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Q&A with Former Arkansas Basketball Player Leroy Sutton, Part 2

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A key role player on Eddie Sutton's Razorback teams of the early '80s discusses the most exhilarating victory and the most depressing defeat of his Arkansas career, the time he broke his coach's nose and why he isn't a fan of Barton Coliseum.

Leroy Sutton in his Razorback days
Leroy Sutton in his Razorback days
University of Arkansas

Here now is the second and final part of my interview with former Razorback basketball forward Leroy Sutton, who was a defensive standout on (no relation) Eddie Sutton's teams of the early 1980s (here's Part 1). In today's installment, Sutton, who is now the minister of music at Full Counsel Christian Fellowship Church in North Little Rock, discusses the joy of beating North Carolina, an instance of (unintentional) Sutton-on-Sutton violence and why happiness is a Lubbock, Texas, water fountain in your rear-view mirror.

The transcript below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What team did you all get the most fired up to play? What team did you feel the biggest sense of rivalry with?

Sutton: For me, it was Houston. No doubt. My junior year, we were 14-2 in the Southwest Conference, and the only two games we lost were to them. They were the team to beat. They had [Hakeem] Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Michael YoungPhi Slama Jama - they were an awesome team.

There were some other good teams in the Southwest Conference - don't get me wrong - and some great players. In my early years, Terry Teagle played for Baylor. Ricky Pierce, who at one time lead the nation in scoring, played for Rice. He had a pretty good NBA career. LaSalle Thompson played for Texas, and he had a good NBA career.

But if you're looking for teams, it would probably be Houston, because you're trying to measure where you're at.

Was there an opposing coach or an opposing player that particularly pushed yours and the rest of the team's buttons? Someone who got under your skin or on your nerves a little bit?

Sutton: We got along with Houston. The top teams in the conference were more down to earth. It was some of those teams that didn't have good records that would try to act like they had something. They would be a little cocky, and I'm thinking, "For what reason?"

I would expect a team like Houston or some of the other top teams in the Southwest Conference at that time to be that way. I could understand that. But some of these teams that you played that didn't have a good record, they'd try to act like they were all that. I can't remember who those teams were.

This may lead to a different answer than the "best Razorback team" question, but, on a personal level, what was your most enjoyable season in Fayetteville?

Sutton: Really, my junior and senior years - I enjoyed those two years. I'll put it this way: I think one of the most difficult loses, the one that really stung me the worst, was the one that ended my junior year, when we lost against Louisville in Knoxville on a last-second tip-in.

We had Darrell and Alvin as our guards. You had Joe Kleine, Charles Balentine, myself. I feel like we had a complete team, and I felt like, man, this is the team that really has a chance to go all the way. Or make it to the Final Four. And the way we lost that game, on a tip-in, it's like we just missed it, missed an opportunity.

And then my senior year, we lost to Virginia in my last game, which hurt because that was the last time I got a chance to wear a Razorback uniform. We had a chance to do some special things then, too, but we just lost.

On the flip side, what was the most exciting victory you experienced as a Razorback?

Sutton: Probably North Carolina. That probably was the most exciting to me.

The day before, we beat SMU in Dallas in an afternoon game. We were scheduled to fly out that evening into Pine Bluff, but they were having some bad weather, and that forced us to have to spend the night in Dallas that Saturday night. We woke up early the next morning and had the flight into Pine Bluff. It was a nationally televised, early game. I think it started at 11 in the morning - 11 or 12. Anyway, by the time we got to the arena, it wasn't long before the game.

I just remember Coach Sutton said something like, "If we were in a series against North Carolina" - at the time they were ranked No. 1 in the country - "they may beat us." But he said, "When you're just playing one game, you've got a chance. Put everything out there on the floor."

They had Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins. But we had Alvin and Joe Kleine, you know what I'm saying? So I felt like we could match up with them. We were such a strong defensive team. Coach Sutton was a stickler about the way we played D.

We were at home, playing the No. 1 team in the nation. What more motivation do you need? We already knew what it felt like to play a good team because we played against Houston all the time, against Hakeem and Clyde and those guys. We felt we could play against anybody.

