Nolan, Scotty and Corliss Excited

There was pure excitement in the voices of Nolan Richardson, Scotty Thurman and Corliss Williamson as they spoke on a teleconference about the 1994 National Championship Reunion.

All kinds of events are scheduled for this weekend in conjunction with the 1994 National Championship Reunion. There's a banquet Saturday night for big boosters, $100 a pop. There's autograph sessions before Sunday's game with Georgia. Come early, two hours early, around noon. And, there's a feed Friday night for the team at Nolan Richardson's farm.

There's already been a news conference weeks ago with Nolan at Bud Walton Arena. Then, there was a 50-minute teleconference Tuesday morning to preview the weekend's events. Richardson led off and was followed by Scotty Thurman and Corliss Williamson.

It was clear that all three are excited about the weekend. They used words like wonderful, happy, memorable, great, huge and magnificent. And, usually "very" preceded all of those words.

Richardson said, "It should be memorable. I'm very pleased, very happy that these young men are going to come back and be honored."

What will it be like to hear the roar of 20,000 fans in Bud Walton Arena again?

"That will be great and most wonderful," Richardson said. "I know the hair will rise when the William Tell Overture plays. It always did and it always will. I don't think it will be any different than any other game."

Richardson took questions for about 30 minutes. He seemed to enjoy each question. Williamson and Thurman took turns answering another 20 minutes of questions. Interestingly, it was like always, Thurman would speak in his deep, strong voice.

Williamson would follow with his softer delivery. Thurman's shot in the final seconds to beat Duke came up several times. Richardson said it was typical of what kind of team the Hogs had -- an unselfish team. Corey Beck passed to Dwight Stewart, open at the top of the key. Stewart bobbled it and then flipped it to Thurman open on the wing.

"We were a good team," Richardson said. "And, we were based on concepts. We didn't have to call timeout because they understood how to play. It was a good pass to Dwight, but he bobbled it. He didn't hesitate. He just kicked it off to Scotty.

"A lot of people called that shot a rainbow. But we'd seen him shoot that one over and over in practices and games. When it hit the bottom, I turned to Mike Anderson, Wayne Stehlik and the others around us on the bench and we all knew we were going to win this one.

"In the history of my coaching career, that was one huge shot, the biggest."

There aren't few days that someone doesn't bring up the shot.

"They don't always ask me about it, but they often bring it up," he said. "They want to tell me where they were when it went in. I tell my wife that there are a lot worse things to be known for than that. I take it in stride. It's part of my history and I'll never live it down."

Oddly, Thurman said he's not seen it on tape a lot. He's yet to watch the entire championship victory over Duke on tape.

"I've seen bits and pieces of that game, but not the entire game beginning to end," he said. "I've seen pictures and posters of (the shot). I know that they show it a lot on TV when March Madness begins each year. But I haven't seen it much."

And, unfortunately, there have not been many chances to see teammates from that title group. That's perhaps the most exciting thing about the coming weekend.

"It's been a long time since we've been together," Corliss said. "It will bring us together and hopefully it brings the Razorbacks, the University of Arkansas and everyone together and we can all be friends. It should be a family reunion. More importantly, Coach (Richardson) is going to be recognized."

Thurman said, "It's huge and the older you get the more you have respect for these kind of things. When you are young you don't appreciate how magnificent something like this is going to be."

As the years rolled by, it became a big deal to have this weekend reunion.

"You are always hopeful," Thurman said. "Time heals a lot of things. I think it's better now than never. I look forward to it, a weekend of hanging out with my teammates."

Williamson said, "Time does heal a lot of wounds. I was always optimistic it would happen ... coach deserves it."

There was a lot of discussion about what made the ‘94 team special during the teleconference. Both players thought it was the concept of sacrifice that Richardson built.

"Sacrifice is the first thing that comes to mind," Thurman said. "I think when you look at the shot in the Duke game, if Dwight had not fumbled the ball, I think he would have made the shot. Most guys would have gone ahead and forced it up under pressure. I think the idea was that other guys on the team could score. Everyone stepped into their roles."

Williamson said, "Yes, sacrifice. Coach Richardson preached it from day one. We were not worried about one or two superstars. We worked to come together. We had athletes who understood the game, how to be unselfish and pass the ball. Our ability to pass is overlooked. We were all pretty good passers."

When did the idea that they could win the national championship come into their head? "The year before, we lost to North Carolina (in the Sweet 16) and we were very close in that game," Richardson said. "We were a charge away, a play away from winning that game. And, North Carolina won the national championship. So we knew we were close.

"I thought we could win one from day one. I thought we could every year. Maybe I wasn't as smart, but we went in thinking that every year. My biggest goal was to win the big one. In junior college, I thought we'd win it. Now, we built smaller goals, too. But we thought we would win the national championship with Todd and that group.

"That was a good bunch, but sometimes the best players don't make the best teams. That team had Todd Day and he was the seventh or eighth pick. It had Lee Mayberry and he was maybe 20. And, then Oliver Miller was the 23rd pick. Butch Morris got invited to camps, so we had some players and I always thought we could win."

