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Q&A: Charles Balentine, Part 3

Today, we publish the third and final part of our Q&A with Razorback forward Charles Balentine, who played for Eddie Sutton from 1981 to 1985 (here are Part 1 and Part 2). In today's installment, Charles talks about the ways Leroy Sutton made the team laugh, the Razorbacks' Van Halen connection, the frustrations of playing with William Mills and the difficulties of Coach Sutton's last year in Fayetteville. Many, many thanks to Charles for his time, and a special tip of the cap to Dudley Dawson for helping us contact him.

We're always curious about the chemistry of the teams. Was there a guy who was a locker room leader, or a guy who was always keeping the team loose?

We had an unsung hero - it wasn't one of the guys who scored a lot of points. It wasn't one of the guys that made a lot of headlines. But Leroy Sutton was probably the guy on those teams - he had the right mind to be the leader. He was a pastor's kid. He was level-headed. He would always say things, and people would just calm down and listen.

He was my roommate. He was a year ahead of me, and I think I eventually kind of took on that role. Me being a very Christian young man too - I was in that role. Even to this day, I've still got players calling me about things.

I told Leroy a couple of weeks ago, "We always looked up to you. We never told you that. But we always did."

What is Leroy Sutton doing these days?

He just moved back to Little Rock. He is the music director at one of the Baptist churches in North Little Rock.

Who was good at cracking jokes and keeping people loose?

Leroy. He wasn't a funny guy, but the things he would do and say - it would just make you laugh. Him being a preacher's kid, he would always say things, and we'd be like, "What's that mean?"

He'd go like "Got-fooey," and we'd look at him and say, "I think he's mad!" And we'd all crack up.

He would just say stuff - we'd know what he meant, but he was saying it in the cleanest way, and we'd just crack up. Even Coach Sutton would crack up. He always had us in stitches.

The person that always made everybody laugh before he graduated was Tony Brown. He was on the team my freshman year. He was a comedian. He could imitate Coach Sutton - the things he would say and do, the way he walks.

And Coach Sutton would say, "Oh no, I don't do that!" And Tony would answer, "Oh no, I don't do that!" just like Coach. That was fun.

Are there any particular songs or movies or things like that that remind you of that era of your life?

Van Halen's "Jump." We did a highlight video to that song.

There was another group: Midnight Starr. They did "Freak-A-Zoid", "Curious," and "No Parking (On the Dance Floor)". Those were the songs that we would all sing.

We would ride the bus from Little Rock to Pine Bluff. The guy who drove the bus, he was a music freak. He would always play those songs. Every time he played, we knew to get up and start dancing - or try to dance.

Your senior season was Coach Sutton's last season. You guys ended up with an OK record, and you won a game in the NCAA Tournament. But in a lot of ways, that was a tough season. Did you have any season that Coach Sutton was burned out in Fayetteville, or was looking to leave?


It didn't really dawn on me until we got close to tournament time.

Do you guys remember William Mills? If he had stuck it out and kept his head right, he probably would have been one of the better players that ever played at Arkansas.

After Christmas, he and Coach fought every day. There was always a distraction around them. Joe and I could tell William was wearing down Coach, and it was wearing down us. William was more of a distraction to the team than a help. I actually volunteered to be his roommate for a while to try and get him to start thinking right.

He transferred in from Tennessee, and for some reason, he had that "I'm better than anybody" attitude. He was better athletic wise, but he wasn't better as a cohesive team guy. He wanted to always do his own deal.

My senior year, we may be up three or four points, and you would see Mills take a 30-footer. It was like, "What are you doing?"

But when we got close to the Southwest Conference tournament, playing those last four or five games - the grind of the season - I could tell something else was bothering Coach.

He would kind of confide with me and Joe a lot. He would say, "This is getting pretty tough." We always thought, "Well, coach, we'll control Mills."

He never would elaborate on him doing other things until after we lost to St. John's in Salt Lake City. We're flying back and we were talking, and I remember him telling myself and Joe, "I'm so glad that I got a chance to coach you guys. You guys are outstanding young men." And I knew something was wrong then.

From your own perspective, was your senior season an enjoyable or difficult one?

It was a little bit of both.

There were only two seniors - myself and Joe. We had seven freshmen on that team. We were young, very young. We did a lot of teaching. Believe it or not, I'm still close to those guys, as if they were still freshman. I know where all of them are. We talk about maybe once a month. They'll call me or shoot me an e-mail.

They were one of my favorite group of guys. I was like their big brother. Joe and I were like their big brothers.

On a side note, your final game against St. John's in the NCAA Tournament - even though you guys lost to them, that was a tremendously exciting game. You were pretty big underdogs, and you really took it to them. That was down to the wire.

I still believe that if Mills had had his head on right - I couldn't get on Chris Mullin because Mills was on the bench. He wasn't doing anything right.

For years, I'd ask Coach, "Why didn't you let me guard Chris Mullin?" He'd say, "Charles, I couldn't because we had no help at the forward spot. Mills wouldn't act right and guard Walter Berry, and I had to leave you on [Berry]." We had to put Allie Freeman on Chris Mullin, and he just killed him.

One of my few specific memories of that game is of Mills missing a dunk in that game. I'm sure you remember that.

Oh, I remember it.

I can't remember at what point in the game it was.

That was in the second half, about five minutes into the second half. He goes down and does that windmill junk, and it bounced off the back of the rim and went flying off into the stands.

I remember Coach Sutton was aggravated about a lot of things, and he went into the stands to get on one of the commissioners. Do you all remember that?

Oh, yeah.

We were kind of in disarray at that time, but we ended up getting back and getting it close and then we ended up losing at the end.
Balentine Today
Did you follow the Razorback teams after you left? Were there any players or teams that you particularly enjoyed watching or maybe reminded you of the way that you played?

There were a couple of players that I looked at and said, "That's me all over." Do you recall Lenzie Howell?

Yes. That's funny - when we were compiling these questions, I thought of Lenzie Howell as a potential answer.

I thought he played like me. Did a lot of things like me. He was kind of overshadowed by some of those other guys. But he was a glue to that team.

And I always thought with the right tutelage - I thought Lee Wilson was a lot better player than he was given credit for.

And the last player that I just felt was me all over was Ken Biley. He came out of Pine Bluff. We have the same background, just about same everything.

When he got out of college, I hired him to come work for me at Wal Mart. I said, "I'm going to show you how to be a manager and all that." That was part of my way of taking those guys and saying, "The NBA isn't always going to be there. You gotta get ready for the workforce."

Charles, thanks so much. We can't tell you how much we appreciate it.

Well before we go, I just want to thank all of the fans and thank them for their support of the university. We've been kind of down in football and basketball, but it's gonna come back!