'It’s long past time': Former Arkansas basketball players say Bud Walton Arena is overdue more banners

Banners honoring former Arkansas men’s basketball players and coaches hang in the rafters, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. (Hank Layton/NWA Democrat-Gazette)
Banners honoring former Arkansas men’s basketball players and coaches hang in the rafters, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. (Hank Layton/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — Joe Kleine said that when he was watching the Duke-North Carolina basketball game last Saturday night on ESPN, he couldn’t help but notice all the banners honoring former Tar Heels hanging from the rafters of the Smith Center.

“The first thing they did when the broadcast started was show the ceiling and all the banners hanging up there,” Kleine said. “I wish we’d see something like that at Arkansas.”

North Carolina has banners honoring 53 former men’s players in its arena named after Dean Smith, the Tar Heels’ legendary coach.

Kentucky’s Rupp Arena has banners in its rafters honoring 39 former players — including John Pelphrey, Arkansas’ coach from 2008-11 — as well as former coaches Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith, long-time equipment manager Bill Keightley and play-by-play announcer Cawood Ledford.

When Kleine, a two-time All-Southwest center for the University of Arkansas in 1984-85, walks into Walton Arena on Saturday to serve as the SEC Network’s color analyst for the Razorbacks’ game against Georgia, he’ll look up and see two UA men’s players with banners in the rafters; Sidney Moncrief and Corliss Williamson.

Moncrief, a guard from Little Rock, was a consensus first-team All-American in 1979 and earned second-team honors in 1978.

Williamson, a power forward from Russellville, was a first-team All-American in 1995 and earned second-team recognition in 1994 when he led the Razorbacks to the national championship and was named the most outstanding player at the Final Four.

Two Arkansas women’s players — career scoring leader Bettye Fiscus and All-American Delmonica DeHorney — also have banners as do former men’s coaches Nolan Richardson and Eddie Sutton.

All four players had their jersey numbers retired.

Eight North Carolina men’s players have their number retired, notably Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Phil Ford. The other 45 Tar Heels with banners have their jerseys honored, meaning their numbers are free to be used by other players.

“Sidney and Corliss deserve to have their numbers retired,” said Kleine, who played for the Razorbacks when they beat Jordan and No. 1 North Carolina 65-64 on Feb. 12, 1984, in Pine Bluff. “No one else at Arkansas should wear their numbers [32 for Moncrief and 34 for Williamson].

“I’m not talking about retiring other numbers when I say more of our former players need to be honored. I’m talking about recognizing more guys with their jersey numbers on banners.

“It’s the right thing to do, and in my opinion it’s long past time for it to happen.”

University of Arkansas-Little Rock Coach Darrell Walker, a guard and second-team All-American for the Razorbacks in 1983, and Kleine agreed the next two players who should be honored are Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph.

“To have Sidney up there, but not Ron and Marvin, is stupidity to me,” Kleine said. “What are we doing?”

Along with Moncrief, Brewer and Delph became known as “The Triplets” in 1978 when the trio of 6-4 guards from Arkansas led Sutton’s Razorbacks to the Final Four.

Brewer came to the UA from Fort Smith and Delph from Conway. Brewer was a second-team All-American in 1978.

When Moncrief’s banner was raised at Walton Arena, Brewer and Delph were on the court with him.

“I want to share a banner with Ron and Marvin,” said Moncrief, who lives in Little Rock. “That’s what I wish we could do. I don’t need to be up there by myself.

“We’re ‘The Triplets.’ What we did, we did together.”

Walker said that when he was a star at Chicago Corliss High School, he wanted to stay in his hometown and play for DePaul.

But Walker’s coach, Don Young, helped convince him to go to Arkansas after he played at Westark Community College (now UA-Fort Smith) for one season.

“Coach Young wanted me to go to Arkansas because of Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph and Sidney Moncrief,” Walker said. “He said, ‘You play just like those guys. You’ll be great at the University of Arkansas.’ Plus, he wanted me out of Chicago.

“If it wasn’t for Ron, Marvin and Sidney, I never would have come to Arkansas and been an All-American for Coach Sutton and been part of a lot of wins.

“So if Arkansas honors Ron and Marvin together, I would do everything in my power to make sure I was there for that ceremony, because I would have to pay homage to those guys.”

The last time Arkansas had a banner ceremony was in 2016 for Sutton. Richardson, Moncrief, Williamson, Fiscus and DeHorney were honored in 2015.

