When we saw the news today that the “Big Nasty” is retiring from the NBA and returning to the college ranks to become an assistant coach for Arkansas Baptist College, our easily distracted brains floated back to reflect on what we believe was one of the top half-dozen or so college careers of the 90s.
Nolan Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell” Arkansas teams of Corliss Williamson, Scotty Thurman, Corey Beck (who in completely unrelated news, was shot on Sunday!) and others represented more than a gimmicky name, they represented an ethos. An ethos mandating that they would run and substitute and run some more with the express purpose of ramming the ball down your throat until you got so tired from the harassing and pressing and constant stream of 6’5 defenders hawking you all over the court, that you simply succumbed to their collective will and gave it up. They could make excellent teams look downright silly when the 40MoH avalanche gained momentum – ask Richard Williams (Feb. 20, 1993 – Arkansas 115, Mississippi St. 58) or Norm Stewart (Dec. 2, 1993 – Arkansas 120, Missouri 68) about that. In those days, Arkansas basketball was absolutely must-watch tv for fans because if you watched Frasier instead, you might miss a display of Al Dillard 35-foot bombs and Big Nasty’s pirouettes into a timeout after a patented 11-0 run by the Hawgs. These were also Nolan’s last great teams before he
deteriorated into a paranoid and raving lunatic retired.
This take-no-prisoners attitude derived as much from the Big Nasty as it did from the coach. One look at his shaved dome and lips curled into a snarl as he sought to molest another rebound or eviscerate another defender in the post (using every inch of his 6’7 frame) was all you needed to see that this guy meant business. When a bucket was needed (he was a career 58% shooter), the ball would enter into his surehanded mitts, who, for those short on memory, had the touch and agility of Glen “Big Baby” Davis with a far greater passion and understanding of the game (this is one case where given nicknames seem appropriate). We’ll never forget how he utterly abused the much-taller, longer and athletic Rasheed Wallace in the second half (19 of his game-high 21 pts) of the 1995 national semifinals, leading the Hawgs from seven down at halftime to a seven-point victory. It was the kind of performance that separates champions from pretenders at that level, and Big Nasty backed down to nobody.
In three seasons at Arkansas, Corliss and friends won the national championship in 1994 and lost to the eventual national champions the other two years (1993 – lost to UNC in OT; 1995 – lost to UCLA in the title game). They went 85-19 including a sparkling 13-2 NCAA record during this period. Big Nasty was the team leader and best player, averaging 19 ppg and 7 rpg in just under 30 minutes. He was drafted in the first round of the 1995 NBA Draft, and re-focused his game on the perimeter to utilize his stature and quickness over the next several years. He ultimately played twelve seasons in the L, garnering a reputation as a great locker-room presence, and earning Sixth Man of the Year in 2002 plus an NBA title with the Pistons in 2004. We’re not completely sure, but we think he is one of only three players so far who won NCAA titles in the 1990s and later won an NBA title (Rip Hamilton – UConn (99), Pistons (04) and Nazr Mohammed – UK (96, 98), Spurs (05)).
Welcome back to the college game, Big Nasty. We wish you well.
Update: Always a nice guy off the court, we found this clip of Big Nasty playing along with the interviewer (and rockin’ the fly Jesus shirt) at a charity bowling tournament. One question – who is the white guy and who is the black guy here?