Ask a devoted Razorback basketball fan, “who is Arkansas’ most famous player from Europe?”
Davor Rimac is the quick (and easy) answer.
The Croatian actually was a part of the fabric of Arkansas before ever stepping foot inside Barnhill or Bud Walton Arena.
“One of my dad’s players, David Brown, on the team he coached in Switzerland, played for Coach (Nolan Richardson) at Tulsa and so my dad was aware of that and I came over here and went to tennis and basketball camps on campus,” Rimac said.
Eventually it sunk in that he wanted to be a part of American culture and decided to go to high school at Fayetteville and actually lived with Richardson his junior year.
“It was only supposed to be one year, but when I went back they wouldn’t count the year I did over here as progress, so I decided to go back and finish at Fayetteville. But I couldn’t live with Coach because UNLV had gotten in trouble for having a player live with an assistant coach and he actually adopted him and the player had to redshirt.”
Rimac was still not cleared to play his first year with the Hogs and he could only practice and scrimmage with the team.
“That was the team that included Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller as seniors,” Rimac said. “Had I been cleared to play, I would’ve been able to do a lot more early on. That summer I went home and injured both of my knees, I tore a tendon in one and couldn’t get rid of the pain.”
The next summer, instead of going home, he decided to stay in Fayetteville and his mother came and lived with him.
“I practiced five hours a day every day and people thought I’d gained weight when I’d actually lost weight,” Rimac said.
Going into that 1993-94 championship season, Rimac knew he was going to be counted on to play a significant role, but he didn’t know how much until Clint McDaniel went down with an injury midseason.
“Coach always said ‘if you give me effort in practice, I’ll play you’ and I was just ready to go in and do whatever I had to do.”
Rimac started in the Tennessee game, had 12 points and nine rebounds in the narrow win. He would start in the next seven games following, as the Razorbacks won all eight games.
The Kentucky game was the big one they knew they needed to win, and Rimac’s 3-pointer following a Roderick Rhodes technical foul helped get the Hogs back in the game.
“He stopped their momentum,” Rimac said. “The place was going nuts and then the air just went out before the half. We were a team that if you let us get in a groove, you weren’t going to stop us.”
One game that stands out to Rimac is the Auburn game early in conference that year.
“We had been struggling up to that point and Coach came in before the game and was like ‘what do you call it when you guys just play’ and we were like ‘pickup’ and he goes ‘no that’s not it’ and we go ‘you mean hoopin?’ and he answered yes and said go do that,” Rimac said.
“That game we went out and scored 117 points.”
To this day, it still is the most points scored by the Hogs in a SEC game.
“Another time was when we got down 10 to Duke in the title game,” Rimac said. “No one thought we were in trouble. We just regrouped and played defense. On offense, run the lanes and get the ball to Corliss. A lot of times if we were behind by like 8 in a game, Ray Biggers would look to me and say “it’s alright, Al’s coming in, we’ll be up 5 in a few minutes.”
Rimac missed the first team reunion in 2009 and the Final Four teams reunion in 2014, so he’s very excited to finally get to be here and hear John George call his name one more itme.
“Our team knew who played well with whom, and everyone knew their roles, everyone knew their time would come whenever,” Rimac said. “No one complained about playing time because everyone got it. It was a fun time, a great atmosphere. People over here don’t understand it, even if I tried to explain it to them.”