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Clay Henry

CLAY HENRY: Goodrich, Counce not surprised by Calipari recruiting successes

Fans might want to change that half-empty view with new coach and longtime guys know he’ll get great talent.



Rome was not built in a day, but John Calipari is already done with the Arkansas basketball foundation in just under three weeks.

Like some, I was never worried, not for one second.

Some are just positive people by nature. If you are smart and lucky, you surround yourself with those types.

Early in my professional career my mentor advised not to be shaped by luck. Pick as friends those who see the glass half full, like Gail Goodrich and Jim Counce; more from my friends later.

And there was this from the late Bill Connors: if someone you love gives you critical coaching, listen. The Tulsa World sports editor said toss away the bad feedback from those not in that category, mainly those glass half empty sorts.

So in the first week of the Calipari era as Arkansas basketball coach when some of the naysayers were pointing at an empty roster with gloom and doom, I knew it was about to change in a big way.

Big players and big talents are on the way, just like all of the national experts said when I talked to them the day Cal was hired.

For the naysayers, that’s the “little old Arkansas syndrome” rearing its ugly head. Old doesn’t mean wise, but I’ll say it just as my mentor did in 1978, avoid the naysayers like the plague. Walk away.

Calipari made no Rome references, but he did say it would take some time. He had to hire a staff and get in line on the recruiting trail and evaluate the portal. He is hammering it.

In my early days, here are the simple, descriptive words we used for what he’s done so far: fantastic, stupendous and terrific. Connors called it “taking the steps to the top of the mountain.” That still works.

But when I’m around the young set, I need a translator for their slang. Remember, this is good stuff: fire, dope and the slightly more ancient en fuego.

How about Boom!

That’s what my pastor friend Sam Hannon sends back when I text a few images of 24-inch brown trout caught on the White River.

That was the prediction I got from Hall of Fame shooting guard Goodrich, retired in Utah after doing “fire” sort of stuff at UCLA and the Los Angeles Lakers during my youth.

Our mutual friend Ron Wey from Rogers tipped me off in the hours before the Calipari introduction at Bud Walton Arena that I might get some highlight comments from Goodrich. Wey and Goodrich have been close friends since the 1960s.


It didn’t take long to have Goodrich on the phone, just like during Covid when a “dope” 90-minute conversation led to a 3,000-word feature. It still ranks as one of my favorite interviews.

I watched on TV as a kid as Goodrich led UCLA to its first two NCAA basketball titles and just as intently as his teams won with the Lakers.

Goodrich is a fun, glass half full type, as is Wey. That explains their friendship despite Wey playing at cross town Southern Cal.

It didn’t take Goodrich long to produce a positive prediction for Arkansas basketball.

Without prodding, he said, “John is a helluva recruiter; you will get great talent, great players.”

Of course, both Goodrich (1995) join both Calipari (2015) and former UA coach Nolan Richardson in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Goodrich has been around Calipari at Naismith functions but before that when they worked at the same clinics. He also spent time with the Dominican Republic team Calipari coached at a FIBA tournament.

“I was doing TV work and John asked me to speak to his team,” Goodrich said. “That’s where I first got to know him and he was impressive.

“I could understand his success in recruiting. He’s very charismatic and energetic.

“I expect the Arkansas basketball team to definitely improve. He is a teacher. He’s very talented with Xs and Os.”

Goodrich watched Calipari practices. He knows greatness. He played under John Wooden and would team with both Jerry West and Pete Maravich during his 14 years in the NBA. He was All-NBA six times.

“What you find out quickly with John is that he brings in great players and develops them for the next level,” Goodrich said. “They didn’t pick Kentucky the last 15 years, they picked John. He will bring in the same great players at Arkansas.

“Give him my best regards. I congratulate him and Arkansas.”

You hear the same remarks from folks around our state. It’s almost like you are in a dream.

It’s a fun time to be an Arkansas basketball fan or former player. Many of the greats turned out to watch Calipari’s introduction and on stage interview with Chuck Barrett was perfection. Neither made critical mistakes.


Topics thrown out by Barrett were pre-selected by Calipari, but he went off script after he watched many of the Arkansas legends stand in front of him one-by-one.

Dr. Jim Counce, a key teammate of the Triplets on the 1978 Final Four team at Arkansas, noticed the way the greats reacted to Calipari’s hiring that night three weeks ago. He was front and center, a happy season ticket holder.

“Everyone was happy that night,” Counce said. “I talked to a lot of people then. That’s been the common thought in the community, too, since then.

“I have not met one person who has said a negative word over this hiring. It’s unanimous and remarkable. That doesn’t happen often.”

Counce sees a future with a completely different fan attitude about their basketball team.

“We’ve always looked at ourselves as a program with players that aren’t as good as on other teams,” Counce said, “but we did the best we could with what we had. You had to coach them up and we did.

“That dynamic has changed. This is a coach who has proven he can get great, great players at multiple schools. You flip on the NBA playoffs and you see them on about every team.”

Correctly, Counce pointed to several of the top Arkansas teams that were fueled with great in-state talent. There was the one exception when Richardson won with Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller.

“We made hay with guys like Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph, Corliss Williamson, Joe Johnson and Bobby Portis,” Counce said. “The only place we were usually getting top blue-chippers was Arkansas. There are a few more of late (Daniel Gafford, Jaylin Williams, Isaiah Joe and Moses Moody), too. That’s going to change with players from everywhere.”

Actually, Counce noted with the first five names on the first UA roster under Calipari none have Arkansas ties.

“I recall Coach Richardson’s line that he didn’t have McDonald’s All-Americans, his players were Burger King,” Counce said. “We struggled when it came time to sign the very best. That’s over and we all know it and almost instantly you see he’s going to have great big men.”

Richardson, with his comments on Calipari to fill another column soon, went back to the roots of his Burger King comments, during his Tulsa days.

“It seemed everyone but us had McDonald’s All-Americans, so I went to the local Burger King franchise owner in Tulsa and pitched him on giving away burgers if we scored 100 points,” Richardson said. “I told him we had Burger King All-Americans.

“He went with it until we scored over 100 nine times in the first year.”

Nolan always thought big. He eventually touted the BK owner with a pledge to put Burger King’s logo on the floor for TU games and to talk up his BK All-Americans. It might have happened had he not moved to Arkansas, but he always used those same sort of lines during his days in the Ozarks.


Coach Cal thinks big. Oh, he has great guards, but his teams duck their heads getting off the bus.

Yes, it’s 7-2 and 6-11 out of the gate with transfers Zvonimir Ivisic (Kentucky) and Jonas Aidoo (Tennessee). I confirmed through top sources at their respective schools that both fit the Calipari requirement to be “good people.”

A friend with front-row seats at Tennessee said, “Aidoo represented us well and was really good for us this year. Good luck to him.”

Counce likes to watch Calipari teams play. He respects good fundamentals as a former Eddie Sutton player and assistant coach.

“Cal never receives all the credit he deserves as a coach because they have such great players,” Counce said. “Just because you get the talent, it’s no guarantee. He coached them up and they were NBA ready.”

Counce was at the Florida-Arkansas baseball game when Calipari threw a first-pitch strike in a ceremonial visit to the mound and it was to the mound.

“He threw from the rubber not like some,” Counce said. “He zipped it in. I think Aidoo was with him. It was a strike.”

I’m not sure if our great doctor was talking coach or player with that strike, but it sure seems like John Calipari has thrown nothing but strikes so far.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the new coach is having a great first month. Move away from the glass half empty folks.