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Q&A: Ricky Norton, Part 1

Ricky Norton

Fans who followed Razorback basketball during the early 1980s no doubt recall Ricky Norton's zone-busting jumper and ice-water veins at the free-throw line. Norton played for Eddie Sutton's Hogs from 1980 to 1984 and was a starter for most of his final two seasons. During his time in Fayetteville, Arkansas won two SWC regular-season championships and one SWC tournament championship. The Hogs also made it to the NCAA Tournament every year of Norton's career and advanced to the Sweet 16 in both 1981 and 1983. Now living in his native Okalona, Norton is the transportation manager for Pharmacy Care of Arkansas.

In today's installment of our Q&A, Ricky discusses how he decided to sign with Arkansas. It's a story filled with several twists and turns (can you imagine an Arkansas State team featuring Norton, Michael Cage and Keith Lee?) but in the end, it's one that proves mother knows best.

Expats: You were a McDonald's All-American and a much sought-after recruit. We were curious what other schools you seriously considered before signing with Arkansas and what was it that ultimately made you sign with the Hogs?

Norton: A lot of people didn't know this story. Henderson State University - about 20 miles from where I live - Henderson was coached by Bobby Reese. Coach Reece was a great man, and he and I had a great relationship. He was recruiting me, and his assistant coach was Jimmy Allen.

Coach Allen won numerous state championships down in McNeil, Arkansas, which back then was a Class B school, the same classification that I played under at Okalona, and we were big rivals in high school.

Coach Allen cost me a bunch of state championships because McNeil would always knock us out!  I had two great relationships with those guys.

That particular year, Coach Reese came by to see me. He was on his way to Hutchinson, Kansas, to a national junior college tournament. He just jokingly said, "Come on out to Hutchinson with me. I'm going to a tournament."

I said, "Well, OK. Yeah, I'll go with you." He said, "Oh no, I'm just kidding! Man, the NCAA would bury me so quick. But I just wanted to tell you that I was going up there, and I'll visit with you when I get back."

That Sunday morning, I got a phone call from a cousin of mine. She said, "Ricky, turn the radio on KBRC" - which is a radio station in Arkadelphia. "Coach Bobby Reese was killed in a car accident last night."

He was on Highway 7 coming through Hot Springs there. Back then, they had a deep curve. They called it Deadman's Curve because several people had had accidents there and were killed. The weather was kind of rainy and foggy. He lost control and was killed in an accident.

Man, I was just devastated. And I actually thought that Jimmy Allen was going to get the head-coaching job at Henderson. I had kind of made my mind up to go to Henderson State University.

When I was a young fella growing up, I would go to Henderson basketball games. The thing that really attracted me to Henderson was the style of ball that they played. Man, they played an up-tempo style of basketball like Coach [Nolan] Richardson played. Pressing. They would get it up and down the court.

As the recruitment process started, the big dogs started calling and coming. Especially after Coach Reese was killed, and they didn't hire Jimmy Allen as the head coach, I thought, "Well, OK, let's do something else."

Michael Cage and I were real good friends in high school. We met each other at basketball camp, and we stayed in touch with one another. Michael said to me, "Ricky, wherever you go to school, that's where I want to go." He said, "Keith Lee said that wherever I go, he's coming." So we toyed with going to Arkansas State and building a program at Arkansas State. You know, it was kind of intriguing.

Arkansas got in the picture, and I was a big Razorback fan as well. My mom fell in love with Coach Sutton. He just blew her away. Of course, [assistant coach Pat] Foster did the heavy recruiting, and he and I formed a great relationship.
Ricky Norton in Barnhill
All of a sudden, Kentucky pops up in the picture. I take a recruiting trip to Kentucky. I'm gonna tell you - you take a trip to Lexington, it's kind of hard to come away unsigned (laughs). It was a great trip.

The night before signing day, I was in Little Rock at my aunt's house, and we were having dinner. All of the family members were gathered around, and they said, "OK - where are you going to school?"

I said, "I'm going to the University of Kentucky." We had about 30 or 40 people there, and we had all been laughing and carrying on. And it got silent.

I'm like, "What's wrong?" I look at my mom, and I said, "Mom, you look sad. You look disappointed. You told me during this process that you wanted me to be happy and you wanted me to make the decision because I'm the one that has to live with it. That's what you told me, correct?"

She said, "Yes, baby, that's what I told you. But you know darn well I want you to be a Razorback." I said, "OK." So I went through some soul-searching and talking with my mom. I called Coach Sutton and told him that I was coming to the University of Arkansas.

I have no regrets. People ask me all time, "If you had to do it over again, would you have gone to Kentucky?" I say, "No way." Arkansas is home. I love Arkansas. I love the people of Arkansas, and the university was great to me. If I had to go through the process again - even knowing what I know now - I would go to the University of Arkansas and be a Razorback.

(In tomorrow's installment, Ricky discusses his late-game heroics against Wake Forest in 1983 and which Triplet was on his mind when he hit a last-second shot to defeat Texas A&M in the '84 SWC Tournament. And while you're waiting to read part two, sign up to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.)