WOODY BASSETT: Time to compete

Excitement of Hog basketball can be revived

The beauty of sports is they are unscripted. Anything can happen in any sport on any given day. That's why we watch and why we tend to get wrapped up in the stories and fortunes of our favorite team or players. Maybe it partly explains why the remarkable comeback by Tiger Woods from a broken life and a broken body, culminating in his scintillating victory at The Masters last Sunday, captured the hearts and minds of millions of Americans, including many who don't even play golf.

But this column today isn't about the resurgence of a fallen sports icon; it's about the next chapter of Arkansas basketball, one yet to be written by a new coach but one in which we will hopefully witness a resurgent and energized basketball program reach its potential for Razorback fans everywhere.

First, though, a few words about the last chapter. Mike Anderson deserves the gratitude of those who follow Razorback basketball. While serving as the trusted, longtime assistant of Nolan Richardson and for the past eight years as head coach, Anderson was on the Razorback bench for a lot of wins and was an integral part of some of the most glorious moments in Arkansas basketball history. A man of character and integrity to the core, he treated others well and set a good example, especially for his players. Because he did things the right way, Anderson was able to walk out of Bud Walton Arena that last day with his head held high.

Goodbyes are hard, often sad, but if he chooses not to coach again, let's hope Mike and Marcheita Anderson stay in Fayetteville. If they do, they will make us better, just as they always have.

Three men were central to the coaching transition at Arkansas: Anderson, Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek and the new coach he hired, Eric Musselman. Each acquitted himself nicely. Anderson was graceful on the way out and Musselman was prepared and confident on the way in. Yurachek earned well-deserved respect from Razorback fans for demonstrating his ability to make tough decisions, for the professional manner in which he carried himself, and for doing and saying all the right things. His sound and vigorous leadership is to be commended.

It had to have been difficult for Yurachek to tell Anderson he would no longer have his dream job coaching the Razorbacks. In deciding to let Coach Anderson go, our athletic director knew he was dismissing a well-liked man who has been a class-act and a friend to many. And it couldn't have been a walk in the park for Yurachek as he patiently conducted his ultimately successful search for our next basketball coach amid the usual rumors, speculation and uninformed second-guessing that seem to always accompany college coaching searches. Hopes soar and expectations rise with the arrival of any new coach. When that coach steps off the airplane, he's still undefeated. But there's a schedule to be played each season and only the test of time proves if hopes are fulfilled and expectations met.

Every sign so far is that Yurachek secured an outstanding basketball coach who will inject a strong dose of energy, enthusiasm and optimism into the collective bloodstream of the Razorback fan base. Our new coach is a man driven to be successful and hungry to win. He landed in Fayetteville with a comprehensive plan on how to ensure good things happen for our basketball program. Best of all, it's abundantly clear Eric Musselman and his family are excited to be here, ready to embrace the opportunity to put Razorback basketball back on the map in a big way and make the program relevant and competitive again on a national level.

In the scheme of things, college athletics are not important. But sports do furnish an opportunity to occasionally step away from all that life deals us, offering temporary refuge from the stuff that really matters in our lives. If you were around during the Eddie Sutton or Nolan Richardson years, you know how fun and captivating Arkansas basketball can be. That's why we continue to remember and celebrate those two coaching eras. Razorback faithful were some of the most prideful, passionate and engaged basketball fans in America during those years of high achievement, when we were among the best in college basketball.

It can be that way again.

It's time to compete for championships. It's time to restore the aura and palpable energy of Bud Walton Arena. It's time to look to the future and to create new Razorback basketball memories for our state. It's time for younger generations to finally feel what it's like around here when Arkansas basketball is in the national conversation and has one of the top college teams in the country.

Best of luck to Coach Musselman.

Commentary on 04/18/2019

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