It's been over 10 years now since Fayetteville native Fred Gulley, Jr. was reportedly offered a Razorback basketball scholarship – as an 11-year-old fifth grader.
Whether that offer from Stan Heath's staff was real or not is arguable, but one couldn't help but think of it Saturday night when Gulley got his first start at point guard for the Razorbacks in their 56-33 home win over Vanderbilt.
"It is always good to come out and make a difference and try to help the team win in any possible way I can," Gulley said. "Especially being at home in front of everybody."
The 6-2, 170-pound redshirt junior didn't exactly stuff the stat sheet (two points, four rebounds, one steal) in his 20 minutes of action, but it was what his team did while he was on the floor that got Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson's attention.
It was the seventh game this season for Gulley, who signed with Oklahoma State out of high school before transferring back home after a year-and-a-half with the Cowboys.
"I thought he brought us confidence," Anderson said. "I thought he brought a blue collar mentality. It was very evident defensively. You didn't see a lot of guys getting dribble penetration on our basketball team. It seems like he fixes a lot of things on defense, and offensively I think he settles a lot of these guys down.
"I think you've got a guy with a little bit more experience in terms of getting the ball to people on time," Anderson said. "He's just got a calming demeanor out on the floor. I can't say enough about what he does: just some of the little things, the blue collar things. Fixing things on offense, getting to the ball, getting back on defense, deflecting passes. Endless energy. I mean his energy is contagious."
Gulley started in place of junior guard Mardracus Wade – who had started all previous 77 game of his college career before Saturday - and could be there again on Wednesday when the Razorbacks (10-5, 1-1) host Auburn (8-7, 2-0) – winners of its last three games.
"They are a good team and they are playing some of their better basketball as are we," noted Gulley, whose team has won six of its last seven games. "It should be an exciting game and we are going to look forward to it and prepare and get ready and have Bud Walton Arena rocking."
Gulley is happy he signed with Oklahoma State and has good memories of his time there although he made the decision to leave after getting hurt and playing the first eight games as a sophomore.
"This is just the best situation for me," Gulley said. "I had a blast there, met a lot of people that I still talk to today. I have a lot of friends there. It was a tough decision, but ultimately it was the best decision for me. It has worked out."
Gulley admitted that sitting out for a year was harder than he thought it would be.
"Sitting out is extremely difficult," Gulley said. "It is more difficult than you would think because you are not playing in front of referees, you are never playing a full game or in game situations for a full year.
"I still am trying to get my rhythm back to playing like I used to do," Gulley added. "It feels great being back, it feels great playing in front of friends and family, it feels great playing in front of friends and family and our fans."
Gulley said it's been an easier transition in one phase of the game than the other.
"Defense is something that you want to do, something that you are athletically able to do – that came really easy and that's been an easy transition," Gulley said. "I still feel uncomfortable at times on offense, but that's just from being rusty. That's from not playing for a year and only playing eight games before that. It has been awhile and so all that just comes with experience, comes with reps. It will just get more fluent as we go along."
Gulley is averaging 1.4 points, 1.7 rebounds and has eight assists to two turnovers in the seven games since he became eligible.
"My mindset is just to try and do whatever it takes to win," Gulley said. "If that is get a steal, get a block, get a rebound, anything that it takes to win. I've also been around for awhile so I try to bring leadership. I try to be another coach on the floor and make sure everybody is on the same page, try to make sure everything flows well."
Other than a flat effort in a loss at Texas A&M, Arkansas is playing well according to Gulley.
"We have played really well," Gulley said excluding the Texas A&M game. "We are a young group of guys and we are still learning each other and still trying to get better. But it is exciting to see us grow and coming out here and competing against each other every day to get better and reach our potential."
• • •
Wade played just 12 minutes in the first half Saturday night and did not play after intermission. He does not have a single rebound in 36 minutes on the floor the last two games.
"I think he's just got to start performing," Anderson said. "That's all. Bring some better practices that can take him into the game. I think basketball is a game of confidence. You've got to play with confidence, and so hopefully, as I stated earlier, I think he can be one of the better defensive players in our league."
After sending out a tweet celebrating his team's win, Wade sent another out lamenting the fact that he didn't play in the second half. It was one he soon took down.
"I didn't do anything to lead up to it," Wade said. " So there's a lot of stuff in my head right now. A lot of things we've got to talk about, hopefully, after practice or maybe tomorrow morning or whatever. Of course there's always something on his mind and there's something on my mind. Hopefully we can get things worked out and hopefully I can be out there pretty soon."
Wade is averaging 7.4 points to tie Hunter Mickelson for third on the team in scoring. He is shooting 45.8 percent from the field, 72.7 percent from the free throw line and 32.5 percent after leading the SEC at 47.5 percent from beyond the arc last season.
"I come in here and play with the same effort 110 percent," Wade said. "I play hard. I try to stay positive. I don't know what coach had going that day or what was in his plans or what not, but he's got to do what's best for the team. Whatever, I'm happy we came out with the win. I was excited about that."
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