On the day that that the football Razorbacks kick off their highly anticipated season, the John Pelphrey era will begin quietly and unofficially in, of all places, Cancun, Mexico. That's where the basketball Hogs will play an exhibition game on Sept. 1 and another one on the following day. The Razorbacks don't yet know who their opponents will be, and Pelphrey tells the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that potential complications from Hurricane Dean could force the cancellation of the games.
But the games aren't really the important things, Pelphrey adds - it's the 10 practices that the Hogs are allowed to prepare for the trip. "Any time," he tells the paper, "there’s a coaching change, there’s got to be some anxiety on the ballclub, especially for our seniors ... I’m sure there can be some trepidation there, some anxiety. I think with this trip, if nothing else, we’ll be able to get those things out of the way. They’ll be able to get a feel for what it’s going to be like for them, what to expect from us."
Reading about the upcoming trip jogged my memory to a fairly obscure corner of Razorback hoops history: the 1983-84's team journey to Japan in the summer of 1984. I've searched in vain for some summary of the trip, but I seem to remember that they played a total of six games. As I recall, they won the first three fairly handily, but then Alvin Robertson and Joe Kleine had to leave the trip to join the U.S. Olympic team. The remaining Hogs proceeded to get slaughtered in the last three games. Perhaps the most memorable thing about the trip was when the owner of a Fayetteville pizza joint shipped some pies to the team after reading their complaints about the local cuisine.
It wasn't obvious at the time, of course, but those last three blowout losses were in a sense the beginning of the end of Eddie Sutton's tenure at the U of A. The following year started with him ordering the team back onto the floor for practice minutes after an uninspiring season-opening victory and ended with him sitting in the stands during Arkansas' second-round NCAA defeat to St. John's to protest the officiating. In between, Sutton continued to act strangely, and the team lost 13 games - the only time that one of his Hog teams posted a double-digit loss total - and suffered several brutal beatings.
A couple of weeks after that defeat, Sutton, feuding with Frank Broyles and battling personal demons, took Kentucky's job and poured salt in Hog fans' wounds by remarking that he would have "crawled to Lexington" for the job. When the team departed for that trip to Japan, who knew that things were about to unravel so quickly?