Numbers can deceive. Anyone who believes otherwise need only study the win-loss records coach Russ Pennell has registered in his two seasons as head basketball coach at the University of Central Arkansas. Recording simply seven triumphs in a 28 contest campaign that ended a few days ago mat not appear to be a significant achievement. But, in fact, it is. A year ago, appointed late — and with a basketball cupboard that was virtually empty and with little time to recruit. Coach Pennell was able to claim but two triumphs in 29 contests, a winning percentage of .07. But in the season ending on March 5, his Bears more than tripled that win total, while elevating their winning percentage to 25 percent. Even from the most zealous of basketball aficionados, that increase merits unadulterated jubilations and respect — pure ecstasy.
"Quick fixes" in intercollegiate athletics belong only to bad fiction, "Class B" movies, and "Bandit Schools," those institutions pretending the word "integrity" has disappeared from the language. Coach Pennell is not "fixing" the program he oversees; he is developing it. As he suggested in his March 5 pre-game comments of thanks to the two players (both well-mannered honors students!) about to perform for the final time at Farris Center, he demands that all members of his teams bring to the court not just one talent: basketball prowess, he insists, must be accompanied by academic achievement and by character.
A trio of attributes are marching hand-in-hand as Russ Pennell methodically but admirably improves the easily misread numbers that his UCA program registers.