"PEOPLE GET READY"
(COACH: N. RICHARDSON)
Nolan Richardson, whose teams have never had trouble scoring points, scored points with his Arkansas players by drawing three lines. Shortly after accepting the school's coaching job in April, Richardson faced the 11 returning Razorbacks, who had averaged only 31 of the team's 65 points per game last year. The flamboyant 43-year-old coach went to the blackboard, drew a court and chalked up three streaks running from one hoop to the other. The lines represented players filling the lanes on the fast break. "I said to myself," recalls junior Mike Ratliff, " 'Free at last.' "
Indeed, the youthful Hogs, held back by ex-coach Eddie Sutton's penchant for the half-court game, are brimming with the enthusiasm of parolees. Richardson, too, has had trouble restraining himself. Consider some recent observations. On sophomore center Andrew Lang (2.6 points per game last season): "In two years he could be the No. 1 pick in the professional draft." On junior forward William Mills (9.4): "There's no difference between him and Michael Jordan." On swingman Ratliff (0.9): "He could be a first-round pick." On senior playmaker Scott Rose (1.4): "He could have been the most valuable player in the Missouri Valley Conference."
Before you say the speaker should be locked away, consider his credentials. In Richardson's five years at Tulsa, he built teams that averaged 81.7 points and 23.8 wins a season. Richardson's unusual style and unyielding practices transformed gifted athletes into gifted full-court basketball players. But at no time in his remarkably successful career has he had athletes the caliber of these Razorbacks. "It seems like the Good Man Upstairs has directed me to this," Richardson says.
Lang could be the ticket to Hog Heaven. At 6'11", 230 pounds, he can out-sprint the guards and, says Richardson, "outjump Superman." Lang's not a scorer, but his ability to rebound and block shots will ignite the break. Joining him up front will be sophomore Stephan Moore, the school's first legit power forward, do-it-all Eric Poerschke and the engaging, enraging and enigmatic Mills. Since transferring from Tennessee two years ago, the 6'7" Mills has high-fived Sutton, served a one-game suspension for disciplinary reasons and floated through games. All the while, he has displayed a graceful gait, great hands and a terrific touch, shooting and passing. Leadership from Mills is essential, and so far he has been yipping it up in practice like an aspiring Globetrotter.
Allie Freeman and Rose return at the point, where they committed just 66 turnovers last year. Ratliff and Byron Irvin, a pair of 6'4", long-armed leapers, will fill it up from the outside. Rounding out the backcourt is Kenny Hutchinson, a born-to-run ball hound who figures to be the top dog in what Richardson calls his Doberman Gang. "It's all instinct with Dobermans," says Richardson. "They go for the throat. These guys were built to attack the ball."
Under normal circumstances, replacing a coach who averaged almost 24 wins in 11 seasons would be difficult. But Richardson is better suited than Sutton for this club. His start-to-finish pressure defense and his emphasis on firing on the run require at least nine players, so he'll have no doghouse, a Sutton staple. In addition, Richardson has given the uniforms a pro look and has already got the Barnhill Arena crazies revved up for Hawg Ball. "Eddie's style was pound it inside, pound it inside," says Richardson. "Ours is everyone gets a piece of the pie, and let's eat well tonight." This season won't be famine, but with just one senior, Arkansas' real feast is probably a year away.
With a coaching change and a group ego inflation, Lang's Hogs are ready to roll.