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Call It A Comeback

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It caught my eye the other day when the Miami Heat signed former Memphis State and Orlando Magic star Anfernee Hardaway to a one-year contract. Hardaway, who was one of the NBA's brightest and most marketable stars before knee problems derailed his career, has not played in the league since the 2005-2006 season, when he appeared in only four games for the New York Knicks.

Hardaway may not have played for the Razorbacks, but he looms large in my memories of Arkansas basketball. First of all, he was the object of a white-hot recruiting war between Memphis State and Arkansas. In the preceding years, Nolan Richardson had won similar battles for Memphis high-school standouts such as Ron Huery, Arlyn Bowers and, of course, Todd Day; with Hardaway more highly touted than any of those players, the pressure on then-Tigers coach Larry Finch to keep Anfernee in the Bluff City was immense.

image courtesy of hoopsvibe.com

It's both fun and painful to daydream about how good the Razorbacks would have been if Hardaway had signed with Arkansas and joined Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller on those already formidable early 1990s teams. Maybe there would have been too many egos for it to work - or maybe Nolan would have more than one national championship on his resume.

In the end, Hardaway and his fellow Tigers ended the Day-Mayberry-Miller era by upsetting the Hogs in the second round of the 1992 NCAA Tournament (this after they also defeated Arkansas 92-88 in the regular season). For lots of reasons - including those two heartbreaking defeats - that season is one of my least favorite Razorback memories.

The following season, however, would provide one of my favorite Razorback moments when an unranked and thoroughly unheralded Arkansas - lead by such newcomers as Corliss Williamson, Scotty Thurman and Corey Beck - began the year by defeating Hardaway and top 10-ranked Memphis State in a rousing and thrilling 81-76 victory in much-missed Barnhill Arena. With Memphis State's other star David Vaughn out due to a knee injury suffered earlier in the game, it was up to Hardaway to carry the Tigers to victory, and he very nearly did so.

Hardaway may be responsible for some painful Razorback memories, but it's always been hard to dislike him personally. Unfortunately, he often struck me as a classier player than some of the Arkansas stars he played against (Todd Day and Oliver Miller: I'm referring to you).

Here's hoping Anfernee's comeback is a success.