That team was a challenge to hold together, Richardson said, because of an incident in the dorm.

"Remember, Oliver Miller sued the TV station and he got some money," Richardson said. "Then, it was tough to get him to come to the restaurant to eat with us. He ate on his own and we couldn't keep our hand on him to make sure he was getting salads.

"After the dorm incident, we couldn't get their heads directed to the game. We didn't have the same focus."

Thurman and Williamson started to believe they had a shot at a national title after the near miss to North Carolina and the additions of towering freshman Darnell Robinson and Lee Wilson, both in the neighborhood of 6-11.

"We were so close against North Carolina, but we didn't have the size to bang against their big guys," Thurman said. "We talked when we got back from New Jersey . We knew we weren't far away and we talked about that when we got home. Then we got the big guys that summer. We knew that Corliss wouldn't have to bang against those big guys like that and he could play forward. That size gave us confidence."

Williamson said, "I remember talking with Scotty about that. We talked that if we got some size, it would help. Then, when we got together that summer to play pickup games we could tell we had the two missing people. We had the size to compete and our confidence did grow."

Richardson said, "We just had to add the two big freshmen. Lee was 6-11 and Darnell was really 6-10. But we had something to go with Corliss inside. The team was already pretty solid.

"Really, when we lost to North Carolina, I thought we could win the national championship. We talked about how close we were after that game."

The national championship talk began to come forward early in the 1994 season. The Hogs, then ranked second, destroyed a good Missouri team -- the Tigers went undefeated in their league -- in the second game, 120-68.

"That was Bud Walton night," Richardson said. "We'd played Murray State to open the season, then everything went perfect in the Missouri game. Every player who went in the game hit a three, it seemed. We didn't miss any shots. It was Bud Walton night and it will never be matched again.

"That was a big night and the Huerys, Days and Mayberrys -- that's who built that arena. And, guys like Darrell Hawkins, Lee and that bunch. They set the tone."

The table setters for the title team had to be the guards. Corey Beck and Clint McDaniel were the starters, but there was lots of help behind them with Roger Crawford, Al Dillard and Davor Rimac. Beck and McDaniel were the defensive stoppers.

"Corey and Clint could take the other team's guards out of the game," Thurman said. "Corey had the strength. Clint had the quickness.

"We knew they would shut down the other guards and we could hang out in the passing lanes. We always kept track of deflections and our guards made it easy on the rest of us."

Williamson said, "With those two up front, we had no worries. Even if the other team had superstar guards, it was going to be a dogfight and we had the two toughest dogs in the neighborhood. We fed off their intensity. You couldn't relax with them playing that hard. Those two set the tone and we had to follow suit. It was a blessing and a luxury."

Richardson is excited to be back in the loop with the administration and fans, but he insists he wasn't out of the loop the past few years altogether. He said he's had a presence in some ways.

"Prior to this, to be honest, I always had myself in position for the coaches," he said. "I belong to the coaching fraternity. I visited with (Stan) Heath. He asked me for suggestions a few times. "I had been there for 17 years. It's like you had created a baby and you didn't want to leave the baby. It hadn't grown up yet. Whoever took over, I wanted them to be successful."

Does he understand the struggles John Pelphrey has faced of late?

"I had my tough times, too," Richardson said. "My time was to try and coach and lose my daughter. I would have taken 150 losses in a row.

"That was the worst time in my life. I don't think anyone realizes how important it was to lose my baby. It was horrible and during that time I was being barbecued unmercifully.

"I was miserable and I can relate to losing like this. You are a player away, a play away, a pass away, a charge away. You have to bite the bullet and go recruit, that's the most important thing."

There were other stories on the teleconference. Richardson's decision to start little-used senior Ken Biley in the title game -- and assign him to cover Duke star Grant Hill -- came up a couple of times. The many brushes with President Bill Clinton was another topic. The post-game celebration was front-and-center, too.

For Williamson, winning the title and the celebration was "like being in Heaven. It was like you stepped outside yourself and don't really understand what was happening. I can still see myself jumping up and down, looking in the stands for my parents. It was Cloud 9 and I didn't really come down until we lost to UCLA the next year. You couldn't write anything better."

Thurman said, "My biggest memory was getting back to the team hotel and all the Razorback fans were there. And, then we had the interview with Roy Firestone there. tThat was amazing, just sitting there with Roy. Then, the next year, everywhere you went, everyone knew you, anywhere you went, from Texas to anywhere else."

President Clinton was there for the title game, but he was around at other games, too.

"It was a huge hassle to get into the arena sometimes because he was there," Thurman said. "The Secret Service didn't like it because he just wanted to hang out with us in the locker room. To be around him face to face, you just never would have thought that could happen."

Williamson said, "To grow up as a kid in Russellville, you'd never expect to meet him. It as a wonderful feeling."

Sounds like there are going to be some wonderful feeling as we go through the coming weekend.

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