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 this fifth and final installment of our Q&A (here are parts 1, 2, 3 and 4), Ricky discusses the influence of U.S. Reed, listening to "The Mothership Connection" and staying in touch with old friends. Many, many thanks to Ricky for his time, good humor and great storytelling.
Expats: Of the four Arkansas teams that you played on, which one was the best and which season was the most satisfying for you personally?
Norton: I'm going to say my freshman year. U.S. Reed was a senior. Mike Young was a senior. [Scott] Hastings and [Tony] Brown and those guys, they were juniors. We had a great veteran ballclub.
Practices were great. Because of the leadership that you had, you couldn't take any time off. You couldn't go out there and relax.
It wasn't the most talented team that Arkansas has had, but I would say it was one of the closest. Guys hung out together off the court. Not to say that those other teams didn't but guys were always going bowling together or going to a movie together. It was always team, team, team.
U.S. Reed was my roommate my freshman year. I learned a lot from U.S. Not only just from a basketball standpoint but about growing up to be a young man. He taught me a lot.
Sometimes your freshman year can be a very difficult year, leaving home and being away from parents and family. U.S. helped me get through all of that. He was a great mentor to me my freshman year.
Expats: Was that season both the best team and the most enjoyable season for you personally?
Norton: Yes. We won the Southwest Conference championship. We made it to the Sweet 16.
Expats: When you look back at your time at Arkansas, is there any particular song or music that you associate with that time?
Norton: U.S. was the deejay of the team. He had all kinds of albums. Before a game, we would always listen to Parliament, P-Funk (laughs). The Mothership Connection. "I want the bomb. I want the P-Funk."
Yeah, Parliament, man. Had to get that P-Funk going. Get you good and loose and ready to go out there and play some basketball.
Of course, I don't know if Coach Sutton would have approved of it. You see these guys that walk in the locker room with these big head phones on - and I know that time has changed - but I laugh sometimes because I say, "I wonder if Coach Sutton would have let us come in like that." I can see him now - "What in the world?"
Coach's idea of getting ready for the game was you sitting there with your head down, and you're kind of bowing a little bit. It's real quiet. You couldn't be goofing around, running around and stuff like that. Not while Coach Sutton was around.
If he left the locker room, Scott Hastings and those guys sometimes would carry on. Those grad assistants would be standing there - "Here comes Coach Sutton." And everybody would sit down, and you got your game face on. "Here comes Coach Sutton" (laughs).
When he was coaching over at Oklahoma State, he knew that the generation had changed and in order to continue to be a good coach and win ballgames, he knew that he was going to have to change some. Not a whole lot (laughs). But he was able to adapt to the new generation.
Expats: Which of your former teammates are you still in touch with?
Norton: I stay in touch with quite a few of them. Leroy Sutton, Darrell [Walker] - I talked with Darrell just a few days ago. Joe [Kleine] - I get tickled at Joe. I tell him, "Joe, I guess I don't call ever call you until I want a ticket or something" (laughs).
U.S. and I talk all the time. Carey Kelly. I talk with Tony Brown every once in a while. I've talked to Eugene Nash and Charles Balentine.
We kind of stay in touch with one another. Probably not as much as we should.
That's one of the things that Coach preached. He said, "What you guys went through during your years here, you need to treasure it. I know it's difficult sometimes, and you guys are going to go your separate ways, but do your best to try and stay in touch with one another. Just to say, ‘Hey, hi.'"
I think for the most part, that's what we do. We won't go out and have tea together that much, but if we're in the area, we try to see each other and catch up a little bit and talk about old Razorback basketball.