With the off-season blogging doldrums in full effect, I think now is the perfect time to bore you with the list of my 10 favorite Razorback basketball players of all time. More than 30 years of following Hog hoops left me with no shortage of worthy candidates, and whittling down the list of potential honorees to just 10 has been an emotionally draining process, one that has kept me up for nights on end and, at times, reduced me to a sobbing, incoherent mess of a man. OK - maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but it was difficult to craft the list that I will be unveiling over the course of the next several weeks.
One quick note before the party rolls on: I've limited the list to players that I've actually seen play in a Razorback uniform. I started watching the Hogs in the 1979-80 season, when I was seven years old. That was the year after Sidney Moncrief's senior season. With that bit of context, on to No. 9 (btw, here's no. 10) ...
Scour the Internet, and you will find precious little information about Lenzie Howell's Hog career. That's understandable - Lenzie only played two seasons at Arkansas, and his time in Fayetteville ended a half decade before the Internet became part of the American mainstream. It's also fitting, because even when Howell was a vital member of Nolan Richardson's first truly great Razorback teams, he almost never got the attention he deserved.
A member of Richardson's legendary 1988 recruiting class - the one that brought Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller, among others, to Fayetteville - the 6'4" Howell was a transfer from San Jacinto Junior College in Texas. That year's Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook described him this way: "Howell was one of the most overshadowed junior college players in the country as he played in the shadow of JC All-Americans David Butler and Moses Scurry [both of whom would go on to star at UNLV] at San Jacinto. Howell was a devastating rebounder in preseason practice. He simply eats the glass at either end of the floor. Arkansas coaches believe Howell might even be the team's leading rebounder this season."
Indeed, Lenzie would lead the Razorbacks in rebounding that 1988-89 season, hauling in 7 boards a game. And just as he was overshadowed by Butler and Scurry in his junior college days, Howell would spend most of his two years at Arkansas watching Mayberry, Day and Miller get much more ink than he. But make no mistake: Howell was a huge part of those 1989 and 1990 teams, which had a combined record of 55-12, won two Southwest Conference regular-season championships, two SWC Tournament championships and made the Final Four in 1990. After the struggles of the mid- and late-1980s, those two seasons were particularly exciting.
Part of Howell's appeal is the fact that he played his best during the postseason: he was the MVP of the 1989 SWC Tournament and the MVP of the 1990 Midwest Regional. Against North Carolina in the 1990 regional semifinals, he led the Hogs in scoring with 25 points and in rebounding with 8 boards. That Tar Heel team wasn't one of Dean Smith's stronger clubs, but it was still thrilling to see the Hogs beat them so thoroughly - they won by a score of 96 to 73 - on such a prominent stage. I remember one of my dad's friends calling us after that game and saying, "If Lenzie Howell were here right now, I'd kiss him."
Two days after the victory over UNC, Howell led the Hogs to an 88-85 victory over Texas that put the Razorbacks in the Final Four. He scored 21 points and collected 8 rebounds.
Another part of Howell's appeal - and perhaps one of the reasons that he didn't get a ton of publicity - was his on-court demeanor. In contrast to the sometimes entertaining, often irritating Day and Miller, Lenzie went about his business quietly, calmly. He was classy. The 1991 Hogs were perhaps the most talented squad in Arkansas history, and they compiled a 34-4 record. But that hot-headed team fell one game short of a return trip to the Final Four, and I have to think they missed Howell's grace and poise under the bright lights.
Many Razorbacks have enjoyed careers that were more celebrated than Howell's; however, very few have been as enjoyable to watch as Lenzie was.