

Nolan Richardson and the Arkansas 1994 National Championship squad are honored by the Northwest Arkansas Tip-Off Club in what former star Scotty Thurman said is like a dream.

SPRINGDALE — A Northwest Arkansas Tip-Off Club lunch crowd of more than 300 cheered all over again on Friday when the video screen showed Scotty Thurman's rainbow 3-point shot that helped Arkansas beat Duke 76-72 for the 1994 national championship.

Nine of the 15 members of that team were on hand at the Northwest Arkansas Holiday Inn, along with former UA coach Nolan Richardson, to be honored for the first time in nearly 14 years. A sweet spirit marked the occasion.

"This is like a dream," Thurman said.

Richardson said, "I'm very, very happy today. I always say the greatest fans in America are here. I love seeing all these players together in the same room."

Corliss Williamson, now an assistant coach for Arkansas Baptist College, said softly, "I knew when it was time, God would make this happen. This is a godsend. I pray we can move forward and (the UA) can honor us next year."

Williamson, who went on to a long NBA career, thoughtfully introduced Craig Tyson, a former Arkansas recruit whose knee injury kept him from being on the 1993-94 Razorbacks.

Thurman thanked Richardson for "taking a chance on a pigeon-toed 17-year-old" from Louisiana, and Williamson thanked Richardson for "being there for us," both during and after college.

"He genuinely cares about our wellbeing," Williamson said about Richardson. "I take some of my coaching, some of my parenting and some of my yelling from him."

Thurman playfully asked Rose Richardson, who received one of several standing ovations for the honorees, "Would you happen to have any cookies?"

Point guard Corey Beck, who with Clint McDaniel made up what emcee Blake Eddins called "the best defensive backcourt in the history of college basketball," spoke the longest.

"We were like a family," Beck said of the Razorbacks. "We stayed together all the time, spent time together. We might have looked wild on the court, but we were organized."

Before big games, Beck routinely visited Richardson in his office.

"He'd say, ‘I want to win this game, bad,'' Beck recalled. "We wanted to show the world that Arkansas could have a national championship team."

McDaniel thanked luncheon attendee Clyde Fletcher (UA, 1990-92) for "taking me under his wing" at Arkansas.

Walk-on guard Reggie Merritt, who has a master's degree and works for the Little Rock school district, recalled 5 a.m. runs up Cleveland Street hill with his teammates.

"Fourteen years seems like yesterday," Merritt said. "We're brothers for life."

Dwight "Big Dog" Stewart, who played professionally in Spain and Venezuela among other outposts, credited Richardson with helping him making positive changes in his life.

Elmer Martin is now a painter in Fayetteville, but in seven years as a Harlem Globetrotter he visited nearly every country but Korea and Australia, plus all 50 states several times over. He said the lessons Richardson instilled at Arkansas "have extended into our lives." Tip-Off Club organizer John Engskov, a walk-on in 1993-94, joked that Richardson "held my career back."

Ray Biggers of Houston attended but "faked a sore throat," Eddins said.

Unable to attend were Roger Crawford, a Birmingham postman who did have strep throat; Al Dillard of Birmingham, who had a rec-league game to coach; Darnell Robinson of Oakland, Calif.; Lee Wilson, Davor Rimac and Ken Biley.


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