Kevin Trainor, Arkansas’ senior associate athletic director for former student-athlete engagement, said UA Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek is working to honor more players with banners.

“In an effort to expand those recognized with honored jerseys, Hunter Yurachek has already initiated a process of reviewing our program in an effort to recognize additional deserving individuals, while also maintaining its elevated standard of excellence,” Trainor said in an email. “We look forward to honoring additional Razorback legends in the years to come.”

Trainor wrote that it always has been and remains a focus of the athletic department to celebrate former players, including induction into the UA Sports Hall of Honor, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, Southwest Conference Hall of Fame and as part of the SEC legends program.

“The honored banner program remains a part of those continuing efforts,” Trainor wrote.

Kleine and Walker both said that along with Brewer and Delph being at the front of the line to be the next Razorbacks with banners, Todd Day deserves to be honored as soon as possible.

Day, the coach at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, is Arkansas’ career leading scorer with 2,395 points from 1989-92. He was a second-team All-American in 1991 and 1992.

“Todd Day is the all-time leading scorer in history and he’s not honored with a banner?” Walker said. “It’s hard to believe.”

Moncrief said determining who should have a banner in Walton Arena isn’t an easy call.

“When my number was retired [in the 1980s], I remember having a discussion with Coach Sutton and he really had to fight the administration,” Moncrief said. “Because at that time the feeling was, ‘Well, we don’t retire basketball players’ numbers.’

“The feeling was they didn’t want to open a gate they might not be able to shut.”

Moncrief also mentioned groups of players, in addition to Brewer and Delph, who are worthy of consideration.

“You look at Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller together and they were special,” Moncrief said, referring to the trio who Led Arkansas to the 1990 Final Four and four consecutive conference championships from 1989-92. “Darrell Walker, Joe Kleine and Alvin Robertson were special. There have been other groups of great players.

“It’s worthy of discussion about whether more players should be honored in the arena, and I’m glad we’re talking about it.”

Moncrief said an added complication is asking if how long a player was at Arkansas should be part of the criteria for a banner honor. He didn’t mention any players by name, but Joe Johnson and Bobby Portis each played two seasons with the Razorbacks before leaving for the NBA.

Johnson was an honorable mention All-American in 2001 and Portis was a second-team All-American and SEC Player of the Year in 2015.

“Is playing one or two seasons enough, or does someone have to play three or four years for Arkansas?” Moncrief said. “It’s not easy to come up with some of those answers.”

Kleine, who played 15 years in the NBA and now co-owns Corky’s Ribs & BBQ restaurants in Little Rock and North Little Rock, played three seasons at Arkansas after transferring from Notre Dame.

“Corliss was a great player, but does he win a championship without Scotty Thurman and Corey Beck?” Kleine said, referring to two other key members of the 1994 Razorbacks. “To me, Scott Hastings [is] the most underrated Razorback ever.”

Hastings is fourth on Arkansas’ career scoring list with 1,779 points from 1979-82.

“I’d like to see Scott be one of the guys who is honored, along with Darrell and Todd and some of his teammates,” Kleine said.

Richardson and Sutton were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame — the sports’ highest honor.

Gary Blair, who was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a coach last summer, won a women’s national title at Texas A&M in 2011, but he led Arkansas to its lone Final Four appearance in 1998.

“I’m glad Bettye and Delmonia have their banners for what all they did at Arkansas, they deserve it,” Kleine said. “But there’s no acknowledgement of Gary Blair in our arena. He should have a banner, too.”

Kleine was asked about getting a banner ceremony himself.

“If I ever got a banner, I’d be grateful, because it’s something I could experience with my grandkids,” said Kleine, who grew up in Slater, Mo. “They could walk out on the court with me, and they’d get a bigger kick out of it than me.

“But if I don’t ever get a banner, I’m fine with that. I’ve gotten some much from the state of Arkansas — the life they’ve allowed me to lead by supporting my business so my family can make our home here.

“So hang my number on a banner, or don’t. I’m fine either way. But as an ex-player, I know we need more guys to be acknowledged.”

Walker, a former NBA player and coach, said his main concern is for other Razorbacks.

“I’ve talked to a lot of guys,” Walker said. “I won’t name names, and they won’t say anything publicly, but they’re frustrated about the situation.

“To honest, there’s nothing as former players that we can do about it. It’s up to the University of Arkansas and whether they want to do something.”

Walker said time is another consideration when determining who to honor with banners.

“Nobody is getting any younger, and nobody is promised the next day,” Walker said. “So let’s get this done for Ron and Marvin.”

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