If you've come here looking for a detailed breakdown of Saturday's Red-White game, you are bound to be, uh, disappointed. Instead of obsessing over the present, we've decided to take a walk down memory lane, courtesy of a Q&A with former Razorback basketball player Greg Skulman. Now a dentist in Dallas, the 6'5" Ozark, Ark., native was a forward on Eddie Sutton's Razorbacks from 1979 to 1982. From our days as grade-school autograph hounds, we remembered Skulman as an approachable, gregarious and funny guy. We're happy to report that he's still that way.
In the first part of what we think you will find to be a notably reflective and funny interview (teaser: who knew Scott Hastings had a talent for singing Poco songs?), Greg recounts how he ended up in Fayetteville and, for those of you too young to remember him, describes his strengths and weaknesses as a player. So, dig out the Panama Jack t-shirt and return with us to a time when players wore alarmingly short shorts and yacht rock saturated the airwaves ...
You transferred to Arkansas after one year at Westark. After your year at Westark, what were some of the other schools that you considered before you picked Arkansas?
I had always planned on going only one year to Westark and then on to Arkansas. That was supposed to be the deal before I signed with Westark. Westark’s head coach Gayle Kaundart did every thing he could though to try to keep me there another year. It’s hard to build great junior college programs if players only stay one year. I managed to escape after one year and get up on "The Hill."
Being from a small town like Ozark you don’t get a lot of exposure, especially in that day. There was no AAU ball. I was so naïve about self-promotion, and nobody helped me. Things have changed tremendously, as we all know. The Internet alone – you can promote yourself so much more.
I was making a splash, more or less, through the local media: the Fort Smith paper, and sometimes in the Little Rock papers, the Gazette and Democrat. I made — I think they called it the Gazette Super Team, or something like that. It was five guys — a list of the five best players in the state — and I was on it. But besides that kind of stuff, I didn’t get a lot of exposure.
Out of high school I was recruited by pretty much all the Arkansas Division II schools. As far as Division I schools, I got a cursory letter from Memphis State and Texas Tech.
But, I really zeroed in on Arkansas. That’s where I wanted to go. And they had seen me because I would go to their camps every summer. So I was exposed to them, and they knew that I could play.
My senior year, I would get a letter from them once a week, usually some kind of handwritten note from Pat Foster or Gene Keady or even Eddie. I was in heaven when I got those things. I’m thinking in my mind, "Hey, this is going to happen. I’ve got a good chance for this. They’re acting like they want me."
So, one game, Gene Keady — he was coach Sutton’s head assistant — comes down to watch me. (Pat Foster had already been down.) I just didn’t have a great first half. And Keady totally missed the second half — he got some phone call and went into the coach’s office or something.
I had a really good second half, but after that game, they quit sending me letters. The faucet was turned off. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
Finally, it’s getting to the point where I need to make some kind of a decision on a school. My high school coach and I called up there and got Eddie Sutton on the phone. Sutton just tells me, "Greg, you know, we’ve just got too many guys your position and your height. We really like you, but we just can’t offer you a scholarship."
It just took the wind out of my sails, although I kind of had a feeling this was coming. So I asked, "Coach, can I come up there and scrimmage against the guys so I can get an idea of my talent level?" That way I can make a decision whether to go to a Division II school or go junior college for a year or two and try to go Division I.
Sutton says, "Yeah, sure. Come on up this weekend. We’ll do it Saturday."
Ozark is just about an hour south from the university, and there must have been 15 or 20 guys from my hometown that showed up at this funky old men’s gym early one Saturday morning.
You can imagine — as a kid, you see these guys and they’re sort of your idols, you know? Well, in walks Sidney and U.S. Reed and Mike Young and all these names, man. It’s like, "Holy cow! This is the real deal! These are the guys I’ve been watching on T.V."
So we proceeded to play a pick-up game, and I played unbelievably. Lights out. Just like crazy. I got a dunk over Sidney. He’s like, "Hey man. Good dunk." I just played out of my butt.
So this thing ends, and Eddie comes up to me, "Hey Greg, good game!" He shakes my hand — he was always in a rush. "I gotta go! Coach Foster is gonna talk with you."
Coach Foster is right there. "Hey Greg, we really like the way you play. We want to offer you a scholarship." Just like that, I went from "we don’t want you" to a scholarship offer!
Anyway, it wasn’t quite as clean as I wanted it to be. I went down to the coaches’ office in Barnhill Arena, and they wanted to offer me a scholarship, but they wanted me to go to Westark for one year.
They said, "You’re definitely going to be sitting on the bench — we’ve got Sidney, Zahn, U.S. Reed. We’ve got Hastings, all these guys. You’re just not going to get to play, so you’re better off playing 30-something games at Westark." I was perfectly fine with that.
Years later, I would speak at some high-school athletic banquets, and I would tell them my story. It’s just my little version of the "don’t give up on your dream" story. After getting the bad news from Coach Sutton on the phone, I could have given up.
Instead of giving up, I pressed on, arranged a scrimmage game and ended up with a scholarship. It’s not earth shattering, you know, but I thought it was kind of cool the way it turned out.
For some of our younger readers who may not seen you play, how would you describe yourself as a player?
(Laughs) Well, bottom line, I ended up being — I’ve read it about me, and it’s pretty much the way I was — one of these hard-nosed, play-hard, play-really-good-defense kind of players. They want to call them "scrappy," or whatever.
When I look back on it, I could really jump. I was a jumping white boy. I had a 39-inch vertical jump.
But I was always out of position because I played for a small high school, and I was one of the taller guys. I played center, so I didn’t handle the ball. I didn’t get to shoot the ball from the outside. That really killed my opportunity to maybe excel on the Division I level.
I’m not going to say that I would have been a pro player, but if I had really worked on my ball handling and shooting, it would have helped me tremendously.
I’m 6’5’’ – I’m not a center. I saw guys in the NBA of my day — white guys in the NBA — who I didn’t see were any quicker and definitely couldn’t jump as well as I did. But, they could damn sure shoot the ball, and they could sure handle it.
Sutton never really had confidence in me — or a lot of the guys for that matter — in shooting the ball. The way he coached, everybody was a role player except for two guys. Two to three guys, and that’s it.
Everybody else played around those guys. Everybody had to know what their high-percentage shot was. Usually, it was not more than a 15-footer.
It was difficult to play with a confidence level offensively. It was like, "Hey, I can take this shot. I’m open it. Should I take it?"
You were always looking over your shoulder — "Hey, I didn’t make it. Is he going to think I shouldn’t have taken that shot?" That was hard for a lot of guys, not just me. A lot of guys.
Basically, I was the role player that was supposed to play really, really hard, which I did, and rebound and play tough defense.
(Tomorrow: Greg talks further about what it was like to play for Eddie Sutton and discusses the best players he played with and against.)