Uh oh...

It appears that you're using a severely outdated version of Safari on Windows. Many features won't work correctly, and functionality can't be guaranteed. Please try viewing this website in Edge, Mozilla, Chrome, or another modern browser. Sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused!

Read More about this safari issue.
Sports 0

Razorback Basketball: Giants on the Horizon


Some unusual circumstances give Mike Anderson a better shot at matching the success of Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson in Razorback basketball.

MBB vs. TAMU-9053
Photo courtesy of Razorback Communications.

Much praise has been lavished on the unranked Razorbacks’ win over No. 5 Texas A&M last Wednesday night. The win was yet another brick in the foundation upon which Bud Walton Arena’s fearsome national reputation has expanded since opening in 1993. In that span, the Hogs have an outstanding 30-20 record against Top 25 teams while unranked. And when hosting No. 5 teams, Arkansas is 4-0 altogether.

The numbers four and five are important ones for the past and future of Razorback basketball. It was in seasons four and five that the two greatest coaches in program history — Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson — achieved their big postseason breakthroughs. Arkansas won 32 games in Sutton’s fourth year and crashed the Final Four, and the next year made an Elite Eight appearance with 25 wins. Richardson also won 25 games in his fourth year as UA coach, then upped it to 30 games and a Final Four appearance in Year No. 5.

MBB vs. Texas Tech-0452

Photo courtesy of Razorback Communications.

Mike Anderson was tracking along a similar career arc as Sutton and Richardson through last season, his fourth, when the Hogs won 27 and returned to the NCAA Tournament. Anderson’s fifth Hogs team this year would be Sweet Sixteen caliber had it returned stars Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls. But they left early for the pros and Anderson’s program has regressed into the middle of the SEC pack from the upward arc of previous seasons.

Where the program goes from here again boils down to fours and fives, this time in the form of recruiting stars. Arkansas’ previous surges under Sutton and Richardson would not have happened unless those coaches had first signed a group of four and five star-caliber recruits who not only played well together, but played well within the confines of those coaches’ systems.

For Sutton, of course, that first group was a legendary collection of in-state stars — Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer — the “Triplets” who led Arkansas to a national No. 3 finish in 1978. Richardson’s first prime-time group came from bordering states – Ron Huery, and then the supreme threesome of Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller. Their success helped cement the 1992 signing of the biggest recruit in state history, Corliss Williamson, chosen as the Gatorade National Player of the Year. The 1994 national championship doesn’t happen without him.

Mike Anderson hasn’t yet been able to bring in the same sheer number of four and five-star players, and the talent deficit is a big reason why Arkansas couldn’t absorb the loss of Portis and Qualls and maintain its level of success from his Year 4 into Year 5.

The most glaring factor in the deficit is an inability to consistently win recruiting battles with SEC rivals over the biggest in-state stars.

Below are listed the state’s top in-state recruits of the last decade, according to 247Sports.com. You’ll notice two things stand out:

  1. For a while, the state of Arkansas was pretty barren with big-time talent. But not in the last five years.
  2. The Razorbacks haven’t capitalized, signing only two of the six four-and-five star players in the span.


