Sunday was a day of surprises in sports.
Three struck home here.
1. Everyone I encountered, when informed that ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes was the new Arkansas women’s basketball coach, had the same reaction: “What?” “Really?” “You’ve got to be kidding.”
On the weekend of the Elite Eight in women’s basketball, the Razorbacks, not relevant for awhile in the women’s game, got their share of attention. Dykes was trending on Twitter. He received praise from many colleagues he had worked alongside at ESPN, including Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas and Seth Davis.
Dykes is very respected both for his work and his character. I always thought he was one of the most knowledgeable and best analysts around, especially for his ability to explain detail and translate complex basketball strategy to the average viewer.
He’s a gamble. This is either a home run hire or a strikeout.
The immediate reaction from many I talked to was whether this hire would have the same result as other popular “celebrity” coaching hires, such as Corliss Williamson at the University of Central Arkansas or Sidney Moncrief at Arkansas, whose coaching and recruiting ability were nowhere near their prowess as icon players.
Dykes, who hasn’t coached since 1991, is well-connected and has been around all the greats of the college game.
The UA program needed an infusion of energy, passion and salesmanship, and Dykes can do that. He was astute enough to hire Gus Malzahn when he was athletic director at Conway Christian.
But can he coach?
He’s mature and left a really good job (albeit lots of travel) to take a job with a lot of risk. He appears to have really wanted the job. He’s fantastic at a press conference.
Can he coach and can he do it successfully at Arkansas?
That question will remain unanswered for awhile.
Women’s basketball at Arkansas — with established coaches with strong track records such as Joe Foley (UALR), Sandra Rushing (UCA) and Brian Boyer (Arkansas State) — just got a lot more interesting.
2. Kentucky in the Final Four. That would have been no surprise in preseason but is now after the newcomers failed to live up to their lofty reputation and expectation most of the season. Now, the highly-hyped former high school phenoms are gelling at the right time.
The Wildcats have been shaky at times but they understand winning, and they know what to do at crunch. Along the way, they have now defeated Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan — all Final Four participants last year.
Hate him if you like (particularly his style and philosophy), but John Calipari has done a good job of bringing this team along and finding the right touch to get the Wildcats playing their best ball at the right time.
But even if the Wildcats win it all, they still have no bragging rights in Arkansas.
3. Far off the radar screen was Hendrix’s sweep of a three-game baseball series against Trinity, a perennial NCAA Division-III power which came to Conway as third-ranked in the country.
It’s arguably one of the greatest achievements by an Arkansas baseball team this season.
In perspective on its level, it ranks right up there with the University of Central Arkansas winning a series against Mississippi State last season.
Trinity has not been swept in a baseball series since 2007.
The Warriors had high hopes going into this season. What happened Saturday and Sunday was a major statement.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)