Arkansas Kids First

A long-time state basketball observer notes that that University of Arkansas head basketball coach John Pelphrey has worked extremely hard in making sure in-state kids - like Little Rock Hall point guard A.J. Walton - feel the love by being in the stands at every opportunity.

Every coach who is hired at the University of Arkansas talks about how he will recruit the Natural State from inside out, how the in-state kids are of most importance to him.

But perhaps no one is putting his face where his mouth is like Razorback head basketball coach John Pelphrey, who will hold his first Razorback Elite Camp beginning Friday night.

At least that's the way Arkansas Wings AAU spokesman Ron Crawford – who has seen Pelphrey fly back and forth from Arkansas to Orlando to Florida and points in between the last two weeks - sees it.

"I go back to the Eddie Sutton days and I have never seen anybody work harder at recruiting Arkansas kids than John Pelphrey," Crawford said. "He is at seemingly every game an Arkansas kid plays, even if he has to fly across country overnight to do so. I can't tell you how impressed I am and how it makes the kids of Arkansas feel so wanted by him.

"He has been at every game for (Little Rock Hall and Wings point guard) A.J. Walton – certainly more than any other head coach," Crawford said. "He has clearly made it his goal to recruit every kid that has even a slight chance of being a Division I basketball player in the state of Arkansas as hard as he can. To make them feel wanted, to make them believe they are the most important thing to him. And he honestly believes that and has them believing that."

Pelphrey has offers out to 2009 prospects Walton and 6-11 Anthony Borden of West Memphis, 2011 prospects Aaron Ross (a Razorback commit), Hunter Mickelson and Kye Madden and his eye on a host of other instate prospects.

He's also been on hand for a plethora of games involving former Pine Bluff resident and current Texas star Shawn Williams and Arkansas Hawks forward Clarence Trent, who has spent the last two summers in the state.

"I just can't say enough about how impressive he has been," Crawford said. "Our kids look up and there he is at seemingly every game."

Walton (6-1, 180), named Mr. Basketball in Arkansas last season as a junior, is fresh off leading his 17-and-under Wings Gold squad to a Elite Eight appearance at the Super Showcase in Orlando and a solid performance in the 17-and-under national tournament.

There has been plenty of speculation that he was headed to Baylor, but Walton has denied repeatedly that any decision has been made.

He has acknowledged that Arkansas, Baylor, Kentucky and Marquette are his final four and that a decision is near.

"I know that Coach Pelphrey really has impressed A.J. and his family with how he has been at every game, just every game," Crawford said. "He is the one head coach out of those schools recruiting A.J. that has been there every time. That has made a great impression on the Waltons."

Walton, who averaged 12.6 points, 7.7 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 3.8 steals per game last season as a junior while leading his team to the 6A state title, is regarded as one of the nation's best point guards.

"In all honesty, I think A.J. had what a would call a recovery this summer after not having as good as spring as he could have," Crawford said. "Down in Denton and in Orlando, he really began to show what makes him so special.

"He is so mentally and physically tough that no one can stop him from getting in the lane, he is a great defensive player and he is a great passer and distributor and gets the ball where it needs to go," Crawford added. "He is a great teammate and is just a winner."

Evidence of that was bringing his team from down 21 points to whip The Family while in Orlando.

"We got down 24-3 and I was just looking for a place to hide," Crawford said. "But A.J. and (Little Rock Central junior) Alandise Harris were just not going to let us lost. They got it tied back up by halftime and we led by 12 going into the fourth quarter. It was the greatest comeback in Wings history and I have been around a long time."

Crawford knows its that type of effort that has Pelphrey and others wanting Walton's signature.

"That right there showed everything about him," Crawford said. "He will not let you lose if there is anything he can humanly do about it."

Pelphrey got to watch four Arkansas Wings squads down in Orlando and a pair of Arkansas Hawks squads in Las Vegas.

He was at every game played by the 15-and-under Wings, which feature UA commit Aaron Ross (6-7, 215 and headed to Little Rock Parkview this season), 6-9 Hunter Mickelson and 6-4 Kye Madden – all sophomores to be with multiple Division I offers already.

"Ross was just a beast down there," Crawford said. "He is 6-7, 215 and all man and doesn't back down from anybody. Coach Pelphrey loves those kids and was there for every game to see Ross, Mickelson, Kye Madden, Darion Griswold, David Rivers and Micah Delph.

That squad reached the Final Four of the Super Showcase and also played well while playing up in the 16-and-under Division I national tournament.

"They had (Kentucky's) Billy Gillispie, (Ole Miss') Andy Kennedy, (Georgia Tech's) Paul Hewitt and (Baylor's) Scott Drew to see them as well, but the constant was Coach Pelphrey," Crawford added. "He wants them bad and they know it."

The Arkansas Wings Red squad also played well, with Rogers' Aaron Hawley earning a scholarship offer from Arkansas State.

The only squad that didn't fare well in Orlando – where there are now 12 courts attached to each other for the two tournaments to compete on - was the Wings' 16-and-under squad according to Crawford.

"I thought it was the best tournament ever in terms of great competition and development for our teams and for exposure for all the players for the coaches," Crawford said. "But all those coaches are all really going to have to battle to get Arkansas kids away from Coach Pelphrey. He is determined to keep all of them in state."

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