What do you remember about the atmosphere in the Pine Bluff Convention Center that day? I was fortunate enough to be there, and I'll never forget how insane the crowd was.

Sutton: It was hyped, man. Pine Bluff was a bit different from playing in Barnhill. It was a smaller arena, but it was just as loud. If you couldn't get up for that game - I mean, it was one of those days that you'll never forget.

It was so funny: I was mostly a defensive player, but I was having my best offensive game of the season, and I got in some early foul trouble, and I fouled out early in the second half. I scored 11 points. I was playing pretty good, but they were calling the game kind of close.

It was an exciting game, and of course Charles [Balentine] hit the winning shot.

Who was your funniest Razorback teammate, the guy who kept things loose in the locker room?

Sutton: We had some good guys. In the early part of my career, U.S. Reed was one. He was comical. Tony Brown - he was another funny guy (laughs). Ricky Norton, too. And Alvin. Really, a lot of the guys were comedians in their own way.

What was the most enjoyable road trip of your time as a Hog, and on the flip side, was there a place where you really dreaded going to play?

Sutton: I didn't like going to [Texas] A&M too much. They've got a great place now, but I didn't enjoy their old coliseum. And I didn't like going to Texas Tech because I hated the water down there. It tasted like oil. In the drinking fountains and in the hotel, the water tasted like oil.

A difficult place to play, to me, was Rice. They were one of the smaller schools, and their gym was so small, it kind of reminded you of a little high-school gym. You know the high-school gyms where they had the stage at the end of the court? We had those in Indiana, and Rice reminded me of that. Mentally, it took me something to get ready to play at a place like that.

I didn't like playing at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock too much, either. That was like playing in a barn, because they had all those rodeos there, and you had to deal with the smell (laughs). It was kind of a difficult place to play sometimes.

What was a really enjoyable road trip?

Sutton: I used to like to go to Houston. Depending on the time of the year, sometimes it would be kind of cold in Fayetteville, and you would get to Houston, and it would be 70 degrees. I used to love that.

What was your relationship with Coach Sutton like? Was he warm and open with you and your teammates, or did he keep you guys at something of a distance?

Sutton: My relationship personally with him was great. Coach Sutton was a good father figure to me. I never did have a problem with him.

I don't know if you know this or not: when I was a freshman, and we were in practice, I broke Coach Sutton's nose. It was during a fast-break drill, and he was on the court, but moving to get it off it. I wasn't paying too much attention to where he was because I was looking at the person who was going to pass me the ball, and we collided.

Here I was, a freshman, and I had broken his nose (laughs). It was a big thing that year. They all teased me. At our sports banquet, I think they gave Coach Sutton a trophy in the shape of a broken nose. It was real crazy. But he was cool about it. It was an accident that happened. I obviously didn't do it on purpose.

Coach Sutton has always been straight up with me and honest. He had an open-door policy with me. I would go and talk to him. I don't really know how he was with other players, but I was captain of the team my senior year so I had a lot of respect for him, and he had respect for me.

Are you still in touch with him today?

Sutton: Yeah, I talk to him every now and then. Sure do. He's a little older now and a little more feeble, but every now and then I'll pick up the phone and give him a call, and we'll talk.

Which of your former teammates are you still in touch with today?

Sutton: There are some guys that are close around, that I still talk to every now and then. I talk with Ricky Norton once in a while. Charles Balentine. U.S. Reed. Tony Brown. Tony's now the interim coach of the Brooklyn Nets, but when he was an assistant with the Mavericks a couple of years ago, I went to a game in Dallas to see him.

I talk with Carey Kelly, because he lives here now in North Little Rock. Darrell Walker - he lives in Little Rock, and I talk with him. Joe Kleine came over to the church because we have our own radio station, and he came and did an interview with us - we have a little sports show that we do at our church that we host every Saturday. Jimmy Dykes - I talk with him from time to time.

It's not like I talk with these guys every day, but it's good to catch up with them once in a while.