Michael Washington (McGehee) 4 star

Grade .9781 Signed with Arkansas

Chris Brown (Searcy) 3 star

Grade .8556 Wichita State

Mykal Riley (Pine Bluff) 3 star

Grade .8556 Alabama


James Anderson (Junction City) 5 star

Grade .9905 Oklahoma State

Michael Sanchez (Springdale) 4 star

Grade .9655 Arkansas

Nate Rakestraw (Springdale) 3 star

Grade .8859 Arkansas


Trey Finn (Little Rock) 3 star

Grade .8556 Arkansas State

Andre Clark (North Little Rock) 3 star

Grade .8444 Arkansas

Malcoln Kirkland (Fort Smith) 3 star

Grade .8111 Oklahoma State


AJ Walton (Little Rock) 4 star

Grade .9576 Baylor

Fred Gulley (Fayetteville) 3 star

Grade .8734 Oklahoma State

Tyrone Hanson (Texarkana) 3 star

Grade .8556 Jackson State


Kenyon McNeaill (Conway) 3 star

Grade .8872 Louisiana Tech

Preston Purifoy (Conway) 3 star

Grade .8553 UAB

Aaron Cooper (Jacksonville) 3 star

Grade .8218 Missouri State


Rashad Madden (Lepanto) 4 star

Grade .9819 Arkansas

Hunter Mickelson (Jonesboro) 4 star

Grade .9715 Arkansas

Aaron Ross (Little Rock) 4 star

Grade .9404 Arkansas

[This group, signed by John Pelphrey, was dubbed the “Triplets 2.0” by Archie Goodwin. Mickelson transferred to Kansas after two years. While Ross never made it to campus, the Texas Tech forward still has much love for the Hogs]


Archie Goodwin (LR) 5 star

Grade .9943 Kentucky


Bobby Portis (Little Rock) 5 star

Grade .9932 Arkansas

Dayshawn Watkins (Jacksonville) 3 star

Grade .8946 UAB


Anton Beard (NLR) 4 star

Grade .9636 Arkansas

Trey Thompson (Forrest City) 3 star

Grade .8470 Arkansas

Kahron Ross (Jonesboro) 3 star

Grade .8193 Lehigh


KeVaughn Allen (NLR) 4 star

Grade .9751 Florida

Marquis Pointer (Jonesboro) 2 star

Grade .7000 College of Charleston


Malik Monk (Lepanto) 5 star

Grade .9979 Kentucky

Eric Curry (LR) 4 star

Grade .9331 Minnesota

Payton Willis (Fayetteville) 3 star

Grade .9011 Vanderbilt


Despite a run of recent bad luck and departures of in-state stars, the future actually looks bright for Mike Anderson’s program. With the individual success this year of Dusty Hannahs, Jabril Durham, Anthlon Bell and Moses Kingsley, he and his staff are proving they can develop players who commit to their system.

Hannahs and Kingsley could return next year as seniors to join a much anticipated recruiting class that includes three of the top five players in junior college. And this time around, they are guaranteed to play under the coach who recruited them, in the system they were recruited for – unlike the situation with that hyped 2011 class.

The news could get even better after that for Mike Anderson, because at the high school ranks Arkansas is producing potentially the best group of big men in state history. And the Hogs have already landed a commitment from 6-10 center Daniel Gafford, a four-star junior at El Dorado.

Meanwhile, two Little Rock sophomores, 7-3 Connor Vanover and 6-8 Ethan Henderson, are both potential five stars. ESPN or 247Sports analysts rank both players in the Top 20 nationally for their classes, regardless of position. Vanover, a junior national team member and legit three-point shooter, isn’t as athletic as NBA rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis but his shooting range could be just as devastating on the collegiate level. Henderson has been a center at Parkview High School but may project to develop into more of a big wing player in college.

States the size of Arkansas rarely produce three big men of this caliber in the span of two years. Mike Anderson has proven he can find and develop underrated guards, but he needs better depth at the front court positions to return the program to the same levels Nolan Richardson and Eddie Sutton reached by the end of their Years No. 4 and 5.

The Razorbacks have repeatedly proven they will win more than their share of the biggest basketball battles in state. They won’t get back to winning most of their games on the road, though, until they first get back to winning most of the biggest in-state recruiting battles, too.

Meet the

Learn more about .

A little about .

Little Rock native Evin Demirel is the author of African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and Other Forgotten Stories. Follow him on Twitter @evindemirel.

Read more stories by Evin Demirel


Visit Evin Demirel’s Website

Like this story? Read more from Evin Demirel


Join the Conversation

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


Submit a photo

We select one featured photo per week, but we show many more in our gallery. Be sure to fill out all the fields in order to have yours selected.
  • Accepted file types: jpg, png, Max. file size: 5 MB.

Regions Topics

What are you looking for?

Explore Arkansas

Central Arkansas

Little Rock, Conway, Searcy, Benton, Heber Springs

Northwest Arkansas

Fayetteville, Bentonville, Springdale, Fort Smith

South Arkansas

Hot Springs, Pine Bluff, Texarkana, Arkadelphia

Explore by Topic