To be an Arkansas fan is to be convinced that other sports fans and the national sports media don't give the Razorback program the respect it deserves. I guess it's in part the consequence of growing up in a small and often-maligned state.
In the fall of 1994, however, as the Hogs were gearing up to try to defend the national basketball championship they had won months earlier, the sports media was anything but dismissive of the Razorbacks. In fact, at least one writer was heaping an amount of praise on them that looks pretty over-the-top 13 years later.
In an edition of Sport magazine that I bought in the fall of 1994 and rediscovered during a recent visit home, Darryl Howerton penned an article entitled, "Hog Wild: Arkansas is Loaded with Pro Prospects, and the NBA is Waiting with Open Arms."
Here's a sample paragraph: " Arkansas' team photo looks more like an NBA scouts' most-wanted list than a collegiate squad. If you didn't know better, you might think the 1994-95 Razorbacks were one of the new expansion clubs joining the NBA next fall."
Here's another: "'To give you an idea of how loaded Arkansas is, let's just say I can kill six or seven trips around the country by going to just one game in Fayetteville,' says an NBA Western Conference scout."
And a sidebar that summarizes scouts' views of individual Hog players says the following: Dwight Stewart "could become a late lottery pick;" Corey Beck is "worth a late first-round pick for somebody;" Clint McDaniel is "definitely worth a first-round pick;" Corliss Williamson is "likely [the] No. 1 or 2 overall pick whenever he comes out of college;" Darnell Robinson will be a top five pick in the 1996 draft; and Scotty Thurman could be a top-10 pick "if he stays for his senior year."
Corliss was a lottery pick in 1995 and recently retired after a solid if unspectacular professional career. But Stewart, Beck, McDaniel and Thurman did not get drafted (although Beck and McDaniel did play in 88 and 12 NBA games, respectively). Robinson was drafted in 1996, but with the last pick in the last round - and he never played a minute in the NBA.
The point of all this is not to make fun of poor Darryl Howerton. After all, while his praise of the Hogs may have been a tad excessive even for the times, he was more or less reflecting the conventional wisdom as the 1994-95 season got underway: that Arkansas was unusually deep with top-line talent.
As time moves on, however, the true nature of those wonderful mid-90s teams becomes clearer: they were overachievers. Their whole was something greater than the sum of their parts. Outside of Corliss and Scotty, the roster was stacked with role players.
Perhaps the true hero of that era was Nolan Richardson. On Rivals.com's recent ranking of the Top 10 Teams of the 64 Era, the 1994 Hog clock in at No. 8 and feature the fewest NBA first-round picks (one) of any team on the list. (By contrast, the 1996 Kentucky team, which is No. 3, had six first-round draftees.)
Like any good Arkansan, Nolan never felt he got the respect he deserved. I'd say he's right.