Here's Wednesday's Dear Gary ...
Dear Gary: Thanks for the kind words (and for taking back how wrong you were about Courtney Fortson, etc.). You can't fault the guys that picked (Arkansas) to finish last in the SEC West. We lost more than 80 percent of our scoring (including Patrick Beverley, who was showing signs of greatness), began the season with no seniors, and have nobody over 6-foot-9. Not that Dana Altman isn't a great coach, but we are thankful everyday he chose to go back to Creighton and (that) we "had to settle" for (John) Pelphrey.
First, let me say this: I never thought Fortson sucked; it's just that I thought his statistics might be misleading when compared to other freshmen because he happens to be on a team that needs him to do so much right now, and because he had played against 10 consecutive average-to-bad opponents. Beyond that, he's little-bitty, and he didn't enter college with a DeMar DeRozan/Greg Monroe type of reputation, all of which made it reasonable to question his numbers.
So I was skeptical.
But I'm not anymore.
I mean, all those things I mentioned above remain true. But I watched Fortson control a game against the fourth-ranked team in the country, and he did it without making shots. That's the sign of a great point guard, somebody who can control a game without making shots. So I'm a believer, and I love the way he's ALWAYS getting in the lane, collapsing the defense, making things happen, and then rebounding out of his position despite being 5-11. Just a really fun player to watch, and I can't wait to see if he can continue to emerge and keep this Arkansas team headed in the right direction.
As for the preseason predictions, those were probably fair; I think even John Pelphrey would acknowledge that. The Hogs lost all five starters, and that's hard to overcome. But Fortson has been spectacular, Rotnei Clarke is looking like a guy who was wise to pass on Oral Roberts, Michael Washington has developed well, Stefan Welsh is a solid third option, and now Arkansas is getting valuable minutes from former football player Marcus Monk.
How many of those five things I just mentioned did most reasonable people think would materialize?
One or two, at best.
So the skepticism was warranted, and this still could turn the other way for a variety of reasons. But Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel pointed out how experience isn't as important as talent these days, and that Arkansas has talent. And then Pelphrey mentioned how his guys have great chemistry on and off the court, and that's something worth noting. So in summary, I like what I've seen from Arkansas, and I'm looking forward to seeing more.
One last thing: I'm glad you mentioned Dana Altman, not because I'm interested in debating whether he would've been better or worse than Pelphrey, or whatever, but because I saw a funny clip on YouTube last night when I was looking for some Arkansas-related stuff. I'm not sure how old the clip is, and I'm certain Creighton fans have seen it. But apparently former Creighton star Kyle Korver was hosting some sort of dinner or meeting for his foundation, and he took a moment to goof of Altman, who famously accepted the Arkansas job on April 2, 2007 but opted to return to Creighton a day later.
Anyway, I won't further ruin it.
Just click this link and take a look.
Pretty good stuff.