Hogging title for another season is now Richardson's No. 1 priority NCAA TOURNAMENT

April 06, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- "Where do I go now?"

It was 8:35 yesterday morning, Nolan Richardson was working on a half-hour nap, and seeking some direction from an Arkansas administrator. He'd already done appearances on the network wake-up shows and lectured the media one last time, and was about to board a bus that would begin the Razorbacks' journey back to Fayetteville, where there will be an official welcome home tonight from more than 20,000 at 5-month-old Bud Walton Arena.

Tomorrow, Richardson will get his golf clubs out of storage. Sometime soon he'll accompany his team to the White House for a Rose Garden ceremony with the Razorbacks' First Fan. He's already begun dealing with Arkansas being favored to repeat as NCAA champions in 1995, a logical byproduct of Monday's 76-72 title-game victory over Duke.

"Now that we've got it, let's see if we can defend it," Richardson said yesterday. "We've got to start thinking of what's coming up next year. When you're predicted to do something, that's the toughest job of all."

Richardson could have been referring to the Razorbacks beating underdog Duke, but Arkansas didn't surface as a Sweet 16 heavyweight until March 20, when 1993 champion North Carolina was upset in the second round by Boston College.

The pressure and attention already are accumulating, but a year's growth will mature a team that played beyond its years throughout the NCAA tournament, especially in the second half against Duke, when it overcame a 10-point deficit.

Richardson's diatribes about respect, perception and race relations in America, however valid, served to put the spotlight on him and off of the youngest championship team since 1966-67, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was still Lew Alcindor and UCLA started three other sophomores and a junior, Mike Warren.

If Corliss Williamson doesn't reconsider his stance on the NBA draft, next season Arkansas will return every regular except Roger Crawford, the guard who broke a foot in a second-round win over Georgetown.

"I'm not sure we'll hold on to Big Nasty [Williamson] for two more years," Richardson said. "Scotty Thurman is a very intelligent young man. You can't take 21 credits at Arkansas, but we ordered a correspondence course for him and he did it last semester anyway. He can probably graduate in three years."

Williamson, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament, and Thurman, whose three-pointer from the right side with 51 seconds to go won the game for Arkansas, are sophomores.

"None of us are going anywhere," Thurman said.

Junior point guard Corey Beck, whose 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in the title game were examples of why Richardson calls him the "heart and soul" of the Razorbacks, got his teammates thinking about the 1994 NCAA tournament a year ago this week.

Arkansas was eliminated by North Carolina in the third round in 1993.

"Coach Richardson plays a lot of golf in the summer," Thurman said. "Corey got us playing some serious pick-up ball, and thinking about this. North Carolina's big guys destroyed us last year, and we knew we had to get some of our own."

Some sizable help was on the way in the form of two 6-foot-11 freshmen: Darnell Robinson, California's all-time leading prep scorer, and Lee Wilson, a fellow Parade All-America from Texas. The foot injury that kept Williamson out of nearly half of 1992-93 healed completely. There was no sophomore jinx for him and Thurman.

Egos were suppressed and roles well-defined, and Richardson is already using the 1993-94 Tar Heels as a cautionary tale.

"Just look at North Carolina this year," Richardson said when asked the pitfalls the Razorbacks will face next season.

Arkansas went 31-3 and became the first Southeastern Conference team to win the title besides Kentucky, which last won in 1978.

With Florida also making the Final Four, it was an up year for the SEC. The Razorbacks lost at Alabama and Mississippi State in January and the only loss in their last 20 games came against Kentucky in the semifinals of the SEC tournament.

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