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The Bench

NO TEAM is complete without its far end of the bench, the group of
guys who lay their guts on the floor every practice, suit up every
game, cheer every point and stretch their stiffening limbs every
timeout. The five Hogs at Arkansas's far end love to play basketball,
but they've had time to develop other skills. And to get to know each
Sophomore guard Reggie Merritt, a walk-on who doesn't get to
travel to road games, likes to spend his quiet time hunched over a
sketch pad. His favorite medium is soft pencil on newsprint. Over the
last two seasons Merritt has drawn a number of his teammates. The
Razorbacks' title run provided him with several extra weeks of
inspiration. ''I have a lot of strong memories from the tournament
that I'd like to put down on paper,'' he says.
If Merritt needs help, benchmate Elmer Martin will gladly lend a
(skilled) hand. A 6 ft. 8 in. junior forward, Martin spends his spare
time practicing with pen and ink. Not long ago Martin drew a picture
of Stevie Wonder that so impressed the girlfriend of Martin's
roommate, guard Clint McDaniel, that McDaniel decided to try to draw
Wonder, too. Says Martin, ''All I know is that Clint's Stevie Wonder
looked like a turtle.''
Recently Martin and Merritt talked about trying to capture the
characters and personalities of their fellow bench dwellers in
drawings. Walk-on freshman guard John Engskov would most likely be
sketched with his head buried in a textbook. It wouldn't surprise any
of the Razorbacks if Engskov eventually landed a job in Washington
like his brother, Chris, who works in the White House travel office.

A portrait of junior forward Ray Biggers might show two distinct
faces. ''If you didn't know him, you'd probably be scared of him,''
says Merritt. ''But he's really a good guy.'' Biggers has had to make
perhaps the biggest adjustment of all the benchwarmers. He averaged
30 points and 15 rebounds a game his senior year at Kincaid High in
Last there is senior forward Ken Biley, whose likeness would be
certain to show lots of teeth. ''Ken just loves to talk,'' says
Merritt. ''I'd have to draw him with his mouth wide open.'' Biley,
however, was curiously quiet before the NCAA final, and with good
reason. That's when he found out that he would be starting for only
the second time this season. Here was the biggest game in Hog
history, and trotting out for the opening tap was a reserve who had
scored a total of 50 points all season.
Which one of the Blue Devils could he possibly guard? The shocking
answer: Nolan Richardson assigned Biley to check superstar Grant
For the far-enders it was a moment in the sun unlike any other.
When asked later what it had been like to tail Hill for the three
minutes he got to play, Biley said, ''I tried to guard him like he
was God.''
It was a nice gesture of gratitude from Richardson to a loyal
senior who had busted his tail for four years and who would never
again put on an Arkansas uniform. When Biley came off the court he
got the usual slaps of encouragement from his bench brethren.
''There's one thing all of us on the bench have in common,'' says
Merritt. ''We all want to be playing, but we'll do whatever it takes
to win.'' -- M.J.