A member of Nolan Richardson's first Razorback recruiting class, reserve guard Cannon Whitby brought Hog fans to their feet many times with his long-range three-point shots. The former Obion County, Tenn., prep star played for the Razorbacks from 1986 to 1990 - a time when the program was making a dramatic leap forward. In Whitby's freshman season, the Hogs finished with a 19-14 record and made it to the NIT. During his senior year, the Razorbacks finished 30-5 and made it to the Final Four.
Now the senior vice president for sales at Sysco Atlanta and a deacon at the Peachtree City Church of Christ, Cannon was gracious enough to chat with us about his playing days. In this first part of a three-part Q&A, Cannon talks about his first impressions of Nolan Richardson, his most memorable on-the-court moments and one crazy afternoon in Austin, Texas.
Expats: What made you want to play for Coach Richardson and the university?
Whitby: The things that attracted me to him as a coach were: he had a history of winning, and he played an up-tempo game that favored guards and especially shooting guards. I was a shooting guard.
He played like I played in high school. His game style was the same. That meant a lot to me.
Also, I lived in a little town called Mount Pleasant, Ark., for a couple of years in middle school and pretty much fell in love with the University of Arkansas there, watching them on TV, the whole "Woo Pig Sooie" thing. The fans in the state are phenomenal. It's a one-university state as far as sports are concerned.
For four years, every time I touched the ball, the crowd yelled, "Shoot!" Not every once in a while, but all of the time. They had a lot of confidence in me and that is still much appreciated to this day. How could I have not loved playing for the University of Arkansas and its fans!
Expats: What were your impressions of Coach Richardson when you first met him?
Whitby: He was a happy-go-lucky type of person. Very, very outgoing. Energetic. Determined. That's just his make-up. Very competitive. He was always out to win, and that's why I think he won at everything he did.
Coach had a saying that was pretty funny. He always said, "If I'm in an alley fighting a bear, you help the bear out. I don't need it." And that's the philosophy that he wanted his teams to take on.
He wasn't always what everybody wanted, but at the end of the day, if you want a winning coach, he will win for you.
Expats: One of the reasons that we were interested in talking with you is because this year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1990 team making the Final Four. What are your most vivid memories of that season?
I ran into the dressing room to get Coach and say, "You need to come out here. We need you. We're going into overtime." The look on his face was something to behold.
He looked at me and said, "We're really going into overtime?" I said, "Yes, sir, and we need you!" He came rolling back out. That was enjoyable.
And I tell you - to get to play in a Final Four game. You're looking up in the stands, and you see NBA stars that you grew up as a kid watching and dreaming about being like. And then to get on a court in a game and they're watching you is pretty amazing.
Expats: What are some of your other favorite and perhaps not-so-favorite on-the-court memories?
Whitby: My freshman year, the first round in the NIT. People still talk about when we played Arkansas State. We were a bunch of freshman, Coach's first recruiting class. Arkansas State was loaded with seniors, and they were really good players.
From where I grew up in high school, Arkansas State was only a few hours away. So, I went over there in high school and watched them play some, and Coach Catalina recruited me.
But that was a game. I went in the first half and shot a couple of times. They may have been airballs.
In the second half, about halfway through the second half, we were getting beat pretty good. I put my head down and prayed and said, "God, just let me get in this game and do something so that we can win the ballgame because I don't want to be remembered as the team at the University of Arkansas that Arkansas State beat."
I went into the second half and hit a couple of three-pointers. We turned it around and ended up winning the game. That meant a lot to me, and I still hear a lot about that.
Expats: That was a really huge game. Before the game, there were rumors that if the Hogs lost, Coach Richardson might not make it to the next season.
Whitby: That was it, and there were rumors that Coach Broyles left at the half. Of course, I really like Coach Broyles. He was always good to me.
It was a trying time, I think, for everybody and the university. It was a big struggle for a couple of years there.
The most disappointing loss I had was, we were playing at Baylor. I had hit a couple of treys and then missed one towards the end of the game that would have won the game for us. That was probably the only game that I played at Arkansas in which I had a chance to win or lose it.
Expats: What season was that?
Whitby: It would have been my freshman year because Coach Richardson was with Yvonne, who was sick, and [Assistant] Coach [Andy] Stoglin was coaching.
Expats: Would you say that ASU game was your best game or your biggest individual moment, or was there another?
Whitby: That would probably be the biggest one because it meant so much. And of course beating Texas in Dallas my senior year to go to the Final Four was pretty amazing. We had so many Arkansas fans in that state. We felt like when we went to Texas that a lot of times we were playing back at home.