Nolan Richardson was back in Bud Walton Arena. And, he insists that there was no curse on the Arkansas basketball program during his absence the last seven seasons.
But it might have been the return of Corey Beck and the other members of Richardson's 1994 national championship team that ignited the Razorbacks in an 89-67 victory over Georgia, the team's first in 31 days.
Beck, Dwight Stewart and Al Dillard took turns both encouraging and scolding the current Razorbacks for their struggles in a talk before the team's shootaround around 10 a.m. Sunday. The Hogs took the court at 3 p.m.
Scotty Thurman has heard some of Beck's talks. Told of that during a media time with the players from the ‘94 team, Thurman said, "Oh, no. Corey did? That's not surprising. That's Corey."
Beck said he talked almost 30 minutes. He urged players to communicate more among themselves on the court and indicated he wasn't pleased over some of the games he'd seen on TV. He brought up a home loss to Kentucky when Jodie Meeks scored 45, an arena record.
"I kinda chewed them out," Beck said. "I told them I saw one guy score almost 50. I would have taken his (butt) out. I don't mean take him down, I mean take him out of the game (with defense). I know this, I wouldn't have let him have layups and dunks.
"I know that game was over and they kinda relaxed, but even when you are losing, you have to have some pride in what you are doing.
"I had a lot of things on my mind. Maybe some of my words they might have disliked. I talked to them and so did Dwight and Al."
Stewart said it was typical Beck, strong and to the point.
"Corey told them some things they needed to hear," Stewart said. "They have some young players on this team and they are going to be special players. Corey just wanted to get them going."
"Coach Pelphrey asked a few of us to speak. I'm a laid back guy, quiet. But if someone asks me to speak, I'm going to do my best to step up. I talked today."
Pelphrey wasn't sure that all of the players knew each member of the 1994 team.
"You have to remember that the gap (in age) is pretty wide," Pelphrey said. "But I think it was good for them to hear them talk."
Pelphrey said it was a case of the current players needing to know how wide the influence is on what they do. He said Beck was particularly long winded.
"It was kinda long, but they were on the edge of their seats," Pelphrey said. "They could see the guys were sincere. What they told them is that they care about these (current) players. They hurt, too, when we lose. They could see that when they took the time to talk to them."
Pelphrey said it was a matter of explaining the responsibility they carry as Arkansas players.
"Sometimes they think just about themselves," he said. "They talk to their parents, but they might not think about how it mushrooms beyond that, how far it goes. It's hard for them to understand how big the program is. They have no clue. But they might understand a little more after today and how quickly what they do spreads.
"Before today, they had no real relationship with these players. They do now."
Arkansas freshman guard Courtney Fortson said it was a simple message.
"It was stop crying and man up," he said. "Don't point fingers at anyone else.
"It was a priviledge to be around that team."
Fortson said the Hogs did not want to lose with Richardson and the championship team in the building.
"We couldn't lose this game," Fortson said. "Nolan was here and the players."
Rotnei Clarke said, "It was fun to win, especially with the celebration. It would have been pretty embarrassing to let those guys down today."
Pelphrey was sporting black cowboy boots. He said he had a new respect for Richardson's "athletic ability" to wear them.
"I almost fell down about three times," Pelphrey said.
Obviously, the boots were in tribute to Nolan's style of footwear.
"I can't tell you where they came from," Pelphrey said. "My wife takes care of these things and then I say yes or no."
Will they come out again?
"I hope not," Fortson said. "I don't know what that was about."
Clarke said he was aware that Richardson wore boots.
"I knew about the boots," Clarke said.
Fortson didn't have any idea. But he knew the Hogs played better defense.
"Part of what happened today (was because of the reunion), but part of it was because of our dedication and focus," Fortson said. "We played great help defense, better on the ball defesne and when you do that, good things happen.
"We had better anticipation today. We stayed down in a defensive stance and when they skipped passes, we were ready."
If there was a curse, then defense erased it.
Beck was excited throughout the game. He often stood, pumping his fist as the Razorbacks made play after play. He smiled and cheered more for the defensive plays than anything the Hogs produced. It was a fun weekend for Beck. Late in the game, he left his seat to find an old fan seated a few rows behind the bench.
"I think this was a great weekend," Beck said. "It was so much fun to have Razorback fans thank us for all of our hard work.
"It was great to come back and relive all of these memories. I watch the championship game all the time. I have a TV center and the championship game is laying right there beside the TV in the movie room. I put it on and watch it and every time I see a few new things that I didn't remember at the time.
"I sure didn't remember jumping into Corliss (Williamson's) arms at the end. I guess I blocked some things out when they happened."
It was Beck's offensive rebound, then a pass to Stewart at the top of the key that setup the key shot from Thurman.
"I just knew Dwight was going to shoot it and make it," Beck said. "He fumbled it and kicked it to Scotty. Everyone knew Scotty could make that shot, but so could Dwight. He could have been the one to nail it, but he got the assist instead."
Thurman said everything that happened over the weekend "was a beautiful feeling. It's something you are never going to forget. The experience with the fans was very impressive, but we will also remember getting back together with our teammates. Not anyone has changed a lot as far as who they are. All of us are fathers now, but we are the same people, just older. The only one who looks a lot different is Darnell Robinson. He's a lot heavier."
Beck, never one to pull a punch, said it's "obvious that Darnell doesn't have Coach Richardson screaming at him and making him run. He's eating a lot of cheesburgers and doesn't have coach around to run it off of him."
Beck Talked to Hogs
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