FAYETTEVILLE – Including surprises from a video via a former United States President to the return slobbering Hog on the court beside his name, former Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson called Sunday “Just a beautiful afternoon” dedicating the basketball floor of Walton Richardson as the “Nolan Richardson Court.”
Honoring Arkansas’ winningest basketball coach, 389 wins in his 1985-2002 Razorbacks tenure and Arkansas’ only basketball coach to win a national championship and take the Razorbacks to three Final Four and also with their lone national runner-up, Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek dedicated the court with Richardson and a large contingent of his former Razorbacks players and assistants looking on before new Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks defeated the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans, 79-64 in Sunday afternoon’s exhibition game.
Former President Bill Clinton, Arkansas; governor during Richardson’s early Razorbacks years and the President who came to Dallas and to Charlotte when Richardson’s Razorbacks advanced through the to get to the Final Four and then win the national championship over Duke, paid Richardson homage in a video during the presentation.
“I didn’t know Bill was going to speak,” Richardson said meeting media at halftime during the game. “They didn’t tell me about that. That was a surprise. He’s a diehard Razorback at heart and at the same time he loved the game. And I think he follows it well enough he understands the game. For him to the congratulate me made it that much sweeter. It was a beautiful day. The only sad part is my wife, Rose, didn’t get to enjoy it. She has not been feeling well for awhile so that’s the part I feel sad about that she’s not able to see it. But to have my grandkids and great grandkids able to come over and share that with us is absolutely great.”
Mike Anderson, fired last spring after eight years coaching Arkansas but still fondly remembered by Arkansas fans both as Arkansas’ head coach and Richardson’s 17 year assistant as evidenced by the ovation when he walked on the court with throng of Richardson’s disciples, returned for Sunday’s ceremony as St. John’s University’ head coach in Queens, N.Y.
As did T.J. Cleveland, Anderson’s former Arkansas assistant and a 4-year letterman guard for Richardson.
It obviously meant a lot to Richardson that Anderson, his point guard at Tulsa and the Golden Hurricane’s NIT championship and the opposing point guard when Richardson coached Western Texas Junior College to the national championship, came back for Sunday’s ceremony. “Mike’s just like my son,” Richardson said. “And the thing I enjoyed the most is how the fans appreciated him when he came out with the announcement that he was coming. You will never find someone more genuine.”
The trademark “slobbering Hog” at Walton’s midcourt that former Athletic Director Jeff Long removed even got somewhat restored by with the two small Hogs besides Richardson’s two designations on the floor as Nolan Richardson Court.
“That was another surprise,” Richardson said. “I had no idea about the slobbering Hog going to be there that I played under. I’m a slobbering Hog kind of guy. So that was another precious part of the surprise to me. So all around it was just a beautiful afternoon.”
To the crowd at Sunday’s ceremony, Richardson said, “This isn’t about me. It’s about the young men that played for me. It’s about the coaching staffs that helped me prepare them. It’s about the fans. It’s about you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and the bottom of the Richardson’s family’ heart. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Richardson expressed similar thoughts to media.“Knowing the feeling of having the court named after you, you had that great feeling inside,” Richardson said. “It’s something you never dreamed of. I didn’t go into coaching to have things named after me, but I’ve been very fortunate and very blessed. I’ve received so many awards, and I don’t deserve any of them. I think my players and my coaching staff, and of course the fans are the real winners. When you think it’s all over, then something else happens and you get another award. This one is probably the final and ultimate.”