Drama. Intrigue. Betrayal. Deception … OK, so maybe that’s overstating the content of today’s installment of our Q&A with former Razorback basketball player Greg Skulman (here’s part one and part two). Still, we think you will be interested in Greg’s recollections of how his playing time got squeezed at the end of his career – as well as his humorous assessments of Eddie Sutton’s style of play. On with the show …
Do you recall what was your best game as Razorback? Not necessarily the one where you had the most points, but the one where you felt where you contributed the most.
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I happen to have a tape of me playing. I should have a lot more. I just didn’t take this stuff – I don’t know what the deal was. You’d think I’d have a lot of games taped and recorded just for posterity’s sake, but I guess as a kid you just don’t think that much about it.
But anyway, I happen to have one that my brother recorded. It was against TCU, of all people. Not a huge team. I had 14 points or something. I had a dunk. I think that was probably the highest point total I ever had, possibly. I guess that would have to be it.
I had a weird career, in my mind. When I first came to Arkansas as a sophomore, I played a lot. I even started some games.
My career was in reverse order. My sophomore year, I was a starter. I played a lot. Sutton talked a lot about me. And then my junior year, I played less. My senior year, I played even less.
Yeah, weird. There were different factors involved, but that’s the way it ended up. I was a lot more excited about the whole thing my sophomore year. That was the best year for me.
I can’t remember when that TCU game was, if that was my sophomore year or not. But I think it was.
Did you lose confidence over the years, or did you have some injuries, or did you just get into a bad situation with Sutton?
You just opened a can of worms, small can that is – this stuff is not that important. But since you asked, I will tell you it was a combination of things.
It was definitely hard to play with confidence, at least offensively, for Sutton back in those days. I think he sort of changed as he got older, or the game changed is probably more like it.
I can remember growing up and watching games and seeing guys take one shot, miss it and get yanked. I’d think, “That can’t be a fun way to play.”
No. And if you watch some of those games now — like I was telling about this tape that I watched recently — oh my gosh. It’s the most boring basketball you’ve ever seen in your entire life. It’s horrible.
We didn’t have a three-point line. That’s just helped the game tremendously — that alone. There also wasn’t a shot clock.
Basically, the Eddie Sutton offense was pass the ball six times before you look for a shot. Six times! It’s like — oh my gosh. If he had wanted you to pass just four times, you’d be like, “Enough already!”
It was not just Sutton — a lot of coaches did it this way. I guess it was the Henry Iba way.
Watching this old game tape, I was laughing out loud. There we were in our short shorts, long socks and passing it around the perimeter like three, four, five times. Then pass inside to Hastings, then right back out.
Then around the perimeter again. Then in to Hastings, then right back out. Hastings wouldn’t even look for a shot because three guys would immediately collapse on him. None of us were going to take a “low” percentage shot and get pulled, so they didn’t have to really defend the perimeter, and they would just pack it in on him.
Eventually Hastings would get off a shot or one of us would be so wide open you just had to shoot it. If it didn’t go in you’re immediately looking at the bench to see if someone was getting up to come in for you!
I think we would just either bore the defensive to death or tire them out. It was all about getting the proverbial “high percentage shot.” That’s the way a lot of college basketball was then, not just us.
I’m thinking, “God, I can’t remember it being this bad.” But it is — I’m sitting here watching it. This exactly why the shot clock and three-point basket were introduced to the college game. There were many very exciting games also — don’t get me wrong. The college game has definitely changed for the better, though.
Getting back to the original question, there were multiple factors in my diminished playing time my senior year. First, Darrell Walker came into the program from Westark, and he was definitely going to be a starter because he had the talent. So, all of a sudden there’s another a spot gone. And then Alvin Robertson came in my senior year.
OK – here comes the soap opera part to my little story.
At one time we were all kind of interchangeable parts. Then Brown and Peterson established themselves as starters.
So, it came down to Friess and me, and Friess got the nod. That was OK — I thought, at some point, he would come out, and I would go in for him. He never came out, it seemed.
My senior year — my playing time went down to nothing. I didn’t know how to respond to the situation, and no coaches talked to me about it at all. This went on for half the season. I kind of pouted about it. I wasn’t talking to anybody.
If I had had any sense, I would have gone to somebody right away early in the season and asked what was the deal. Instead I tried to be stoic about it.
Sutton finally noticed my pouting. By this time I was really upset but didn’t know what to do. I got called in for a meeting with then assistant coach Bill Brown. This is after half of the season is already over.
Coach Brown says that Coach Sutton has noticed that I’m not practicing as hard as I usually do and wondered what was the matter. It doesn’t take a heart surgeon to know what the matter was, but we had to play this goofy game. So I finally got it off my chest and asked, “Why am I not getting to play!? Why am I in the doghouse?”
He went on to say they had thought about redshirting me but, for whatever reason, didn’t do it. He then went on to tell me that when Coach Sutton, in a coaches meeting, asked “What’s wrong with Skulman?”, assistant coach Jimmy Counce said, “I think we should just ignore him.”
That was like a spear to my heart. Very un-Christian-like thing to say. That’s when it really dawned on me why Friess was playing, and I wasn’t.
Jimmy Counce had come on as a full-time assistant coach and Sutton loved Counce like a son. Counce loved Friess – Skulman doesn’t play.
What’s interesting is less than a year earlier at the 1981 Southwest Conference Tournament in San Antonio, Counce joined the team right during the end-of-season conference tournament as a first-time assistant. Counce managed to get into an ugly confrontation with one of our starting players, Tony Brown.
Counce had apparently said some type of rude remark to some folks in the stands of the Alamodome. Those folks just happen to be Tony Brown’s family. Tony lit into Counce like there was no tomorrow. Later, Counce came down to my room looking for U.S. Reed, who was a team leader, to talk about the incident, but U.S. was gone.
Counce was all upset about the situation. There he is, standing there on the hotel balcony looking out over the city with tears in his eyes. I felt really bad for the guy. I’m consoling him, telling him it’s alright and that everybody will get over it.
Then less than a year later he’s throwing me under the bus not caring one bit about me or my situation. He says, “I think we should just ignore the guy!” Sheesh – thanks a lot
What ended up happening was, Alvin Robertson kept getting better and better and by midseason he got the starting job. Brad was now on the bench. And then he pouted like crazy. He actually left the team for a while. Just left. Went AWOL. Missed practices, school, everything. I guess he went home. Anyway, I would never have dreamed of doing something like that, not in a million years.
Bottom line, Alvin just came on, and he took the spot. So there Brad was sitting there next to me on the bench, and we were both just kind of getting playing time here and there, whenever somebody’s in foul trouble or whatever.
Was your sophomore year the most fun, then, I take it?
My sophomore year was the most fun. I had a really good friend — I roomed with Alan Zahn. He was a senior. He had learned the ropes, and he taught me the ropes.
It was great. It couldn’t have been better. He was a cool guy. We became good friends. I played a lot. It was just awesome. That was definitely the most fun, my sophomore year.
(more at www.razorbackexpats.com)