FAYETTEVILLE - Nothing unites Arkansas like Yankee outsiders criticizing any of Arkansas’ Razorbacks.
So Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson, just a few weeks ago the target of many of the speak-first, think later crowd dominating Twitter and so often calling sports talk radio shows, seems to have those folks plus his always stalwart supporters all in his corner.
Arkansas unites with Anderson coming to the defense of Moses Kingsley following ESPN analyst Dick Vitale’s during the game criticism of the Arkansas senior center late in the Razorbacks’ 82-65 SEC Championship loss to Kentucky last Sunday in Nashville, Tenn.
Following Kingsley’s flagrant foul ejection on a hard foul after being slapped with a first-half technical, Vitale said, " When you think you’re tough and you start to do things in illegal fashion that is not toughness. That’s weakness. There’s no place for this, none whatsoever, in the game.For everyone watching, kids out there playing the game, don’t emulate that. That doesn’t make you a man. That makes you a mouse."
Anderson, on Monday’s ESPN owned SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show, said Kingsley’s flagrant foul after the first half technical got the ejection deserved but that Vitale "went overboard"attacking Kingsley’s character beyond a simple basketball play from which no fight evolved.
Arkansas fans have taken considerable note that Vitale and the game officials apparently saw no evil or simply missed seeing Arkansas born Kentucky Wildcats Malik Monk’s throat slash gesture and obviously spoke nothing about that lack of sportsmanship.
At his Tuesday press conference before the Razorbacks practiced at Walton Arena for Friday’s NCAA Tournament South Regional game against the Seton Hall Pirates in Greenville, S.C., Anderson said he had talked to Vitale and that the issue is past tense.
"I’m past that," Anderson said. "I’m past that now. We’re talking about Seton Hall right now. I said what I said. You can talk about me, but we have some good kids here. (Kingsley was honored on the SEC’s Community Service Team for good works in Arkansas charities and community projects) They’re doing the right things. I had a chance to talk to Dick Vitale and we’re on the same page. Everything is good. We turned that page. Let’s move forward."
It’s a good move for all. For while Vitale indeed seemed to "go overboard" in the moment and flubbed Kingsley’s name for "Beasley," Anderson said, when meeting with the Arkansas coach as TV network crews do at some pregame point with both head coaches, the former Detroit Pistons and University of Detroit, 77, has done much good for college basketball as the sport’s most enthusiastic voice in his longtime role at ESPN.
Inadvertently, Vitale just did Anderson a good turn within Arkansas and certainly with Anderson’s players.
Tuesday media available Razorbacks guards Manny Watkins and Dusty Hannahs, both seniors, and junior guard Daryl Mason all nodded approval of their coach publicly sticking up for Kingsley.
"He’s backing up his players," Watkins, a senior captain along with Kingsley, said.
Macon, a junior college transfer but an Arkansan and graduate of Little Rock Parkview, said upon arrival he learned this coaching staff "has got your back."
"I loved it. I loved it," Macon said. "Coach A has always had our backs since we’ve been here. That’s one thing he’s always stressed to us. He’s going to have our backs and we’ve got to have each others’ back. He showed it. That was big."
The Vitale controversy apparently will not have Hogs, who had won eight of their last nine including SEC Tournament games in Nashville over NIT bound Ole Miss and NCAA Tournament bound Vanderbilt before losing to No. 2 South Regional seed Kentucky, dwelling on Sunday’s SEC Tournament loss as their NCAA Tournament nears.
"Oh, yeah, it’s really easy," Watkins said of Fayetteville and the son of Arkansas assistant coach Melvin Watkins said. "If we were like in the NIT or something it would be a little bit harder, but we are going for a national championship and that’s bigger than any championship we could have won. We’ve got national championship on our minds so it was easy just to let go on that game on Sunday."
Hannahs, transferring three years ago from Texas Tech but a Little Rock native and Pulaski Academy grad, concurred.
"We are going for something bigger," Hannahs said. "We can’t dwell on the last game we lost. We obviously wanted to win it really bad and it just didn’t go our way. Now we are on to something bigger and better."