As you've almost certainly seen by now, Corliss "Big Nasty" Williamson retired from the NBA yesterday. He won't be far from the basketball court, though, having already joined Arkansas Baptist as an assistant coach.
For anyone who followed college basketball in the 90s, the name Big Nasty conjures up images of low post dominance, clutch plays and most of all, many, many wins by the Razorbacks. Corliss was an all-everything high school player coming out of Russellville in 1992 (skip to 1:10 in this clip), and when he signed with the Hogs he seemed like the perfect piece to continue the winning ways of the Day/Mayberry/Miller era. Little did we know what was in store...
Although he missed a good chunk of his freshman year due to an injury, he quickly made his presence felt, meshing with fellow newcomers like Scotty Thurman, Corey Beck and Dwight Stewart, plus cagey vets like Darrell Hawkins, to make Arkansas the surprise of the SEC that year. In what was expected to be a rebuilding season, the Hogs went 22-9 and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, where they lost to the eventual champs, North Carolina.
Every Razorback fan knows what happened the following season: The Hogs as a team, and Corliss in particular, were unstoppable, going 31-3 and beating Duke for our only undisputed major sport national title. Of course none of that would have happened without Big Nasty, who made the leap from young player with promise to dominant national star. Nolan Richardson's teams had always been known for great guard play, but he'd never had a low post weapon of Corliss' caliber before and it made all the difference - simply put, when Corliss got the ball near the basket, he was going to score. End of story.
Returning all five starters, the Hogs were a marked team the next year, but they were almost as good, going 32-7 and advancing again to the Final Four, where they beat North Carolina and then lost to UCLA in the championship game (a loss that still burns me to this day). Following his Razorback days, Big Nasty went on to a solid but not-quite-spectacular NBA career. Being a 6'6" power forward in the pros is a tough gig, so he completely rebuilt his game from the ground up to become a basket-facing small forward - a very impressive achievement (and tribute to his work ethic) that he never got enough credit for. Following this reinvention, he didn't do too shabbily - winning the Sixth Man Award in 2002, earning a championship ring in 2004 with the Detroit Pistons and posting a career scoring average in the double digits.
I'll go on record as saying that Corliss is my all-time favorite Razorback in any sport. He was a home-grown Arkansas kid who led the Hogs to unprecedented national success. He was all ferocious intensity on the court and all class off it. Plus, it didn't hurt that his era coincided with the peak of my own Razorback fandom...Stephen and I certainly spent many hours in college nerdily discussing and dissecting the Hogs during those days. Lots of good times and good memories there. So Corliss, thanks for everything and best of luck at Arkansas Baptist and beyond.
(coming up in part 2: Stephen looks back at some of Big Nasty's greatest games)