It may have been a few years tardy, but the announcement of Eddie Sutton going into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with one of the best groups ever tends to match his career.
Former player and current Little Rock coach Darrell Walker was with Sutton at his home in Tulsa when he got the news on Saturday afternoon.
Grateful I was able to be there with my coach when he got that long awaited call. Will be a special day I’ll remember forever. ???? pic.twitter.com/z00KUQRKT5
— Darrell Walker (@CoachWalker_LR) April 4, 2020
Sutton’s career was built with really, really good players and he always seemed to find himself surrounded by them.
The official announcement came Saturday that Sutton will be joined by Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett will be the marquee names (and it will likely be a celebration heavy with emotion for Bryant, tragically killed in a car crash earlier this year).
The enshrinement and will be inducted Aug. 29 in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Also selected are Tamika Catchings, coach Kim Mulkey, coach Barbara Stevens and former coach Rudy Tomjanovich.
What Sutton meant to Arkansas basketball, though, may truly never be fully measured. If you’re under the age of 40 or so.
No, he didn’t win a national title but if there had been no Sutton in 1974, Nolan Richardson wouldn’t have been here 20 years later. He wouldn’t have been interested.
The first time I interviewed Sutton was the spring of 1974 when he spoke in Warren on a hot April evening in a basketball gym with no air conditioning. He spent about 45 minutes talking to a high school junior writing a story.
He did everything except tell me the questions to ask, going into full depth about what he was wanting to do and how he was going to do it. At the annual banquet that night he asked how many people had ever been to a Razorback basketball game. There were less than 10 hands raised.
“You will want to get tickets now because they are going to be hard to get in a couple of years,” he told the crowd.
He was right.
In a day and age when few games were televised, Sutton played to the media better than any coach since. Eric Musselman may surpass him but it will be with a different media game.
When I had a little dustup with Texas A&M players and coaches in 1981 after U.S. Reed hit two free throws with no time left on the clock, Sutton called me the next day. Okay, it really was more than that, but that’s a different story for a different day.
“Come get me next time and I’ll go with you,” he said laughing before asking me to calm down a little.
Sutton taught an entire state to embrace college basketball. He played to the cameras and his sideline antics were worth the price of admission alone. Especially against A&M’s Shelby Metcalf, Texas coach Abe Lemons and Houston’s Guy V. Lewis.
Those nights in Barnhill (and most games were played after the sun went down in those days) were electric. Sutton even created a pep band with a director that basically turned into a cheerleader running all over the arena firing up the crowd.
He spent practices teaching his team and the media. It was not unusual for Sutton or his assistant coaches to wander over by the media sitting or standing around and go into an explanation about what they were teaching.
Sutton’s coaches’ shows on Sunday evening were a clinic and he used it to sell a fan base on his program and to educate them. He frequently spent a lot of the hour teaching the fans how to, well, be fans.
Until Sutton, Hogs’ basketball didn’t draw much interest and even less enthusiasm.
Even a large part of the media in the state didn’t pay much attention to basketball until, oh, about 1975 or so.
Over 11 seasons, he compiled a record of 260-75, including five Southwest Conference championships, nine NCAA Tournament appearances and a Final Four appearance in 1978.
Sutton helped lead the Razorbacks to national prominence, including coaching the Triplets — Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer, and Marvin Delph — Joe Kleine, Scott Hastings, Alvin Robertson, Darrell Walker, and numerous other Razorback greats.
His Arkansas winning percentage of .776 is the highest in the history of the Southwest Conference. He is a member of both the University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame.
In 2011, Sutton was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Mo. In 2016, Arkansas honored Sutton with a banner in Bud Walton Arena.
That’s the numbers and honors he’s already had. The Naismith Hall of Fame is the ultimate in the sport of basketball and will be the crowning achievement for Sutton, who has struggled with health issues the last few years.
Information from Razorback Sports Communications is included in this story.