This is the second and final part of our Q&A with former Razorback walk-on guard Reggie Merritt (for the lowdown on what Reggie is up to these days and how his Hog career got started, read part 1). In today's installment, Reggie discusses his favorite memories, the heartbreaking loss to UCLA in the 1995 national championship game and who would win a fight between Corliss Williamson and Roosevelt Wallace. Many, many thanks to Reggie for his time and entertaining stories.
Expats: Outside of winning the national championship, what are some of your favorite on-court memories?
Merritt: I remember my first practice. I can still remember just walking into the locker room in Barnhill and seeing Lee [Mayberry] and Todd [Day] and those guys sitting around. I’m just like, “Wow, I can’t even believe I’m here.”
So, I’m throwing on my warm-up and practice gear. We were sponsored by Converse, but I didn’t know that. Nobody had given me any shoes yet. I go out, and I’ve got these black Nikes on. Not only are we sponsored by Converse, but Coach Richardson was never cool with black tennis shoes.
So, here I am, and I can just remember him saying, “Get his ass off the court! Get his ass some shoes!” That was the first thing he ever said to me.
Clint McDaniel loves to tell a story about me twisting both of my ankles at the same time in practice. He was always joking about that.
The first game I ever got in was in Pine Bluff. I played about two minutes. I remember them throwing me the ball. I took a couple of dribbles, pulled up and hit a three. That was the first shot I ever took as a Razorback. That was an unforgettable moment. So was making a three in front of Bill Clinton in Bud Walton and then getting to meet to the president after the game.
A lot of the memories are from the behind-the-scenes stuff: the practices, the road trips, wrestling in the rooms, just having fun.
Expats: What are some the losses that still sting after all these years?
Merritt: Well, losing to UCLA. After fighting so hard that year to get back to the Final Four and then to get to play UCLA without Tyus Edney, we thought for certain that we were going to repeat. Losing that game the way that we did — with the O’Bannon brothers and Toby Bailey just having great games — that was a heartbreaker.
It’s one thing being on the other end, winning and celebrating. But it’s a whole other thing to lose and then to have to go into the locker room and hear the other team’s celebration. It was one of the worst feelings. And knowing that all of the guys were going to leave after that, you knew it was the end of something special.
Expats: How tough was that ’95 season? There were a lot of expectations because you had everybody back, and you had all of your opponents giving you their best shot because you were the defending champions. Did that season feel like a struggle to you guys?
Merritt: It did because everybody played their best game against us. Each game was a national championship game for our opponents. There were tough times, but it brought us closer. Everybody stuck together. It made us stronger.
We really should have won against UCLA, but that day, the better team won. They came ready to play and were jacked up. It was just a heartbreaking feeling knowing that, after we lost, guys weren’t going to come back and guys were graduating and moving on. It was a terrible feeling.
Expats: If your team is down by one with just a few seconds to go, who would you rather see take the last shot: Scotty Thurman or Todd Day?
Merritt: Both of those guys made some big shots over the course of their careers, and you can’t really lose with either one. But I’m definitely going to have to go with Scotty. I joke with him about how that one shot changed all of our lives. It put Arkansas on the map, so I’ll definitely have to go with Scotty. He’s proven that he can do it on the biggest stage. You can’t go against that.
Expats: Who was the best trash talker that you played with in Fayetteville?
Merritt: Well again, it would probably come down to Scotty and Todd. Those were two very confident guys, confident players. And they could back it up.
Todd probably was the biggest trash talker. I’d definitely give him the upper hand on that one.
Expats: Who were some of the locker-room clowns?
Merritt: Elmer Martin. Clint McDaniel. Ray Biggers. They kept the locker room laughing. Kept guys smiling. It’s probably between those three.
But everybody on the squad had a sense of humor. You had to laugh. You had to smile. Or else you would go crazy from Coach Richardson working you.
Expats: Who would win a fight between Corliss and Roosevelt Wallace?
Merritt: Wow! That would probably end in a tie. Those are two big, strong guys! I don’t ever see Roosevelt, so I’m going to go with Corliss. I still see Corliss around town, so I’ll give the upper hand to him.
Expats: Sounds like a smart answer. Who would win a game of one-on-one between you and John Enskov?
Merritt: John would kill me. John would crush me. He’s probably still in good shape, so he’d probably crush me now.
Expats: Would he have beaten you back then as well?
Merritt: (laughs) Um, yeah. I’m going to be modest and give John the upper hand.
Being a walk-on was probably a challenging experience for both of us. It was probably a dream for him too, but we both had our ups and downs.
Being a walk-on can test your character, and it can test your will. The walk-ons, we tried to stick together, tried to encourage each other and push each other when things weren’t necessarily going the way we would have liked.
Expats: You’re practicing every day. You’re traveling with the team. Did you ever feel frustration at not getting to play more?
Merritt: Well, first off, I never thought that I would even make it to that level. But, I’m a competitor, and I’m not going to say that I was just content to sit on the bench. Every guy that has a passion to play basketball wants to get out there.
You want to contribute and feel like you played a part in a win. I never felt like I was going to do so much damage to the team that we had to get up by 30 or 40 points for me to get in the game.
But I had to keep in mind that 1) I was a walk-on and 2) we were just so guard-laden. We had so many guards that could play. It made it difficult. But yeah, it was frustrating on many days. I’m sure John would probably say the same thing.
But I had the encouragement of guys like John and later Guy Whitney. Our families stood by us, and our other teammates. They always encouraged us and made us feel like we were a part of the team.
There was never a situation where our teammates made us feel any different or that we weren’t a part of the team.